By Christy Sutton
People say that the best time to visit Saipan is when the flame trees are blooming—April through August. We somehow missed that memo. And while that sounds breathtaking, we are of the working class and found it far more convenient to go during the holidays. With that said, we were delighted with our four-day excursion.
It all began at Guam’s A.B. Won Pat International Airport where we spent an hour and a half awaiting our forty-minute plane ride to Saipan. The flight is very pleasant—the crew accustomed to their quick hop from Guam to Saipan and back several times a day—just enough time to pass out water and a packet of cookies.
WHERE TO STAY
Once we arrived in Saipan, we stayed with friends. However, we did take some time to tour the grounds of two hotels—The Hyatt Regency and Pacific Islands Club (PIC).
The Hyatt Regency is located at the center of the island near shopping, entertainment and restaurants—a half hour drive from the airport. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the hotel’s nicely lit gardens after dinner one evening.
PIC (pictured below) is located near the southern tip of the island. With its views of the Philippine Sea, tropical gardens, numerous restaurants and waterpark, it is a destination in itself. It is only two and a half miles from the airport.
We arrived in the early afternoon and so had just enough time to explore some of the historical sights after settling into our room.
First stop, the Old Japanese Jail, which can be found along Middle Road in Garapan, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. If not maintained, the jungle would surely overtake the crumbling structures. Still standing are the Mess Hall, Main Jail and Women’s Quarters.
After exploring this historic site we enjoyed a pleasant drive north. Saipan is covered in lush, green vegetation and brightly adorned with flowers and a variety of bird life. The western side of the island is lined with sandy beaches while the eastern shore is composed primarily of rugged rocky cliffs.
Our next stop was a visit to the Last Japanese Command Post. We climbed the stairs to a bunker, which was captured in the summer of 1944 after heavy fighting. Also onsite, in the shadow of tall cliffs and looming flame trees are several Japanese war relics.
Further up the road we came to Banzai Cliff (pictured at top) where 1,000 Japanese civilians lost their lives in the last days of the Battle of Saipan, some jumping from the cliff. A memorial sits atop the cliff. The waves crash below.
Later that evening we gathered with friends at a local favorite, The Naked Fish. It is a trendy restaurant situated near the water in Garapan. The food is delicious and fairly priced. On occasion they have live music.
After a slow morning, we met friends for diving. Our first choice was to dive The Grotto, very near Banzai Cliff. It is100 steps down into a cavern to enter the water. Before lugging all of our gear down the steps we opted to check the conditions first. We descended the stairs to find the water rough and churning. A little too rough for a dive!
So we decided to drive to Lau Lau Beach, one of Saipan’s most frequently visited sites with easy beach access. Once in the water, we encountered a barracuda, which dashed thru a bait ball momentarily scattering fish. We also enjoyed watching the soft corals move with surge of the water.
For dinner we dined at Truong’s Vietnamese Restaurant. We were quite impressed by their Pho (noodle soup) and fresh spring rolls. We were surprised to find out that they have another restaurant on Guam.
For lunch we dined at Furusato Japanese Restaurant where we sat at low tables in the traditional Japanese style. We bowed to the experience of our friends and had them order for us. We enjoyed deliciously grilled fish, miso soup and rice.
After a more than satisfying dining experience we visited Mount Tapochau, the highest point on Saipan. It is located in the center of the island, offering a 360-degree view. The road to the top is pretty rugged, requiring a four-wheel drive vehicle, but the view is well worth the bumpy ride.
On the final day of our visit to Saipan we enjoyed the company of our friends, a beautiful stroll through their garden and half price tapas and cocktails at PIC. With its close proximity to the airport, it was a perfect spot for happy hour and watching the sun go down with our toes in the sand!
The island of Saipan still calls to us! We hope to return someday soon when the flame trees are in bloom and The Grotto is just right for diving.