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677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   

Pleasure island

Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.

Saipan, with a population of 72,000, is the capital of the CNMI, a 14-island archipelago that extends roughly 800 kilometers from Rota in the south to the volcanic outcrops of Farallon de Pajaros in the north. Known for its awe-inspiring vistas, historical sites and open-air activities like the annual XTERRA off-road multi-sports event that draws competitors from all over Asia Pacific, Saipan is very much an outdoorsman's dream.

A typical day could be a dive in the Grotto, one of the world's renowned cavern dives where shafts of indigo light penetrate underwater through cracks in the limestone. It could be an arduous 18-hole session at the Kingfisher golf course where a stray shot sends a ball straight into the shimmering blue sea yards away from the putting green. Or it could simply be a stroll downtown along Beach Road, a beautiful boulevard hugging white sandy beaches and overlooking the turquoise coral reef of Saipan's western shore. Digesting my breakfast in the hotel lounge was the last on my list of things to do. Glancing seaward, I set my sights on a deserted island lying within the coral reef, and not long after, was clutching a ticket for the 15-minute ride out to Managaha Island aboard a glass-bottom ferry.

Managaha's reminder of wartime

Cast away

Meaning "a short breather" in Chamorro, the native tongue, Managaha is a befitting name for this little islet that can be circumnavigated in minutes. A walk around the island revealed that Managaha held many of the attractions found on the mother island itself. A rusting steel cannon left by the Japanese forces during World War II lay facing the Philippine Sea. Further inland, a statue of Chief Aghurubw wearing a bright red loincloth attested to the migration of Carolinians to Saipan following a brutal tropical storm that destroyed their homes in the 18th century. And while exhibiting such cultural riches, Managaha nevertheless lived up to its reputation as Saipan's mecca of marine sports, with no less than 10 activities to sign up for at the rickety beach hut shadowed by palm trees.

Having a penchant more for things underwater than up in the air, I gave up the parasailing for the obscure aquanaut dive, a submerged trek along Managaha's deeper waters. Wearing a swimsuit and what looked like the hood of a space suit with an air hose attached to its back, I waded behind my guide toward a congregation of friendly reef fish of all colors and dimensions. A novel way to enjoy shallow dives, the aqua note technology is straightforward physics-air pumped into the headpiece rises and creates a pocket of breathable gas, and the wearer needn't remove his glasses, don heavy scuba gear or even wet his or her hair. "Just don't topple over and let the air out," seemed to be the cardinal rule as the big blue surrounded me and gave me jolts of excitement.

Beach volleyball on Managaha

At sunset, all activities cease and it's time to board the last boat back to shore, and this is perhaps why sojourning on Managaha remains "a short breather." However, occasional barbecues take place on the island until well past nightfall, and a sufficiently large party may charter the entire island for private use-usually wedding receptions, since marriage in the Marianas, coined Marri Mari, is increasingly a common practice for couples from the western Pacific Rim. Surprisingly, there is also life on Saipan after the constellations appear in the sky. Bars, mostly owned by Asian and American expatriates, line the streets downtown, usually in the proximity of hotels, and are open until late. The Sand Castle Saipan even features a Vegas-style dinner show featuring Anthony Reed, who NBC TV describes as the American magician with the world's most dangerous tricks up his sleeve.


Body work
My plan was to get up in time for another day of activities, and the Grand Hyatt's Sunday brunch was as good an incentive as any to make it down and join the islanders on their way back from weekly services. Chefs and patissiers from France and Italy put on a buffet feast with everything from salmon carpaccio to English roast beef to Brittany-style crepes.

Having had my share, I made my way up north in search of the Mariana Resort and Spa, a wellness center that provides the latest services for bodies worn out by urban woes. Located near the Yomiuri Giants' spring training ground and an expansive kart circuit overlooking the ocean, the center boasts an interesting tool that could prove a source of pride for some, a wake-up call for others. It's a physical check-up machine that punches out numbers, supplement information and an overall fitness score simply by having you stand on it for a minute. Doing this right when you get there allows you to pick out the various services at Mariana Resort and Spa, and with a score of 82, I decided to try the aromatherapy massage, a 30-minute session followed by a long, soothing dunk in the hot-spring pool with a mesmerizing view of giant waves breaking over the reefs far below.

If ever that score rises into the 90s, I vowed to return and tackle the biking trail all the way up to the Last Command Post, the wartime peace memorials and beyond to the Bird Island Lookout, one of Saipan's most dramatic overlooks. For now, though, I was happy resting my limbs and breathing in the scent of hibiscus in the air.

Mariana Resort and Spa's palatial pool


More information
Marianas Visitors Authority:
For information on Managaha Island, including transport and marine sports packages, see or call 670-234-7148.
Sand Castle Saipan (see or call 670-233-8585).
Mariana Resort and Spa (see or call 670-322-0770).

Where to stay
The Hyatt Regency Saipan (see or call 670-234-1234) offers a complete set of amenities and services including a private beach, chapel, spa, massage parlor and tennis courts with coaching available from former Davis Cup competitors. The hotel's location allows guests to easily access downtown locations as well as the harbor and the panoramic spots in the north.

Getting there
Continental Airlines has introduced its "Starlight Express" service departing Narita late in the evening and arriving in Saipan at 1am, allowing guests to leave after work and enjoy a full two-day sojourn on the island on any given weekend. For details, see

Photo credit: Carlo Niederberger