Guam, Saipan, Tinian (Nov 2017)

To help anyone traveling to Guam, Saipan and Tinian (both in the Northern Mariana Islands), here is an outline for our trip there in November 2017.  We traveled to Guam from the U.S. mainland via Honolulu, Hawaii.  We arrived late in the evening, picked up our Thrifty rental car and drove to our hotel – the Days Inn Guam, where we crashed for the night.  

The next day, we spent the day exploring the National Park unit – War in the Pacific National Historical Park. After a stop at the Visitor Center, we drove up to Asan Bay Overlook, where we learned about the Allied landings on Asan Bay, the Japanese Banzai charges, and also how the Japanese treated the natives during occupation. 

We then drove to the trailhead for the Piti Guns Trail.  This trail isn’t very long, but make sure you bring bug spray, as there are a lot of mosquitos.  After a bit, you get to the Piti Guns, still in pretty good condition after all these years.

After we got done battling the mosquitos, we then drove to the Apaca and Ga’an Points, where we snorkeled in the water.  It was pretty interesting snorkeling right next to WWII bunkers.

There are even Japanese anti-aircraft guns still in place and other Japanese bunkers.

After visiting many of the NPS site locations, we spent the rest of the day just driving around the small island of Guam. We even ended up at Jeff’s Pirates Cove Bar where we had a great time chatting with the locals and getting our own private tour of the eclectic museum there.  

The next day, we flew to Saipan. We were originally going to spend the entire day snorkeling and enjoying the island, until I learned, last minute, about the island of Tinian. Scott and I have a quest to go to all the Manhattan Project sites. Tinian is a small island that makes up the larger the Northern Mariana Islands chain where the two bombers (Enola Gay and Bockscar) were loaded with the nuclear bombs to drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945.  When we found out that you can fly to Tinian and see both the area where the nuclear bombs (Little Boy and Fat Man) were loaded on the bombers and the airfields where the bombers took off, we knew we had to go.  

So, as soon as we landed in Saipan, we went over to Star Marianas Air and boarded our little flight to Tinian. We laughed as we took off, because the pilot of this small airplane kept the passenger door open and did not reach over to close it until he was taxiing down the runway to take off.  It was bizarre.  After a short 10 minute flight, we landed in Tinian, picked up our rental car, and then drove to the North Field. During World War II, the Americans transformed the entire northern end of the island to 11 miles worth of runways and the airfield area, designed to accommodate the entire 313th Bombardment Wing complement of Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers.  You are able to drive down some of the runways.  I maneuvered our minivan to the beginning of Runway Able, and drove it down the runway as fast as I dared, pretending that I was a plane taking off.  I enjoyed it – Scott shook his head. 

Remains of the U.S. bomber base and Atom Bomb Pits, and the remains of Japanese fortifications, can be found at North Field. There is a memorial on the old airfield at the loading pits, which are filled in for safety. The Atom Bomb Pits were originally constructed to load the bombs, since they were too large to be loaded in the conventional manner. The B-29s were maneuvered over a pit with their bomb bay doors open to facilitate loading.

The roads to get to the runways and the locations aren’t terribly great, but it is doable in a sedan (we had a minivan).   We then spent the rest of the morning driving around the tiny island.

In the early afternoon, we flew back to Saipan and picked up our rental car there.  We spent the afternoon exploring the Banzai Cliffs; the last Japanese Command Post (just across the road from Banzai Cliff was the strategic last command post of the Japanese during WWII, a cliffside cave serving as a bunker); Suicide Cliffs (where an unknown number of Japanese soldiers and civilians jumped to their deaths to escape capture by the Americans).  We also stopped at the American Memorial Park, a National Park Service Affiliated Site, honoring the American landings in Saipan during World War II. 

American Memorial Park
Banzai Cliffs
Suicide Cliffs

We finally stopped in for a drink at Saipan Brewing to watch the Arizona State University football game (Scott is a huge fan), and mark off another brewery in the U.S. Territories. 

At the end of the day, we had planned to fly to Manila, Philippines, via Guam, for a few days of snorkeling before going back to the U.S.  However, Scott and I were both tired and getting sick.  So, in the airport in Saipan, we decided just to fly back to Guam and skip the Philippines.  I booked us a car and hotel in Guam while Scott cancelled our reservations in the Philippines.  We then boarded the plane, flew back to Guam and picked up our fourth rental car of the day.  

We ended up staying at the Wyndham Garden, which was a nice hotel.  One morning, while we were being lazy in the hotel room, we experienced an earthquake. Scott was sitting at the desk typing, when his computer started moving.  I was lying in bed and all of a sudden the bed was moving (like one of those old vibrating beds that you put a quarter in to make it vibrate).  It was crazy – I’d never felt such a strong earthquake before.  

For the next few days, we spent time snorkeling around various locations in Guam.  The snorkeling isn’t great as compared to other places in the world and the water was really warm. But it was still fun to do. We also visited the breweries in Guam: Ishii Brewing and Great Deep Brewing (now closed). As a side note, Ishii Brewing was quite an experience, as it’s located in the bottom level of this sketchy-looking parking garage. We sat at a card table held together by duct tape, and watched the brewer do his thing. The beer was decent and it was definitely an experience we’ll never forget.  Since our visit there, it looks like two other breweries have opened:  The Guam Brewery and Carabao Brewing.