This is a guest post written by Ian, who moved to Saipan for a year to teach after graduating college.
As the sun begins its final ascent on the horizon a beautiful array of colors paint the evening sky. For those on the western side of the island a coveted chance remains to see the optical phenomena of the green flash. Although it is a rarity to see it is not an infrequent occurrence to see daily sunsets which can take your breath away. This alone gives the feeling and impression of finding paradise where it might not be expected.
Known officially as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) this chain of islands sit in relative isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It sits 1,500 miles south of Tokyo (Japan) and 1,600 miles east of Manilla (Philippines). In terms of proximity the only land area bigger than the home island of Saipan is the island of Guam, a mere 100 miles away. Still when all is considered these 100 miles seem distant upon a vast and unforgiving ocean. Despite the distances to other islands and nations the island of Saipan offers a plethora of modern amenities and activities.
The landmass of Saipan sits at 12 miles long by 5.6 miles wide and should detour eager travelers from experiencing a unique and welcoming island culture. As an American holding and Commonwealth the primary currency remains the American dollar. Just as the primary spoken language by a majority of the island is English. One does not have to speak any of the multitude of languages on the island to successfully navigate and enjoy themselves. These languages include the various Filipino dialects, the primary being Tagalog, the indigenous languages of Chamorro and Carolinian, and various Asian languages such as Korean, Japanese and Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese). You may also hear the Russian language spoken by a heavy influx of Russian tourists who frequent Saipan. With the large amount of languages spoken it makes community activity all the more enriching.
One such activity where you would hear all of these languages is the Thursday night market just outside the village of Garapan. This Thursday market caters toward the islands vital source of income –tourism. This industry centers around the village of Garapan, the largest urban sprawl on island. Ten to fifteen minutes south of Garapan are the villages of Susupe and Chalan Kanoa which harbors another set of resorts. These resorts are mostly found on the western side of the island. In Garapan the two major resorts are Fiesta and Hyatt which offer some of the best food found on island. It is not uncommon for locals and tourists alike to indulge in the scrumptious buffets offered by both hotels.
In addition to the buffets the hotels are offer high end restaurants which cater to a variety of cuisines. It is safe to say that if you want to have a good time on Saipan the village of Garapan has the most to offer. The resorts in addition to having excellent food offer some of the best beaches on the island.
Imagine: sitting on the beach sipping your preferred drink as the sun falls beyond on the horizon. The night continues as you eat the best ramen and sushi in the Marianas followed by karoke and dancing. The next morning you enjoy a five-star breakfast buffet before embarking on another day in paradise. You decide to take a small ferry to the small island of Managaha off the coast of Saipan. This popular tourist attraction hosts wide sandy white beaches and some of the best snorkeling in the area. The warm tropical water and abundance of fish is picturesque. After snorkeling you engage in a riveting game of volleyball that ends in a celebratory drinks. As you wait for your boat back to Saipan you take one more time to enjoy the water as you jump off the pier. After changing into evening wear you board another boat bound for a night cruise which features another unforgettable sunset.
If you are a history fanatic the Marianas is a prime destination for learning about and experiencing World War 2 landmarks and museums. Before becoming a United States Commonwealth the Marianas belonged to the Spanish, the Germans and the Japanese. During the 1930s Japan heavily influenced the development of the island which led to the Marianas becoming a strategic location for the Japanese command in the Pacific. As the United States engaged in their island hopping campaign they inevitably came to the Marianas. In one of the more brutal battles of World War 2 the United States was able to secure Saipan. It came at a bloody price which led to the deaths of both Japanese soldiers and locals alike. Throughout the island are memorials which recognize the sacrifices and sad realities of war. The war left tanks, guns and bunkers behind to be admired and marveled at.
If you are feeling adventurous and want to further explore the Marianas I suggest going to the nearby island of Tinian. A ten minute flight in a small passenger aircraft will land you on an island which follows the layout of Manhattan Island. At one point in history the airfields of Tinian were the most active in the world. It is also from this airfield that the Enola Gay the famed or infamous B-29 took off to drop the first of two atomic bombs on Japan. It is a sobering and eerie feeling to be on the ground of a historical event that changed the world. Now if gambling is more your preferred activity Tinian has a casino and hotel for you to stay at if you choose to stay the night.
Check back soon for the second part of Saipan: Paradise Found!