Hainan Hideaways

In conjunction with this month’s cover story we offer a more adventurous beach option, by way of China’s original “Hawaii.” It can only be the tropical island of Hainan.

Literally translated as “South Sea” and separated from Guangdong Province’s Leizhou peninsula by the Qiongzhou Strait, Hainan Island is the smallest and southernmost province, yet the largest and most populous island of the PRC. To get from Dongguan to Hainan leaves two main options; either by a swift direct flight from one of the nearby airports, or the more adventurous journey to Guangdong’s south-western point and a very unusual means of transport; the Yuehai train ferry from Zhanjiang.

The bizarre process of train carriages being deposited onto the ferry, to be transported across the sea is surely one of China’s most exceptional examples of logistical engineering. Unfortunately, my time constraints necessitated a flight and I arrived at the northern capital city, Haikou, within an hour of ascending from Bao’an Airport in Shenzhen. With over two million inhabitants, the Hainanese capital known as “Coconut City” is the most densely populated place on the entire island and naturally due to its proximity to the mainland, is still used as the main port.

Haikou is perhaps not so well-known for beaches as the rest of the island, but Jiari Beach is worth a visit and Xixiu Beach at least offers a nice panorama of the city if not much else. Venture slightly out of Haikou to find more alluring beaches such as Holiday Beach to the west and Shimei Bay with a 6 km stretch of white sand. Other sites worth noting are the long extinct Ma’an Ling volcanic vent, Lanli Lake with its 13 islands, and the nearby Wuzhi (five finger) mountain. If you’re looking for something boasting history and culture, I suggest the Temple of the Five Lords.

One of the tallest statues in the world, you really can’t get a perspective of how big it is until you are stood beneath it.

I only spent an entire day in Haikou before navigating the island’s railway system down to the tropical paradise of Sanya. Just 100 RMB saw me arrive at my intended destination just under three hours later. The difference between the two cities was quite striking. The heat and humidity had been ramped up a few notches and the overall vibe just felt new.

Upon strolling around Sanya Bay I spotted the sign for Phoenix Island, a reclaimed land project reminiscent of something in Dubai, boasting a 7-star hotel with a 300-berth capacity yachting marina alongside. A touch out of my price range, I continued along the stretch of shore, which seemed to have lots of developments and construction taking place. I also noticed that many of the signs were in Russian as well as English and later was informed that in fact Hainan has been a popular haunt for Russian tourists for some years already.

The food in Hainan is generally mildly seasoned compared to the mainland and naturally consists of a variety of seafood. One of the best-known dishes on Hainan however is actually Wenchang chicken, originating from the east coast of the island. The chicken is renowned for being free-range and is considered to be drier with more texture. Interestingly, the stock of the chicken is also often used to marinate the accompanying rice for flavor. Many places will even use fresh coconut juice in their hotpots, served with limes, sliced chili and chopped ginger added to soy sauce.

I enjoyed a trip to Nanwan monkey island around one hour’s drive away, followed by a further cruise to a smaller nearby tropical island, where I relaxed near the crystal-clear water with a local Hainan beer. The following day I headed west to Nansha Temple and beheld the crowning jewel of Sanya; the 108-meter-high Guanyin statue. One of the tallest statues in the world, you really can’t get a perspective of how big it is until you are stood beneath it. A remarkable sight, the white statue has three aspects; one side faces inland and the other two face the South China Sea, to represent blessings and protection by Guanyin of China.

A flight back to Shenzhen for under 1,000 RMB, followed by a convenient bus back to Dongguan ended this “must try” weekender nicely. Start packing!