“Pack up your troubles now, take all you can carry” – Mark Morris (Solomon Bites The Worm).
From a radio room in weight puncher Belfast (The Northern Irish capital city) to a bar in worm biter Honiara (Solomon Islands capital city), and a gap of 22 years…I should explain how Willy Wonka, The Bluetones and backpacking in Honiara go hand in hand…
“It’s an everlasting gobstopper” – Willy Wonka.
When I started studying Journalism at Belvoir Tech in Belfast all those years ago (1997), two things had just happened. Princess Diana died; and the Verve were number one. Drugs don’t work, they just make you worse but I know I’ll see your face again. Candle in the wind. The Royals of London certainly weren’t a big part of the intervening decade brace. At least in my life.
But arrival in Honiara changed all that and warped my memory back to those halcyon days in Belfast. The reason? A hotel with so many quirks, you’d swear that Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka) was about to do a forward roll before welcoming Augustus Gloop into his magnificent chocolate factory. I was 17 again. The Royal reference, the Wonka appeal, the use of the word Solomon in the country’s name. There was no candybar or Oompa Loompas, replaced by fake mermaids and a free coconut…
In my last week as a teenager I had bought a The Bluetones single called “Solomon Bites The Worm”. I played the song aged 17 in that radio room. Now I was backpacking in The Solomon Islands. The worm biter. Ahem.
Back to The Solomon
Bites The Worm Islands! Our group were picked up at Honiara International Airport by the hotel minibus and we were whisked to the city’s “China Town” district, which in diplomatic irony was full of Taiwanese references. A dream inspired us all on arrival at the quirky Honiara Hotel. This was an unexpected surprise in a country which never really screamed “visit me” to my weary backpack.
So we arrive into the Honiara Hotel and straight away this looks like a chocolate-less version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Gimmicks, quirks, statues, peculiarities that only an eccentric host could dream up. That, was spot on and largely the reason for such oddities. Our host here at Hotel Honiara was Sir Thomas Chan, Solomon Islands real life answer to Willy Wonka, a character invented by writer Roald Dahl.
You see, Sir Thomas Chan is knighted by the British Empire. He’s a larger than life host, and…I get to meet him. As the man himself professes, “I’ve met Queen Elizabeth II four times”. We exchange business cards and the perky Chan drops by for a chat. We share something in common – we are both SIRS I was knighted by the Empire of Adammia in 2015 after becoming the first tourist to backpack through the country.
It is now obvious that Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England has stayed here. Her photos adorn the walls, her references are everywhere and her custom invite, welcoming Sir Thomas Chan to Buck House in London is on proud display in the hotel’s we lobby.
The lobby itself an art gallery of large fish statues and a cosy shell in the corner to suck strawberries in.
The welcome seems Royal and flambouyant. A hat-trick of unexpected surprises are in store for us all on arrival. All of these are included in our room price. First up…
A Welcome Drink – Coconut Juice
We are all handed a fresh coconut on arrival. After a day of travelling on a double flight, it’s a perfect start to life in Honiara. Slaínte! Delicious!
A Solomonese Massage
We are each given a voucher for a free Solomonese Massage. All we need to do is book our time in the parlour, which is up the stairs.
A Free Wi-fi Password
Internet and Wi-fi has been either shit or non existent on this trip. Finally, here in the Honiara Hotel the WiFi works and is free.
After that it’s time to head to our rooms. I share with Douglas in 812. We have a balcony and hot showers. it acts as a bit of a Godsend.
My stay in this hotel also casts my mind back to some of these wacky and cool accommodations from my journey:
A night in Madonna’s Island, La Isla Bonita, Belize
The Eclectic Hotel, Vank, Nagorno Karabakh
A night in Europe’s most bombed hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland
5 nights on Yanggakdo Island, Pyongyang, North Korea
Sleeping in the southern most hotel in the former Soviet Union
Next up I explore the nooks and crannies of the Willy Wonka complex. This involves a visit to all 4 bars, the huge swimming pool zone, the multiple corridors, obscure statues, random objects and all sorts of other absurdities straight out of a Veruca Salt tour to Wonkaland.
The only thing that’s missing is the chocolate and the everlasting gobstopper. Sir Thomas Chan makes a more than worthy substitute for Gene Wilder. There’s also a wild dinner buffet, albeit overpriced at 200 Solomonese Dollars.
Plus we find out that not only the Queen of England stayed here but Prince William and Kate Middleton also stayed here, and more recently too. 2012. Again such Royals are pictured on the walls of the Margarita Bar.
Our barman on arrival is Mike. Solomonese, friendly and knowledgeable. He served me up a SolBrew, my first local beer in The Solomon Islands.
Solomon Islanders Dancing
Later in the evening we witness Solomonese dancing. A live performance takes place on the stage by the pool. The bar nearby stocked with ample beers and spirits, plus plenty of decent food is available. The Solomonese dancing is Sir Thomas Chan’s impersonation of Willy Wonka’s wacky Oompa Loompa dance. Except this seems more real than fantasy…
For whatever reason, The Solomon Islands are still the 15th least visited country in the world.
Late Evening Drinks
Late evening I hang out with the lads to play pool and sip cold beers. We meet a hot lady from Kyrgyzstan, prompting good travel chat.
As well as playing pool, I decide to try all THREE Solomon Island beer types they sell here – SolBrew (the best in my opinion), Canoe Blue and Canoe Brown. They’re small cans for about $2.20 US each.
Next Morning – Breakfast
Breakfast is as expected. The usual mix of fruit and a choice of eggs and meats. No Wonka Bars…
The Swimming Pool
The swimming pool complex is also huge. No flumes, but a jacuzzi and many a statue next to it.
Mermaid Grabs My Northern Ireland Flag
I pose with my travelling Northern Ireland flag and the Mermaid grabs a corner of it. While it might look like a real person in the photo, it’s not!
Overall, I rank this as one of the craziest places I have ever stayed. When in Honiara, go stay here at the Honiara Hotel! Here are some more photos…
Here are the details for booking the Honiara Hotel in Honiara, Guadalcanal, The Solomon Islands:
I was whackpacking in the Solomon Islands as part of the Young Pioneer Tours Least visited countries tour.
Here are some quirky videos from my time staying at the Hotel Honiara in Honiara, Guadalcanal, The Solomon Islands:
And here is Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka’s) grand entrance back in 1971: