Visitors Guide T
The local currency in Samoa, which is made up of 100 sene (cents). Note denominations are $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100. All major foreign currencies are exchangeable for tala in Samoa. For currency conversion, click here.
Samoan greeting meaning ‘hello’, sometimes extended to ‘talofa lava’, which means ‘hello to you’.
A tanoa is a wooden bowl used to serve kava. Unlike those found in Fiji, Tonga or Vanuatu that have four legs, Samoan tanoas have a dozen or more round legs so they make for a uniquely Samoan souvenir.
Tanu Beach Fales
This delightful property is located on a white sand beach at Manase (north Savai’i). It’s family run and friendly with a fun fia fia night. The open Samoan fales cost $50 (Samoan) per person per night including breakfast and dinner. You get a mattress, pillow, linen, mosquito net and an insight into fa’a Samoa (the Samoan way). There are two bathroom blocks, each containing two toilets and a shower (cold) in both the men’s and women’s sections. The shop sells cold beer ($3.50) and soft drinks. It’s an excellent base for exploring or just relaxing halfway around the island. Phone/fax 54 050.
Tapa cloth (siapo) makes for a good souvenir or gift. The tapa is decorated by rubbing the cloth over an inked board that contains a pattern. The tapa in my lounge room depicts a tanoa and flywhisk on one half and a large turtle with two baby turtles on the other.
Throughout this site you will find the English meaning of some Samoan words. ‘Tattoo’ is one Samoan word that entered the English language and is part of Western culture – but no one does it better than the Samoans. Intricate naval-to-knee tattoos are a badge of courage (you may even see neck-to-ankle tattoos). It is a long and very painful process and once tattooing begins, the subject can’t leave until the tattoo is completed without enduring permanent shame. Female tattoos (malu) are more delicate (but not necessarily less painful).
There is a 12.5% tax on accommodation, food and drinks (VAGST).
There are set rates for taxis but always ask for the fare cost before taking the journey. The ones waiting at taxi stands waiting for locals may have more integrity than those looking for tourists at hotels or the airport. Taxis have the letter ‘T’ on their license plates. Flag fall is a minimum of $2.
Tele in Samoan means ‘much’. So would a Samoan Elvis impersonator finish his set by saying “Fa’afetai tele, fa’afetai tele”? Sorry. Elvis has now left the fale…
Resorts offer international telephone dialing (can be expensive) and Samotel on Beach Road in Apia offers fax, stamps and pay phone services (phone cards). Mobile telephony is analogue so global roaming doesn’t work for most international phones. You can hire an analogue phone where you are given a number and calls are charged to your credit card. The international access code is simply 0. For people at home wanting to contact you the country code for Samoa is 685. There are around nine Internet cafes in Apia now so email is accessible and affordable.
There are public tennis courts at Apia Park and resorts like new Aggie Grey’s Lagoon Beach Resort & Spa and Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa have courts.
It is wise not to leave valuables or even items of clothing unattended on a beach or in a fale. Samoans can have a different view to ownership of property and things can ‘go missing’. Use your resort safe or ask your host for the best place to keep things safe. I have no personal experience of this and feel totally safe in Samoa but commonsense should tell you that an expensive beach towel could be inviting to someone who doesn’t own one.
Samoa’s time zone is three hours behind US Pacific time, 12 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time and 21 hours behind Eastern Australian time. Both Tonga and Samoa are on the same time but 24 hours apart because the International Dateline separates the two countries. Just west of Samoa is where the world’s day ends.
Tipping is not part of Polynesian culture, which is seen as a bonus to visitors from Australian and New Zealand and probably as a curiosity to American travellers, especially considering the hospitality and service provided. Tipping can cause embarrassment because the receiver may feel that he/she owes you something more in return. If you really feel like expressing gratitude in the form of cash stipulate that it is a ‘gift’ to help with school fees. Likewise, bargaining isn’t common practice. The price displayed on an item is what the seller thinks it is worth, although you may be offered a ‘special price’ if, for example, it is near closing time and the vendor would like a quick sale.
Public toilets are located behind the clock tower in the centre of Apia and, as mentioned in other parts of this guide, McDonalds keeps its restrooms to a high standard of cleanliness. Bars are stricter in only having toilets for patrons but that’s a good excuse for a Vailima…
If you pick up a brochure on Tonga from a travel agent you will probably read that the Kingdom of Tonga is a “rare sprinkling of jewels set in the turquoise blue of the Pacific”. It could well say the same in a dictionary. The diverse natural beauty, the people and the culture make Tonga a unique and rewarding destination. Tonga is the only Pacific nation never to have been subjected to foreign rule and, as such, traditional lifestyle has been maintained. The monarchy is important, as is the church and the sense of family and inner peace can be somewhat enviable.
There are a number of tour operators including Green Turtle Holidays – ph 22 144; Island Hopper Vacations – ph 26 940, and Samoa Scenic Tours – ph 26 981, email firstname.lastname@example.org. I can vouch for the punctuality of the latter. Tour operators on Savai’i include Big Island Tours & Adventures – ph 51 499, email email@example.com and Le Lagoto Beach Resort – ph 58 189, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As they say, boys will be girls. Transvestites are very much part of fa’ Samoa. Known as fa’fafine (means ‘like a woman’) these are men who are either brought up as women or who choose to be a woman. This is not to be confused with homosexuality – the fa’fafine see themselves as women and are treated as such. If a mother has only male children she may bring one of them up as a girl so she has someone to help with the designated female chores (cooking, cleaning etc) and some may choose to get in touch with their feminine side and that’s okay as well. In Apia the fa’fafine tend to hang out together and some nightclubs stage beauty pageants (including swimwear!). Some drunken tourists do unwittingly chat up another man and get a bit of a surprise.
An important question to ask any travel agent is “Have you personally been there?” Agents who rely on brochure information aren’t worth the paper they are holding (and brochures can rely on flattering words and photography). The author of this site is a licensed travel agent and member of the Travel Compensation Fund. Feel free to contact for obligation and cost-free advice and pricing – email here. Apart from Samoa, travel can also be arranged to Vanuatu, Fiji and the Cook Islands.
Personally I find traveller’s cheques cumbersome when credit cards/debit cards are accepted by most establishments and ATMs. If you are a fan of traveller’s cheques beware both ANZ and Westpac banks because they charge a hefty commission. Better to find a private currency exchange office that won’t charge commission (they can be found near the clock tower).
This is one of Apia’s livelier nightclubs and at the time of writing was the popular haunt for fa’afafine (transvestites). Being a somewhat fickle crowd they may find another flavour next month. Visitors wanting a Big Night Out should head out early because everywhere pretty much closes down at midnight.
In Samoan tusitala means ‘teller of tales’ and is the name given to Robert Louis Stevenson.
Some more T-words:
- taamu: giant taro
- taavale: car
- tai: sea, towards the coast
- tama: a boy
- tamaloa: a man
- taupou: ceremonial virgin
- tautau: common people
- tofa: goodbye (can be shortened to ‘fa’)
- tofa soifua: fare thee well
- tuafale: orator, talking chief