When I traveled to Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands in November 2007,
was so very much impressed
with its natural beauty and the kindness of the local people. After
all, it's a very popular Pacific island tourist destination. But
beneath the facade of its remarkable beauty was an undercurrent of a
very depressed economy.
With the closing in recent years of its notorious garment factories
(often referred to as "sweatshops") and
reduction in regular airline service to the island, a number of
businesses have gone belly-up. The result was a bit of a ghost town
effect, with many empty storefronts and a recently closed amusement
Nonetheless, the people working in the hospitality
industry, hotels, restaurants, bars, retail shops, etc. were extremely
delightful. These staff consist primarily of Filipinos and Chinese.
Saipan Grand Hotel
was especially moved by the Filipino guitar-playing and singing Mr.
Archie Echalico, who serenades guests at the Saipan Grand Hotel, both
during the beachside BBQ parties and the Sunday brunches in the AOI
Japanese restaurant. Please check out Archie's "live" music in my
YouTube video playlist below.
Saipan Grand Hotel
While we're on the subject, the Saipan Grand Hotel was an
exceptional facility, with not only the usual restaurants and shops,
but so many other facilities, including tennis, a karaoke bar, a
nightclub with live music and dancing, and even a wedding chapel. And
its scenic location right next to the Philippine Sea is just a short
drive from the airport. Highly recommended.
Mt. Tapochau, elev. 1,560 ft (480 m),
Saipan's tallest peak
Since most of the major airlines
cancelled their direct service to Saipan due to the poor economy, most
flights to Saipan are now routed thru Guam. And my Guam-to-Saipan
flight arrived at the ungodly hour of 3:20 am.
same page from my Guam playbook, after I rented a car, since it was too
late to check into a hotel, I drove toward Mt. Tapochau, Saipan's
tallest peak, with hopes of maybe catching a sunrise from the summit.
like many roads in Saipan, the unpaved access road was in such a state
of disrepair, it looked more like a rutted out mountain ravine than it
did a road, so I finally had to give up, with fears I was about to tear
out the undercarriage of my rental car.
Most of the main roads and highways in Saipan were ok, but
almost all of the access roads to the beaches and to the
lesser-traveled scenic spots off the beaten path were in a rather poor
condition, so you'd be better advised to take one of the open-air,
4-wheel drive pickup jungle tours (or rent a 4WD truck or SUV if it's
I wound up doing so much bushwhacking in my Budget rental car,
I lost part of its trim which must've gotten scraped off on
the many backroads I travelled down. So when I turned the car in at the
airport, I had to fork over an extra $25.
Without question, the most beautiful spot I travelled to in Saipan was
Banzai Cliff, an absolutely breathtaking wall at the extreme northern
point of the island. I don't recall ever seeing water this blue
anywhere, except maybe at Ritidian Point in Guam.
the stunning beauty of this area is tempered with overwhelming sadness
due to history, and all the war memorials & monuments erected
honor the thousands of casualties during World War II are a testament
to that sadness.
Battle of Saipan was one of the fiercest conflicts in the Pacific war,
resulting in the deaths of about 30,000 Japanese soldiers, nearly 3000
American soldiers, and sadly, over 20,000 Japanese civilians including
thousands who, at the urging of Emperor Hirohito, committed suicide by
throwing themselves off of Suicide Cliff & Banzai Cliff in the
final days of the battle.
Grotto & Bird Island
you're in the beautiful northern part of the island, don't miss Grotto,
an interesting limestone cavern connected to the open ocean by
underwater passages and considered one of the best dive sites in the
world. If you're an advanced scuba diver, you might see turtles, clown
triggerfish, sharks, manta rays, and tuna here.
And just down the coast from Grotto is the Bird Island
Sanctuary, where from the Bird Island Lookout, you're afforded one of
the most striking vistas in Saipan. This is a stop on some of the
jungle tours, so you're likely to see throngs of photo-taking tourists
here, but it's definitely a must-see marine and wildlife conservation
from Bird Island Lookout
I'm not a golfer, but while I was on the northeast side of the
island I stopped by the Kingfisher Golf Links course and had tea at
their clubhouse. The view was indescribably beautiful, so let's just
let the picture in my Saipan travel photo album save me 1000 words of
let me simply say that the stark contrast between the absolutely
stunning shades of blue ocean and green grass was unquestionably one of
the most breathtaking views I saw in Saipan.
Food & Drink
A must-visit spot in Saipan if you like Angus Beef is the
Country House Restaurant. Not only did the Texas flag outside the front
door catch my eye, but the manager was especially cordial.
by all means, don't miss the talking buffalo, one of the highlights of
my entire visit to Saipan. Check him out in the video playlist below.
Another delightful spot for dinner is the cute little Cusina
Restaurant in Garapan, in a jungle-style bungalow which features local
Chamorran cuisine, and a pic of which is in my Saipan travel photo
is the main shopping & entertainment district in Saipan,
with just about any kind of restaurant, bar, or retail shop you'd like
to find, including Chinese, Korean & Japanese cuisine, American
fast food, bakeries, spas, car & scooter rental agencies, and
souvenir shops. Saipan even has a Hard Rock Cafe & a Price
Speaking of food, well not exactly, but
one of the rather interesting (if not disgusting) parts of the Saipan
culture is the betel nut, which is chewed by the locals. They are
commonly sold in about every convenience & grocery store,
inside a betel leaf, along with lime for flavoring.
the betel nuts produces a mild buzz comparable to drinking coffee, and
because they are chewed, not swallowed, the bright red juice gets spit
out indiscriminately in public, creating an unsanitary and unsightly
mess, similar to chewing tobacco.
As a result, many shop owners prohibit the chewing of betel
nuts inside their establishments & even post signs to that
like the one shown below in my Saipan travel photo album.
USS Germantown (LSD-42)
One day while I was gazing westward out into the Philippine
Sea from the balcony of my room at the Saipan Grand Hotel, I noticed
off in the distance what appeared to be a gray navy ship.
it turned out, a couple days later when I left Saipan, before
heading to the airport I toured the Saipan Port and docked there before
my very eyes was the USS Germantown. It's a magnificent U.S. Navy
amphibious assault ship homeported in San Diego, CA,
which had stopped off to give its 400 U.S.
Marines a few days of R&R.
Germantown, docked in Saipan Port
the U.S. military activity is quite small in Saipan compared to its
major footprint in Guam, a number of U.S. Navy ships do routinely make
port calls here, and they are widely welcomed by the Saipan chamber of
commerce & business community, oftentimes even with welcoming
ceremonies, due to the positive impact on the local economy.
I hope you enjoy my
Saipan travel pictures:
Pictures of my Saipan
(Not a slideshow person? View the entire Saipan travel photo set here.)
Saipan Travel Videos
Video 1: Talking Buffalo at the Country House Restaurant in
Video 2: Ocean View Terrace Dinner Show at the Saipan Fiesta
Video 3: "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" by Archie Echalico
Video 4: "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" by Archie Echalico
Video 5: "Daniel" sung by Archie Echalico
(all 5 videos are in a playlist and will play continuously, non-stop)
My Saipan travel videos
All 5 videos are in a playlist and will play continuously, non-stop.
(View in separate window here.)
Saipan Google Map
If you've ever wondered exactly where Saipan is, it's about
120 mi (190 km) north of Guam, which is about 3300
miles west of Hawaii. It takes about 50 minutes to fly from Guam to
To get a better feel for its location in the western Pacific Ocean,
zoom out in the Google map below:
Please check in again soon to this Saipan travel
page as I
it in the future with more details on some of the other local
sights. You really owe it to yourself visit this beautiful
place soon. And they could sure use your tourist money.