There's something to be said for a country that tries to outlaw ties and baseball caps. Despite being firmly tied to the USA's economic and political apron strings, the Federated States of Micronesia are doggedly hanging onto their traditional ways.
The Micronesians are proud of their past, especially since they were navigating the Pacific before Columbus was a glint in Queen Isabella's eye. The laid-back islands have some of the world's best wreck diving, and are considered an untouristed haven for beach bunnies and scuba groovers.
Full country name: Federated States of Micronesia
Area: 274 sq km
Capital City: Palikir (Pohnpei)
People: Micronesians, Polynesians, expats
Language: English, Chuukese, Pohnpeian, Yapese, Kosraean
Religion: Roman Catholic (50%), Protestant (47%)
Government: Constitutional government in free association with USA
Head of State: President Joseph J. Urusemal
GDP: US$213 million
GDP per capita: US$1,868
Annual Growth: 1%
Major Industries: Copra, fishing, tourism - most earnings come from US aid.
Major Trading Partners: USA, Japan
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The Federated States of Micronesia celebrate most of the standard Western holidays: Christmas, New Year's Day and the American staple, Thanksgiving. In addition to FSM Constitution Day, on 10 May, and FSM Independence Day, on 3 November, each of the island groups celebrates its own national days. Kosrae's big holiday is Liberation Day, on 8 September, marking the American defeat of Japan on the islands at the end of WWII. Celebrations include sports competitions and canoe races. Christmas on Kosrae is a bit of a treat, with formation marching and singing competitions - Kosraen church choirs can belt out a spectacular tune - and a grand feast open to all.
Yap's big shindig is Yap Day, in the first week of March, with plenty of colourful ceremonial dancing and sporting events. Mitmits - all-out feasts accompanied by the liberal distribution of gifts and ceremonial singing and dancing - are held throughout the year. One village holds a mitmit for another village, which reciprocates the following year.
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Currency: United States dollar
In part because the islands are so spread out, and in part because the economy is reliant upon imported items, the Federated States of Micronesia can be an expensive place to travel. Your airfare will be the biggest outlay, but accommodation is also pretty expensive - there's not much in the way of budget rooms, and if you want to stay at a beach resort you'll be shelling out about US$150 a night. If you stick to local foods, public transport and rustic accommodation, you'll still need to budget close to US$100 a day. Travelling comfortably costs around US$150 a day; US$200 if you rent a car or go diving.
US dollars are the official currency of the country, and there's really no point bringing anything else. US dollar travellers' cheques are accepted just about everywhere, with most large hotels, restaurants and shops accepting them as cash. There are no commercial banks on Chuuk or Kosrae, so make sure you've got enough cash to get by before you visit these areas. Credit cards are widely accepted on Pohnpei and Kosrae, and they're making inroads on Chuuk and Yap.
Tipping 10% to 15% is catching on in Pohnpei but, despite the American influence, it's not really done elsewhere in the country. Most things are sold with a fixed price, although there are a few fruit markets where you could give your haggling skills a polish. Don't expect miracles.
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Chuuk (formerly Truk) is colourful, lively and rough around the edges. It comprises 15 main islands, 92 outer islands and over 80 islets in the Chuuk Lagoon. Its biggest drawing cards are its sunken wrecks, a boon for serious divers. A whole Japanese fleet rests on the lagoon floor, evidence of the largest naval loss in history. Each wreck is a time capsule - some are upright, some intact, some in pieces. The holds are full of guns and trucks and fighter planes, the dining areas are littered with dishes, silverware and sake bottles, and the skeletal remains of the perished crews lie 'buried' at sea.
Kosrae is one of the least spoiled and least developed areas in the Federated States, a laid-back place with an air of innocence. The main island is volcanic with an interior of uncharted rainforests, a pristine fringing reef and a coast that is a mix of sandy beaches and mangrove swamps.
The people are casual and, given that it's unusual to have more than about a dozen visitors at a time on the island, the residents still take a friendly interest when someone new is in town.
Impressive ruins on the connected island of Lelu date from around the 14th century. Though the outskirts of the massive royal city have been torn down, the remaining ruins still give the feeling of being in an ancient, hidden city.
Kosrae has unspoiled coral reefs close to shore that are suitable for both walk-in and boat diving. Underwater visibility can easily be 30m (100ft), and in summer as much as 60m (200ft). The Blue Hole in Lelu harbours coral heads, lionfish, stingrays and barracuda.
Pohnpei, with its lush vegetation, jungle hillsides and flowering hibiscus, fits the typical South Sea island image, albeit a wet one. The main island is the largest in the Federated States of Micronesia, and is roughly circular in shape, edged with coves and jutting peninsulas.
The coastline is mainly tidal flats and mangrove flats, but there are dozens of small islands with lovely beaches in the lagoon between Pohnpei Island and the surrounding reef.
The ancient stone city of Nan Madol is the Federated State's best-known archaeological site. Nan Madol was built from stacked basalt pillars during the tyrannical Saudeleur dynasty, which peaked in the 13th century. Although many of Nan Madol's temples, vaults, bathing areas and pools have collapsed, the site still has immense dramatic impact.
The main town of Kolonia is relatively large by island standards, yet it retains a small-town character. Palikir, 8km (5mi) away, is the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia.
Yap is the most traditional district in the Federated States of Micronesia. Yap proper consists of four islands - Yap, Tomil-Gagil, Map and Rumung. Unlike other high islands in the country that are volcanic in origin, Yap was formed by land upheavals of the Asian continental shelf.
Consequently, the landscape is more rolling hills and dales than mountain peaks and plunging valleys. The island's communities are connected by centuries-old stone footpaths, and village houses are still built in the elaborate, traditional style with wood, thatch, rope and bamboo. It's a society where the caste system survives and where village chiefs still have as much clout as elected public officials. Note that the Yapese are offended by tourists who brazenly point cameras at them, though they are receptive to travellers who respect their customs and culture.
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