Monday, January 15, 2007

Saipan - Christmas 2006

Using Northwest, we had a long layover in Narita; departing Shanghai at 9:30 in the morning and arriving in Saipan 1:00 AM the next day. Flying a US airline into Tokyo, the security screen came down to “do you have any water?” at which point, trashcans were available for tossing away drinks. From Narita into Saipan, now flying into a US territory, there was a bit more work down with each bag somewhat scrutinized. I drew the lucky straw and had every part of my suitcase opened, down to an inspection of my toiletries.

We stayed at the Marianas Resort, the northernmost hotel on the island. All of the rooms face the ocean – we had 4th floor roofs looking around scrub toward the reef. The resort has a small beach area, best used for nearby snorkeling. The rooms at the Marianas are enormous by Asian standards, modestly decorated, overpriced (but then everything on the island is), and equipped with hard, king-sized Asian-style beds (or reasonably comfortable twin beds).

A separate group manages the small beach area at the Marianas, so we were presented with the price list for the lounge chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, etc. Mary knew someone who knew the owner (and oh, we were american, not Japanese), so were told we could use the chairs without paying as they weren’t that busy. Thus began our learning about the 3 tier pricing policy on the island – there is a price for locals, a possible price point for Americans, and the published price for the Japanese. It was always worth saying that you lived (temporarily) in the islands, or that at least, you were American.

In a continuation of the “nickel and dime – ing”, the spa at the Marianas which includes the gym facilities, a separate (and nicer) pool and hot tub costs an additional $20 per person per day. Yikes – not what I expect when I’m already paying $160 per night.

Mary and Peter joined the Hash House Harriers for their Friday evening run and returned with the details of everything we should see and do on the island – from the Sunday brunch at the Hyatt, to the dive shop to use.

Various monuments to the war dead, monuments to peace, memorial stones and war relics are found around the island.

Banzai Cliffs is one of the areas where Japanese families chose suicide over surrender at the capture of the island by the Americans. Legends have it that families lined up in order of age, with the youngest being pushed off by the next oldest, and on through the family. After the war, relatives returned to the islands to gather bones at the bases of the inland cliffs and erect memorial stones.

With free transportation into town via the DFS store buses, I don’t think there was a day that we didn’t wander through the DFS store. The highlights were the “Saipanda”, trying to win prizes at the daily lottery (we won 2 spa entrances, coupons for the Hard Rock Cafe, and various discounts throughout the DFS stores), and talking with Miss Mariana!

Scooters are a great choice for seeing the island. It takes little effort to find spectacular, deserted beaches.

Joining all the rest, but me, Douglas decided to try out scuba-diving with an exploratory dive that took him down and through a sunken war ship. He’s now set on getting his diving certification. Meanwhile, Tim enjoyed his 4 dives – the first since getting certified in 2001.

Bottom line on Saipan – a very pretty island, lots of good snorkeling and diving, much to interest the WWII buff, and an easy vacation if you lived in Japan.

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