So, tell me about Saipan. (pretty please?)

Inspired by this thread.

I am in the super, super, super early planning stages of a vacation out to tropics. I want to go somewhere that is fairly laidback, without being completely off the beaten path. That is to say, I like exploring as much as the next fella’, but this is a vacation to kick back and relax, not quite so much to adventure. We’ll save that for another trip. Guam and Saipan both spring to mind, as they are both relatively inexpensive, and pleasantly warm and South Pacific-y and both seem to offer some opportunity to have a mild adventure without so much of the danger of getting lost in the jungle or eaten by cannibals. :wink:

Of these two, I’m leaning heavily toward Saipan for reasons that I can’t really articulate. Maybe just because it is the smaller of the two, and I could possibly take a little trip to Tinian while there. But, for whatever reason, I’ve decided (tentatively) that is where I want to go. I know some people are critical of Saipan for being basically a welfare state, but has anybody visited/lived there? Would it be worth the 50,000 yen or so for a few days and nights/a week? Or would I be better off spending that money somewhere else?

I have little to no knowledge about either place except for what I’ve read on a few travel sites, so all comments/suggesions are welcome, but, please, have IRL experience with Saipan. I don’t want comments like, “Well, I think Saipan’s government is corrupt, you shouldn’t go there!” or “I read a website that says Saipan sucks, don’t go there!” Not to sound bitchy or anything, but I’m there to vacation, not make a political statement and/or anything you can read on the Internet (that’s written in English of Japanese, at least) I can read, too. I want personal experiences from Dopers. Please, oh, please, oh, please! :slight_smile:

Every couple of years my office organizes a company trip at the end of November, and so far we’ve been to Saipan twice and Guam once. Owing to the size and inclinations of our group, these trips have all been to resorts that are more or less self-contained with regard to activities (or at least make it easy to arrange activities outside the resort).

Saipan was a lot of fun and has a lot of beautiful sites (including a lot of fascinating history). There are scooter rentals just about everywhere, which makes getting around relatively easy (small as the island is, you’ll find it bigger than you expected if you have to walk). If you hit your local bookstore, their travel sections are guaranteed to have lots of information on specific places to see or companies running services like bike tours, skydiving, scuba, etc.

To be honest, I enjoyed my time in Guam more. It was probably because the resort was close enough to the main drag that everything was in walking distance. Guam also seemed more like little America, which was a welcome chance to load up on goodies that just don’t exist in Japan.

BTW, the weather every time I was there (both islands) was ‘sun, sun, sun, 5-minute downpour, sun, sun, downpour, sun, sun…’ so plan accordingly wrt clothing and camera equipment.

My only connection with Saipan is a guy I met at a summer school program this past year who lived there. (There was some kind of grant to get people from the U.S. territories into it basically for free; there was another guy from the Virgin Islands, too.) He was a nice guy, so I recommend it on that basis. :wink:

Vox Imperatoris

Voxy Emperor: Well, good to know that at least one guy in Saipan will be nice. :wink:

Sublight: I’m not really in need of any American goodies. I usually just get those through Rakuten or other online sites. I kind of like the idea of Saipan because it won’t quite be so much like a little America, but just a little island that happens to be within the dominion of America. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to visit Guam anytime, as I’m sure I will. It comes highly recommended by a coworker of mine.

Definitely glad to hear about scooter rentals. I was really hoping for a nice easy way to go puttering around the island. I’ll also try to pick up a book or two on my way home, assuming the bookstore by the station has some on Saipan. If not, I might have to go further afield.

If anybody else has personal experience with Saipan, I’d enjoy hearing from you. In particular, must-see sights, must-do activities, must-eat tasty times, etc. Of course, warnings about must-avoid icky-no-good things are also appreciated. :slight_smile:

I spent two weeks on Guam a couple of years ago. I enjoyed my time there, and would like to go back. Guam has several big shopping malls to cater to the Japanese tourists
From what I was told, Saipan is quite a bit different from Guam. (this was from people that traveled and worked on both islands)

FWIW I was told the titty bars are superior on Saipan. (And I thought the ones on Guam were A++)

Well, Rick, damn, if only I liked titty bars. Or titties, for that matter. :wink: Not going to Saipan to shop, I can do that here just fine, so it doesn’t particularly bother me that Guam has bigger malls. I would like to know how Saipan is different from Guam, though.

Sublight: I picked up a travel guide today! Managed to grab the last one they had for Saipan! :slight_smile: I haven’t given it a thorough look yet, but the quick flip-through I gave it at the store showed a few neat/interesting/pretty places to visit. Still though, hard to beat anecdotal evidence when it comes to these subjects. :smiley:

So nobody else here has ever been to Saipan? That’s a shame.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Guam (I used to live on Pohnpei) but never made it to Saipan, alas. I’m sure I have an opinion about it based on my knowledge of the region in general, but I will refrain from speculation.

Guam, on the other hand, is (was? the last time I was there was a good 5-7 years ago) loads of fun. Very casual and laid back - if you are looking for high-falutin’ culture you won’t find it there, but if you just want to hang out in a warm place with friendly people and some decent scenery, it’s not bad at all.

Good. I’m not looking for high-falutin’ anything. So laid-back and casual is very good. However, Rick made the comment that they are quite different. Hopefully in good ways.

From brochures, pictures, etc, Guam seems to be a bit more built-up than Saipan, for better or for worse. Perhaps Sublight could tell more about the differences between the two?

If not, maybe I’ll just have to go to both and find out for myself. :wink:

Guam is definitely the more built up of the two, so it was very nice having other options when you’re with a group of Japanese tourists who insist on going shopping at the DFS Galleria every. freaking. day.:smack:

If you’re into golf (which I somehow doubt), Guam has lots of decent-to-great courses, while Saipan only has a few.

One amusing thing about both islands was how many shooting ranges there were. Since guns are so strictly controlled in Japan (Korea too, judging by all the signs written in hangul as well as katakana), getting to shoot one is apparently a huge draw for tourists. Walking down the main drag in Guam, nearly every mini-mall (and those were everywhere) had at least one shop with a huge GUNS sign out front, and posters of Rambo, Dirty Harry and Bikini Babes with Guns covering the windows.

In Saipan, the aforementioned DFS Galleria (located on both islands. It has all the high-end European brand boutiques, which everyone assumes are offering huge discounts over the Tokyo and Seoul branches) seems to be the #1 attraction for tourists from Asia. The Garapan neighborhood (where DFS is located) also has an interesting array of shops offering Chinese knock-off goods by day, and various ‘services’ by night (my wife and I were shopping around sunset, watching as the first-floor shops would close their doors and turn out the lights, followed by the second-floor shops opening up and girls in very revealing outfits coming to sit outside and beckon customers in).

Embarrassing as it is to admit, I really don’t know what to do there since I was at one of those Club Med-style places that has lots of activities on the resort grounds, plus my company pre-arranged most of the off-resort activities like dinners and golfing. I spent the rest of the time either going shopping with my wife or vegging by the pool. Lots of things in the tour guides looked fun, but at the time it just felt like I didn’t have the time or energy to do any of them (plus my wife forbade me to try skydiving). Even so, it was a good time.

Do you know where you’ll be staying?

Usually they had a sign proclaiming Shoot a real machine gun! There was one shooting range that offered the shooter a chance to have their picture taken in Old west get up holding a gun. So the poster sized picture they had in the window was three Japanese tourists dressed up like they were out of the 1860s. Why do I mention this? They were holding Thompson sub-machine guns. :smiley:

I’m pretty sure I passed by that very shop. :smiley:

I suppose I should add: I took a picture of a poster just like the one you describe, but I lost all my photos of the last trip.

Word of advice: even if your camera is supposed to be “waterproof to 10 meters,” buy a sealed case or plastic bag for it when you go snorkeling.

I went to Saipan once about 6 years ago. I was living in Japan at the time and, as you no doubt know, it is a popular tourist destination for the Japanese. There are several things that stick in my mind from that trip. 1) First would be the colour of the water- truly unbelievable. I’ve been to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and several other places but I’ve never seen water that was the same beautiful shade of blue-green that it was there. I wanted to drink it up. 2) Sea cucumbers- uggh. Like big pieces of crap littering the ocean floor. It even feels like crap when you stand on them. I don’t remember the time of year that I went but that may be a factor with them. 3) The island (I forget the name). There is a little island with a beautiful little beach on it. Well worth visiting but please note* you have to pay an entrance fee. That’s right, an entrance fee to go on the island. I thought that it was incredible that my hotel would take me by boat there for free but then I had to pay once I got there. I don’t remember how much it was but I remember that the guy who was taking everyone’s money was quite surly. 4) Bacon. mmm. Maybe not a big deal if you live somewhere other than Japan but I really liked having good bacon again. 5) Caves. I and my (now) wife rented a car and drove around the island but it didn’t take too long. There is a dirt road far from the hotels that you probably shouldn’t drive the rentals on. We did. There are a few places along that road where you can stop and check out some creepy caves. We entered the mouths but didn’t go too far down. 6) The mountain (big hill?) in the middle of the island. It gets quite steep (dangerous!) and the road is gravel/stones so, again, you probably shouldn’t take your rental there. Again, we did. After starting to go up it got so steep and narrow that turning around wasn’t really an option. We kept at it and upon reaching the top though we were rewarded with an amazing view. You could see the entire island from up there. It felt so incredible it is difficult to put into words.
I would say that a trip to Saipan is well worth it. There are a lot of Japanese tourists there but it is a great place for a short vacation. I guess that’s why so many of them go.

The caves. Those were very interesting. My wife and I took a mountain bike tour near the Banzai Cliffs (the tour operators drove us to the top, then we rode down the trails to the shore with a guide), and along the way the guide stopped to show us some of the caves where the Japanese soldiers had dug in during the war.

I totally forgot about the Banzai cliffs! The image of people who’d prefer to jump to their deaths rather than facing the hell that they expected the American’s to unleash on them (at the end of WWII) is something that I mentally separated from my vacation memories. Interesting from a historical perspective, though. Incidentally, the caves I was referring to were on the opposite side of the island. I think there may be a bunch of them.