From Palau, and having snuck in 4 hours of sleep from 8pm-midnight, we boarded the 2:05am United Airlines Flight #158 to Guam, landing at 5:10am underslept and miserable.



Since Guam is a U.S. territory, transiting in Guam work as if you were entering the U.S. Therefore, you have to endure the through the whole visa/global entry/customs/etc. process. And if you’ve checked in luggage, make sure you have enough transit time to retrieve them from baggage claims, go through customs (which now accepts a QR code you can obtain if you pre-fill the customs form online on, re-check them in again, and go through security again.



After all that runaround I checked into the only Priority Pass lounge in Guam by Gate 8, where at the encouragement of sympathetic staff members inside, I creatively tried to catch up on as much sleep as I could.



After a 2 hour layover, we groggily boarded again at 8:00am on United Airlines Flight #174 for Saipan of the Northern Mariana Islands.



We landed 45 minutes later at 8:45am.



Luckily since Guam to Saipan works like a domestic flight within the USA, no immigration procedures needed; you already went through all of it in Guam!



As a U.S. Commonwealth but not a state, the Northern Mariana Islands are the second to the American Samoa in being the least populated sub-state jurisdiction in the United States. And because only a single branch of the US Military (the Coast Guard) has a home in Saipan, many Chamorros here consider their culture more authentically intact than on Guam.

It has been so bad of a divide that many of Guam’s CHamarou people still consider Saipan’s Chamorros “traitors” for working as interpreters with (or for?) the Japanese during WW2 when Japan had occupied both Saipan and then Guam.

To make it a point, Saipan spells it ‘Chamorro’ whereas Guam spells it ‘CHamoru.’



We were picked up at arrivals by a friendly Bengali taxi driver named Sumon, who was sent by our lodging at Saipan Skyline Designers Hotel. After taking our bags, we agreed to start with a tour of Saipan while slowly making on our way north to the accommodations before 3pm check-in. The first offer was $60 for the first hour and $50/hour after that.

However, after remarkably very little back and forth, we bargained it down to $200 USD for an unlimited, no time-limit tour of all of Saipan. Setting off at 9am, we began at the nearby Ladder Beach, right next to the airport:



Take some time to explore some of the caves that open into the beach here; a great place for lunch.



Then we drove a few minutes over to equally empty Oksay Beach.



There’s a nearby WW2 Bunker.



In fact, there are bunkers from World War 2 scattered everywhere around the island:



From the airport and on the southwestern coast we drove by Chalan Kanoa, the initial southwestern landing site where the USA invaded Saipan when they fought the Japanese during World War 2.



Fittingly, it feels like a vestige of what happened here would be Saipan’s main branch of the US Postal Service.



Continuing further north, we drove through Garapan, the capital and the most developed region in the Mariana Islands; everything is within walking distance from each other.



Garapan is also home to the American Memorial Park, a United States National Park and the only in the Northern Mariana Islands.



Free to visit, the museum inside impressed me with its numerous immersive displays of Saipan’s unfortunate role in WW2 that could even make the WW2 museum in New Orleans break a sweat:



The memorial and park outside is dedicated to the US soldiers whom fought and died in the Pacific War against Japan in the battles that took place in Saipan, Tinian, and the Philippine Sea in 1944.



There’s also another dedicated but smaller Marianas Memorial honoring the local civilians and Chamorros that died in the crossfire during the American invasion.



A nearby theater faces the back of another building, which is going through renovations to become a small museum about the Mariana Trench (which we’re situated right next to!):



After an hour exploring the memorial park and museum, we drove a minute over to Micro Beach:



Maybe if it wasn’t for its “micro” size, this beach would have been our favorite of them all. I mean, look at the colors:



It’s a pastel paradise.



Taking a break from the sightseeing, Sumon then dropped us off in the center of Garapan downtown where we then chose Korean for lunch against the backdrop of Garapan’s abandoned and unfinished casino complex.



After 2 hours of eating and ordering a delicious taro slushie nearby at Cha Café, Sumon picked us up from the café to take us further north. He cut across to the eastern part of Saipan, first stopping at San Juan Beach.



We then drove up a few minutes to Kalabera Cave with its 60 feet tall mouth that drops off to a seemingly bottomless abyss.



Don’t miss the replica of a Chamorro building within the complex of walkways that lead to the cave.



We then made an obligatory photo stop nearby.



From the sign we continued north to Bird Island Beach and Observatory, a photogenic scenic point overlooking a small inlet where many birds live.



Along the northeastern ridge of Bird Island scenic point, you can SCUBA dive as deep as 70 feet in The Grotto, a karst cave that connects to the ocean.



Then at the very north we reached Suicide Cliff, where over 1,000 Japanese soldiers and citizens in Saipan jumped from here to their deaths to avoid being captured as prisoners of war by the Americans.



A memorial marks and grieves the spot where they jumped.



Many other memorials have been placed here since.



We walked by numerous more memorials constructed at the bottom of Suicide Cliff since the war. One for the Japanese:



And another to the Koreans, many of whom who were sent here as forced labor by the Japanese and therefore had also died during the battle for Saipan:



In between the two, we found a bunker that acted as the Last Japanese Command Post where the Japanese Army had made their last stand against the Americans pushing up north.



You can climb up and explore to your spelunking delight:



At the bottom is a similar Banzai Cliff, where instead of jumping off a cliff and landing into the bare earth at Suicide Cliff, Japanese soldiers and civilians threw themselves into the ocean and rocks below just to avoid being captured by the Americans.



You can find plenty of memorials here as well to commemorate the sacrifices the Japanese and local citizens made in order to avoid capture.



After that we returned to check in at 4pm and take it easy at our lodgings until our 9:50am return flight the next day back to Guam.



The next morning felt straightforward: I had gotten 9 full hours of sleep, was picked up by Sumon at 7:45am, and even got upgraded at the airport to business class for my return flight to Guam. Then, while relaxing in Saipan airport’s only Priority Pass lounge, I got a text and call from Sumon who said he found my Bose headphones still in his car. With boarding in 20 minutes and that he was 15 minutes away by driving, I didn’t want to panic.

But within 20 minutes I left my bags behind at the gate with Stephanie, ran out of security to pick up my headphones from Sumon and his friend when they drove back, pass through security again, ran back to the gate, retrieved my bags, and boarded the flight just in time before takeoff.

Whew! Thank you Sumon!




- At time of posting in Saipan, it was 29 °C - Humidity: 75% | Wind Speed: 32km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy, almost perfect


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