HAINAN ISLAND: BEACHES, SANYA, HAIKOU AND LI VILLAGES

HAINAN PROVINCE

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Hainan Province is an island province southwest of Hong Kong and Guangzhou. It is the home of the Li ethnic group and, since 1949, it has been a popular retreat for the Communist Party elite. Mao kept a resort on the island called The Deer That Turned Its Head Villa. Hainan was the first place in China to experience a development and real estate boom after it was declared China's newest, province in 1988 and parts of it became a Special Economic Zone.

Hainan Island also has a number of military installations and it is home to a sensitive military intelligence operation. It was where a U.S. spy plane landed in 2001 after colliding with a Chinese fighter, setting off an international incident. In World War II it was the home of an important U.S. military base.

Today Hainan is one of China's richer provinces and major tourist destination. While resorts are trying to attract foreign visitors, Chinese tourist are far more prevalent. In 2007, there were 18 million of them compared to 750,000 overseas travelers. Many mainland Chinese have bought second homes on Hainan as vacation retreats and investments. The southernmost point in China, called the End of the World, is on Hainan Island. There is a figure of a traditional Chinese fisherman holding a fish there.

Hainan Province is China’s smallest province that isn’t a city. It covers 35,354 square kilometers (13,650 square miles), is home to about 9.3 million people and has a population density of 260 people per square kilometer. About 59 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Haikou is the capital and largest city, with about two million people. Han Chinese make up 84 percent of the population, while the indigenous the Li (Hlai) comprise 14.7% of the population. There is a small number of Miao (0.7 percent) and Zhuang (0.6 percent) Maps of Hainan: chinamaps.org

Hainan Island

Hainan Island (20 kilometers off the mainland) is the largest of the 200 islands that make up Hainan Province and is home to the vast majority of Hainan province’s million people, many of them farmers and fishermen. Known in a Chinese legend as the end of the world, where the sky and the sea meet, Hainan Island is a popular honeymooning spot and tourist destination with beaches, warm winters, good food, Portuguese colonial buildings, outgoing people and markets with live cobras and sea turtles. Gibbons, parrots and other wild animals that once filled the forest are now largely gone.

null Much of the new development on the island has gone into tourism. To draw tourists, many fancy resorts and open duty-free shops have opened, visa exemptions have been introduced, and infrastructure and airports have been improved. Development now is proceeding more carefully with established firms providing much of the capital, a far cry from the anything goes model that prevailed in the 1990s.

According to the Chinese government: “Hainan is the sole tropical island in China, and is known around the world as "the world's most beautiful island". It has other names, such as Coconut Island, Sunshine Island, Longevity Island, Health Island, and many more. It is one of only a few resort destinations perfect for for summer holidays, winter swimming and vacationing as well. Now Hainan is making great strides towards the grand goal of building an international tourist island. As Enríquez Savignac, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization once said: "Hainan is a masterpiece of the Creator, a brilliant pearl for all mankind".

“Hainan is also a haven for rare birds and animals. In order to protect its biodiversity, it has established a number of nature reserves and wildlife domestication farms, such as the Black Crested Gibbon Conservation Area of Bawang Mountain in Changjiang County, Datianpo Deer Conservation Area in Dongfang County, Dazhou Island (Swiftlet) Conservation Area in Wanning City, and Macaque Conservation Area of Nanwan Peninsula in Lingshui County.”

Tourist Office: Hainan Tourism Administration, 6 Haifu Rd, 570203 Haikou, Hainan, China, tel. (0)-898-535-3253, fax: (0)- 898-535-3074 Web Sites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Maps: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet Getting There : Hainan is well connected by air, boat, train and bus to mainland cities. See Haikou and Sanya sections.

South China Sea

Hainan is located in the northwestern part of the South China Sea, which lies south of Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. By some reckonings it is the world's largest sea, covering 3,500,000 square kilometers (1,400,000 square miles). A marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea stretches from the Karimata and Malacca straits to the Strait of Taiwan and carries tremendous strategic importance. Today it carries roughly a third of the world's shipping, carrying over $3 trillion in trade each year, and accounts for a tenth of the world's fish catch, which are critical for the food security of millions of people in Southeast Asia.

In the last 2,500 years mariners for Malaysia, China and Indonesia navigated the South China Sea to trade sandalwood, silk, tea and spices. China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines all have 200-mile coastal economic zones in the South China Sea. All of these countries also claim the Spratly Islands which are in the middle of the sea Below the South China Sea is an estimated US$3 trillion worth of oil, gas and minerals. Fisheries in the South China Sea have been decimated by overfishing and polluting chemicals from shrimp farms and factories.

The South China Sea is south of China; east of Vietnam; west of the Philippines; east of the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, up to the Strait of Singapore in the western, and north of the Bangka Belitung Islands and Borneo. In recent years, China’s claim that the entire sea is it exclusive possession has been a hot international issue and a point of outrage with China. Web Sites: Wikipedia Wikipedia South China Sea Virtual Library South China Sea Virtual Library

Geography and Climate of Hainan

Located in the southernmost part of China, Hainan island is China’s largest island or its second largest island, depending on your view of Taiwan (which the largest if you view Taiwan as part of China). Hainan province is mountainous and covered with tropical forests and vegetation. There are 81 peaks — mostly rounded hills — over 1000 meters (3,280 feet) in height, including Wuzhi Mountain (Five Finger Mountain) with its jagged finger-like shape, and the magnificent Yingge Mountain. Mountains with tropical forests can be found in and around Jianfeng Ridge in Ledong County, Bawang Mountain in Changjiang County, Diaoluo Mountain in Lingshui County and Wuzhi Mountain in Qiongzhong County.

Volcanic eruptions in the distant past have left multiple extinct craters on Hainan Island, Shuangling Ridge of Shishan Mountain in Qiongshan City is the most famous one. Karst formations include Luobi Cave in Sanya City, Qianlong Cave in Baoting County and Huangdi Cave in Changjiang County. There are many hot springs, with high temperatures and low mineral content, offering therapeutic benefits in beautiful surroundings.

Hainan Island is located far from the interior of mainland China and this gives it many advantages. It is situated right at the center of the Asia-Pacific Economic Ring, lying just across the Qingzhou Strait from Guangdong Province to the North and across the Gulf of Tonkin from Vietnam to the West. The island is close to Hong Kong in the east and Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines in the south. All the above countries and territories can be reached by a one to four hour flight from Hainan.

Hainan Island covers 35,100 square kilometers of land and, according to to the Chinese government, governs an ocean territory of over 2.1 million square kilometers. It embraces eight cities — Haikou, Sanya, Wenchang, Qionghai, Wanning, Wuzhishan, Danzhou and Dongfang and four counties — Anding, Tunchang, Chengmai and Linggao — and six autonomous counties — Lingshui, Qiongzhong, Baoting, Ledong, Baisha and Changjiang. There are county-level representative offices in the Xisha (Paracel) Islands, Nansha (Spratly) Islands and

Hainan has a tropical monsoon climate. Its average annual temperature is 22-26°C (71-79°F) and the temperature is coldest in January and February when it averages around 16-21°C (61-70°F). Because of the 1750-2650 hours of sunshine it receives every year. The annual precipitation in Hainan is 1,639 millimeters on average and the rainy season runs from May to October, contributing to 70-90 percent of the total rainfall.

Because of its plentiful rain and sunshine, Hainan can reap three harvests of rice and is an ideal place for growing out-of-season vegetables and breeding fine-strain seeds. The three largest rivers, namely, the Nandu, Changhua and Wanquan Rivers occupy valleys cover more than 10,000 square kilometers. The water surface of Hainan's reservoirs covers an area of 56,000 hectares. Reservoirs such as Songtao, Daguangba, Niululing, Wanning, Changmao and Shilu are among the largest.

Li Minority

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Li in traditional clothes
The Li are an ethnic group that lives mostly at the base of Wuzhi Mountain on Hainan Island. A They are the largest minority on Hainan island and were the inhabitants of Hainan Island before the Han Chinese arrived. There is archeological evidence that the Li have been on the island since around 1000 B.C. The Li are animist and ancestor worshippers. They observe a 12-day week, with each day named after an animal. Their biggest celebration is the Festival of the Third Day of the Third Lunar Month. Their dead are buried in single log coffins in the village cemetery. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

Li is a generic name for the indigenous people of Hainan island. Also known as the Lai, they live mainly in Hainan Province, in the western part of the island. Hainan Island is located south of the Chinese mainland, off the coast of Guangdong Province. About 60 percent of Li live inside their autonomous areas, and the rest mostly in the nearby districts. Most live in and around Tongze, capital of the Hainan Li-Miao Autonomous Prefecture, and Baoting, Ledong, Dongfang and other counties under its jurisdiction; others live among people of the Han and Hui ethnic groups in other parts of the island. The Li live in the city of Dongfang, the four Li autonomous counties, Baisha, Lingshui, Changjiang, Ledong, and two Li and Miao autonomous counties, Qiongzhong and Baoting in southern and central Hainan Province. The remaining population lives scattered in other regions of Hainan. The Li are especially concentrated in Ledong, Ya, Lingshui, Baoting, Qiongzhong, Baisha, Dongfang and Changjiang counties. Baisha, Baoting and Ledong counties are regarded as the heart of Li country. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com\*\]

The "Li" name is Chinese in origin. There are five main Li groups, each of which could be considered a separate ethnic group: 1) The Gai 58 percent of the Li); 2) the Ji (24 percent); 3) the Bendi (6 percent); 4) Meifeu (4 percent); and 5) Jiamao (7 percent). These groups speak different dialects (or languages), sometimes unintelligible to each other; they dress in a different clothes and have many different customs. Also living in Hainan Island is an ethnic group called Danzhou whose origin is not completely understood but has likely been forged through centuries of slow interaction between Hainan aboriginals and Chinese immigrants. This group has asked the Chinese Government to recognize them as a national minority, but without success. \*\

Li population in China: 0.1098 percent of the total population; 1,463,064 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 1,248,022 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 1,110,900 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. [Sources: People's Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Li Autonomous Prefecture

Li Autonomous Prefecture is located in a mountainous area with abundant forests and tropical climate on Hainan island. Lying at the foot of the Wuzhi Mountains, the Li area is blessed with fertile land and abundant rainfall. Coconut palms and rubber trees line the beaches and people in some places reap three crops of rice a year and grow maize and sweet potatoes all the year round. The area is the country's major producer of tropical crops such as coconut, arica, sisal hemp, lemon grass, cocoa, coffee, rubber, oil palm, cashew, pineapple, casava, mango and banana.The island is abundant in minerals like copper, tin, crystal quarts, phosphorus, iron and tungsten. There are numerous salt pans and many fine harbors along the coast, and good fishing grounds off the shore. Pearls, coral and hawksbill, turtles of commercial value are found in the coastal waters. Black gibbons, civets and peacocks live in the primeval forests which abound with China.org *|*]

Li Villages are scattered around Hainan island with those most frequently visited by tourists about three kilometers from Tongshi.The Li people have several interesting customs. They cook rice in a hollow piece of bamboo which gives it a distinctive flavor. Their homemade wine is very distinctive. The like to sing and dance when they drink it. Their traditional thatched-roof cottages have unusual curtains of reeds that hangs from the roof to the ground.

The Li have traditionally lived in settlement comprised mostly of blood relatives. The community worked the land together and shared the harvest. They lived in unique thatched-bamboo houses with woven bamboo or rattan floors half a meter above the ground, railings made from woven bamboo and rattan, and mud used as plaster on the walls. The region around Wuzhi mountain receives a lot of rain. The Li are able to harvest three crops of rice and raise coconuts, betel nut, sweet potatoes, maize, pineapples, lemon grass, coffee rubber, sisal, cocoa, palm oil, cashews, cassava, mangoes and bananas, They are skilled at weaving kapok and are regarded as experts on herbal medicines. The Lis are known for their skill in weaving kapok. They are also famed for their knowledge of herbal medicine. Their remedies for snakebites and rabies have China.org *|*]

The Li people are good at singing and dancing, and have a rich heritage of oral literature that covers many folktales and ballads. The native musical instruments are mouth bow (mouth chord), a vertical bamboo flute blown through the nose, and "Bai" (Paixiao, a vertical musical instrument made of bamboo), and so on. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

History of Hainan Island

Because of its location, Hainan has traditionally been home of smugglers, drug dealers and pirates. For many years it was a dumping ground for criminals. Until fairly recently much of the island lacked electricity and as many people used the beaches for relieving themselves as for swimming. Mainlanders kept their distance and the island became engulfed in tropical vegetation.

In 1988, Hainan Province was separated from Guangdong Province and established as a Special Economic Zone. Under new aviation policies, Hainan became China's most liberal special aerial zone. Under free skies, the aviation industry in Hainan took off. The number of international airline flights grew from 5 to 61. The number of domestic flights increased from 5 to 38.

In the early 1990s developers decided to turn it into the “Hawaii of China." For a brief period Hainan was the fastest growing economic region in China. People from all over China came to make their fortune. Spectators bought “stir-free buildings," held them for several weeks and sold them for double what they paid for them. The prostitution and gambling industries boomed. Official seals were faked. People were murdered.

Instead of attracting factories and cheap labor that built a foundation for economic growth Hainan mostly attracted spectulators who threw money at poorly-thought-out development schemes. Massive construction and deforestation ensued. By some estimated only 8 percent of the original cover remains.

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South China Sea

Then just as quickly as Hainan boomed it went bust. The real estate market collapsed in the mid 1990s. Apartments that once went for US$1 million, were lucky to be bought for US$100,000. Unfinished construction projects and half-built buildings, including a 48-story tower, the tallest structure on Hainan, littered the island and gathering dust. Crime gangs moved in to run car smuggling operations and oversea an illegal stock market. Government corruption was rife. Some high officials went down in some big time scandals. In the mid 1990s crime was so rampant in Haikou that many people were afraid to go out after dark.

It took more than a decade for Hainan to recover. By the mid 2000s it had resurrected itself as prime tourism destination. It welcomed 3.7 million visitors in 2004, a 20 percent increase from 2003. By 2008, almost all the 156 million square meters worth of construction left unfinished after the crash was completed or bulldozed, sales of property was brisk and investors were returning. In the early 2010s, new construction was going on everywhere Among the Western hotel chains that have taken interest are Sheraton, Westin, Marriot, and Shangri-La.

Hainan Island: the Hawaii of China?

Conde Nest Traveler has called Hainan “Hawaii without the Honolulu high-rises and crowds." The island lies in a region at 18°9'-20°11' northern latitude and 108°36'-111°03' eastern longitude, between the tropical and sub-tropical areas. The island has a pleasant climate, bright sunshine, fresh air, green coconut groves, beautiful bays, natural ocean swimming spots, fine beaches, soft breezes and tasty seafood, hot springs and golf courses do bring to mind Hawaii. The island is nice all year and many varieties of tropical plants and quality fruits available.

Bonnie Tsui wrote in the New York Times: “Hainan Island has often been called the Chinese Hawaii, and indeed, it is the only tropical beach destination in China. With coasts on the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin, about a 90-minute flight southwest of Hong Kong, this island, slightly bigger than Maryland, is attracting hordes of Chinese in the market for a little sun and fun. [Source: Bonnie Tsui, New York Times, March 12, 2009]

“The warm, sandy south coast around the port city of Sanya is experiencing a luxury hotel boom: Ritz-Carlton, Banyan Tree, Le Méridien and Mandarin Oriental have all opened resorts there in the last year, with Fairmont and Raffles properties also in the pipeline. Look around, and you’ll encounter weekend warriors from Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, all seeking to escape the crush of big-city life for a quiet stretch of beach and a frozen cocktail.

“In the past, Hainan had a romantic, Wild West frontier air about it; as the southernmost point in China, it served for centuries as a place of banishment for criminals, exiled poets and political undesirables. Thirty minutes from Sanya is the famously scenic Tianya Haijiao, a k a the Edge of the Sky and the Rim of the Sea, a boulder-strewn beach depicted on the Chinese two-yuan note. Today, it is an immensely popular tourist attraction.

“In the last few years, Hainan has become a fashionable draw for Russian tourists looking to escape winter — entire blocks in Sanya have signs lettered in Russian for their benefit. More recently, Hainan has attracted younger international travelers like Drew Aras and Catherine Forman, both 24 and from Melbourne, Australia. Mr. Aras, a physical therapist, first heard about the island while watching the Beijing Olympics, since it was where organizers obtained the 17,000 tons of sand for the Games’ beach volleyball courts. “Usually, when we travel together, we negotiate a place that is both interesting to travel to and has the added bonus of offering some surf time for me,” said Mr. Aras, who has been surfing since he was 5. “We thought we’d find a nice place to relax by the beach and maybe catch a few waves between cocktails.” What they found were uncrowded waves, cheap and delicious seafood and a quirky landscape that skipped from isolated coastline to spots jammed with mainland package tourists outfitted in matching head-to-toe Hawaiian prints.”

Transportation and Road in Hainan

Expressways and roads are the main means of transportation within Hainan. There are about 3,000 kilometers of major expressways in Hainan, including once that goes around the island. Main roads link ports, cities and counties throughout the island whilst branch lines reach 318 villages and towns and all major tourist sites. Thanks to the round-island expressways, Haikou is just a three-hour drive from Sanya on the Hainan Eastern Expressway.

Haikou and Sanya, the two main cities in Hainan Island, are 285 kilometers apart. High-speed trains link the two cities major in around 1.5 hours - 2.5 hours, with the fastest trains being the express one that make no stops and the slower one making stops. Conventional trains do the trip in about three hours. A total of 44 high-speed trains and bullet trains run from Sanya to Haikou between 6:45am and 09:45pm every day. The ticket prices are US$21 to US$31.

According to ASIRT: “Roads linking main cities are generally in good condition. Roads in remote rural areas are often unpaved and potholed. Western Expressway (G225), links Haikou with cities on island's western coast and Sanya. A newer road; generally in good condition. Road is generally flat. Unsafe for cycling due to higher travel speeds. Eastern Highway, an older road; may be in poor condition. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2011]

“Eastern Expressway (G223), links Haikou with cities on island's eastern coast and Sanya. Newer road; generally in good condition. Shorter than Eastern Highway. Generally flat. Not recommended for cycling due to higher travel speeds. Haiwen Expressway, serves Haikou Wencheng on island's northeastern coast. Haiyu Middle Highway, passes through mountainous interior region. Links Qiongzhong Town, Five Finger Mountain (Wu Zhi Shan) and Sayna. Travel is slower than on expressways.

“In island's urban areas, buses, taxis, motorbike taxis, motorized tricycles and pedal tricycles provide transport. Buses are the main means of public transport. Long distance bus transport to mainland destinations is readily available. Bus transport between Haikou and Sanya is frequent. Leave from south and east stations. Taxis are plentiful in Haikou and Sanya. Fares are higher than on the mainland. Taxis are metered. Bargaining with driver may reduce fare. High speed Haikou-Sanya train runs near island's eastern coast.”

Getting to Hainan

The main ways to get to Hainan are on Guangdong-Haikou Railway and ferry and by air to Haikou Meilan International Airport or Sanya Phoenix International Airport. According to the New York Times: “Hainan is an easy flight from any major Chinese city; Sanya is about 90 minutes from Hong Kong and Guangzhou and about three hours from Shanghai. China Southern (www.cs-air.com/en), Dragon Air (www.dragonair.com) and Air China (www.airchina.com.cn/en/index.jsp) offer frequent flights. You can fly to Haikou in the north of the island, but it is several hours from the southern beaches.”

Air Travel: Haikou Meilan International Airport and Sanya Phoenix International Airport have flights to and from 39 cities in China and abroad. These include Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Taiyuan, Xian, Changchun, Harbin, Dalian, Jinan, Qingdao, Yantai, Nanjing, Hefei, Ningbo, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Wenzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Kunming, Guiyang, Guilin, Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Changsha, Shenzhen, Shantou, Zhanjiang, Beihai, Changzhou, Lanzhou, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. In addition, there are special mini-airliners that carry passengers to and from different destinations throughout the island.

Trains: The Guangdong-Hainan railway, which opened on July 1st, 2003, ended the history of Hainan being unconnected with the outside world by trains. Trains from Beijing to Hainan are also available. Every day, there are regular departures from Beijing (T201/204, departure time 18:10, travel time: 35 hours), Shanghai (K511 departure time 09:50, travel time: 36.5 hours), and Guangzhou (K407, departure time 21:25, travel time: 15.25 hours) to Sanya. Although this isn't the fastest way to travel, it's a greener mode of transport than driving or flying. Furthermore, you will get the opportunity to enjoy the amazing views en route. For travelers with ample time who want to see more scenery on the way, the train is a good choice. One bonus of train travel is experiencing the cross-strait train ferry from Xuwen, Guangdong Province to Haikou, Hainan Island.

Yuehai Ferry is a train and vehicle ferry connecting Guangdong province with Hainan Island, currently with four ferry boat in operation. The ferry service runs the 28 kilometer distance across the Qiongzhou Strait, between Zhanjiang and South Port, just northwest of Haikou railway station. When ferries containing railway cars arrive at South Port from Zhanjiang, passengers not travelling in railway cars disembark. The passenger cars are run off the ferries and a locomotive is attached, which takes the train to the Haikou railway station. There, the passengers exit the cars and leave the station, or they can connect to the Hainan Eastern Ring high-speed railway. Freight trains also use the ferry service and travel through Haikou railway station onto the Hainan western ring railway, and to other locations in Hainan, such as Dongfang.

Tourism on Hainan

In the old day, Hainan island mainly drew tourists from Hong Kong and Singapore. Then more mainlanders started coming. For a while there were significant numbers of Russians seeking the sun at relatively low costs. Now its mostly mainlanders, and few foreigners. Hainan’s weather is generally pretty nice the year and is comparable to Hong Kong or Taiwan. In addition to nice seawater, waves and sandy beaches, Hain also has clear rivers like the Nandu River, Changhua River, and Wanquan River and minority culture, festivals, folklore, music and dance. Among the local food and drink specialties cuisine are bamboo rice and rice liquor.

Hainan has over 60 beaches suitable for swimming. In addition, scuba diving can be done along the coast. A total of 30 golf courses and clubs have been built. First-class lodging and accommodation facilities, transportation, sightseeing, shopping and entertainment are also available. There are eight major tour types: 1) tropical beach vacations; 2) folk customs of Li and Miao people; 3) hot spring and health tours; 4) tropical plant and animal observation tours; 5) scuba diving & sightseeing tours; 6) geological tours; 7) sports and fitness tours; and 8) tropical river rafting tours. Popular spots include the botanical garden, coconut trees and Monkey Island.

Bonnie Tsui wrote in the New York Times: “It can be somewhat expensive to be an independent traveler exploring the island beyond Sanya — public buses are infrequent, and a one-way taxi ride from Riyuewan to Sanya, for example, can run upwards of 300 yuan, about US$43 at 7 yuan to the dollar. But Mr. Aras thought it added to the sense of adventure. “It was refreshing to go somewhere not set up for Western tourists,” he said. “My parents, who live in Hong Kong, already plan to go back to Hainan, and they know of other Aussie and Hong Kong expats who visit frequently. I don’t think it’ll take long for surfers to catch on.” [Source: Bonnie Tsui, New York Times, March 12, 2009]

“Development is already fast and furious. The economic downturn may have lessened visitor numbers, but the hotels, with their glass-tiled pools and grand marble staircases, keep coming. Along Yalong Bay, a lovely four-and-a-half-mile stretch of beach about 15 miles east of Sanya that was developed as a national resort district, the new Ritz-Carlton sits at the end of a long string of resorts that went up before it, including the Hilton, Marriott, Sheraton and Crowne Plaza. Overlooking the water, the Yalong Bay Golf Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is shaped like a dragon’s claw and has hosted tournaments on the European and Asian Tours. There are now 16 courses on the island, with a couple more in the works.

“The sheer numbers of Chinese mean that remote, once-unspoiled locations like Tianya Haijiao (on the two-yuan note), Wuzhi Shan (the “five finger mountain” in the center of Hainan), and Wuzhizhou (a tiny, white-sand island just offshore northeast of Yalong Bay) have been developed with Disney-like fervor to entertain the throngs of flamboyantly dressed tourists who want to view them on a package tour (ferries every 10 minutes, waterfall rides, horse treks). In these places, the Chinese Hawaii more closely resembles a Chinese Miami, full of shiny resorts and artificial attractions.

“But stretches of green, mist-covered mountain slopes do remain. The warm, humid climate makes Hainan a bounty of tropical crops — the island is an important producer of pineapples, coconuts, mangoes, sugar cane, coffee and rubber trees. On a drive I took north out of Sanya last November, the countryside quickly retreated from apartment and hotel blocks to hillsides heavy with mango trees and rice paddies worked by teams of farmers and water buffalo.

Hotels and Accommodation in Hainan

The province has more than 380 hotels, guest houses and resort villages with more than 30 thousand rooms and 60 thousand beds. Among them are 288 star-rated hotels, including 20 five-star hotels, 53 four-star hotels and 109 three-star hotels. There are more than 140 travel agencies, including 40 international travel service providers. In total there are 80-plus tourist sites, among which 22 have received the highest ranking from the Chinese National Tourism Administration.

Bonnie Tsui wrote in the New York Times: ““Of all the new high-end resorts I visited, Le Méridien Shimei Bay, about an hour and a half northeast of Sanya’s airport, had the most authentic sense of place, with lush forests, a pristine, white sand beach and no other development around as yet, though an adjacent series of hotels is planned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts. [Source: Bonnie Tsui, New York Times, March 12, 2009]

“Of the many new hotels on Hainan, the most secluded is Le Méridien Shimei Bay (Shimei Bay, Wanning; 86-898-6252-8888; www.starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien; doubles from 1,040 yuan, about US$149 at 7 yuan to the dollar). The infinity pool and open atrium are stunning, and the 275 rooms, including 25 villas, feature polished wood and indigenous motifs. There is excellent hiking nearby and exclusive access to an offshore island.

“In Luhuitou Bay, the Banyan Tree Sanya (6 Luling Road, Sanya; 800-591-0439 in America; www.banyantree.com/en/sanya/index.html; from 3,100 yuan) is closer to the action, but the 61 pool villas make privacy and spa indulgence the priority. “Between Luhuitou and Yalong Bay is the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Sanya (12 Yuhai Road, Sanya; 86-898-8820-9999; www.mandarinoriental.com/sanya; from 1,600 yuan), where all 297 rooms have views of the sea.

Surfing in Hainan

Bonnie Tsui wrote in the New York Times: “THE sun is out, the sand gleaming white, the waves rolling toward shore in clean, regular sets. At the edge of this palm-fringed paradise, the sea is a pale, minty hue and empty of people. Launching my surfboard from the beach on Hainan Island, I paddle out to catch a wave. [Source: Bonnie Tsui, New York Times, March 12, 2009]

“The couple were introduced to the island by Brendan Sheridan of Surfing Hainan, a small local company that leads surfing expeditions and rents surfboards to visitors. Mr. Sheridan, 29, attended high school in Hong Kong and learned to surf while at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Two years ago, he made it his mission to bring surfing to the Chinese people. “It’s the right time for the Chinese to get into surfing,” Mr. Sheridan told me as we set out to surf at Riyuewan, a picturesque bay about an hour and a half northeast of Sanya. “There’s an emerging middle class that is finally learning how to spend their money and have some fun in life.”

“Most of his customers are foreigners, as many Chinese have an aversion to the sun — having a tan still denotes “farmer” — and don’t have much experience with the ocean. But Mr. Sheridan, who speaks Mandarin, finds that more and more Chinese are interested in the culture of surfing, including his two Chinese staff members, who are both in their 30s and have taken to the sport with a vengeance....One afternoon, when Mr. Sheridan took two young Chinese couples out for a surf lesson in Sanya, he got an unusual request from one of the women. “Can I take this umbrella with me onto the surfboard?” she asked. Mr. Sheridan fought off laughter and soberly told her that he didn’t think it was a good idea. “But he did admire her effort. He said, “Why not have it both ways?”

“To Around Hainan, the surf is up pretty much year round. Between April and September, waves tend to come from the south, while October to March brings a northeastern winter swell. surf several breaks, rent a board or take a lesson with Surfing Hainan (8 Huayun Road, Sanya; 86-135-1980-0103; www.surfinghainan.com; from 350 yuan a person, with transportation and equipment).

Haikou

Haikou (northern side of Hainan Island) is the capital and largest city of Hainan, with about two million people. It was ground zero for the Hainan real estate bubble in the 1990s. In 1988, when it was declared a Special Economic Zone, investors, mostly from Hong Kong and Taiwan, poured millions of dollars into resorts and real estate but left after the bottom fell out of market, leaving behind bankruptcies and building no one wanted. In the 1990s Haikou was filled with gambling dens and modern, but empty and unfinished, hotels and condominiums.

Today Haikou has recovered and seems nice enough if you like high-rise developments. By one count 60 percent of the flats sold in Haikou were bought as second homes. In some buildings all the apartments have been sold but only handful have lights on in the night. Haidian Island, Haikou's northern suburb, is separated from the city by Haidian River. Four bridges link the suburb with city's Guomao suburb.

Among the Shopping Places in Haikou Are Tailong Mall, State Parkway on the City Mall, Dfs, Haikou Meilan International Airport, Yi Xin Shopping Park, Pearl Plaza, Wanghai International Plaza, Friendship Commercial Plaza, South Plaza, Datong Warehouse Mall, Meilan Airport Duty Free Store, Mission Hills Centreville, Hainan Bazaar Market, Life and Shopping Mall, Jin Mao Tower Mall, Regal Name Mall, Jimei Shopping Center, Oriental Plaza (Longhua Road), Changjiang County Department Store and Park Shopping Center.

Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; Maps of Haikou: chinamaps.org ; Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: Hainan Island is well connected by plane (it has its own airlines), bus and train (the whole train is loaded onto a ferry). Boats travel regularly between Hai’an on the mainland the Haikou on Hainan Island. Boats also travel between Haikou and other places in China. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet . Travel China Guide Travel China Guide

Haikou Transportation

According to ASIRT: “Traffic is heavily congested in rush hour. Main roads generally have a side lane, separated from main traffic flow by a median. Side lane is reserved for 2- wheeled vehicles. Main roads often have high barriers in median to prevent jaywalking.Few roads have roundabouts. Mainly found on Hai Xiu Road. Red light cameras monitor most large intersections. Taxis are readily available. Electric motorbikes provide transport in city. Gas-powered motorbikes are banned. Self-drive rental cars are available. A Chinese driver's license is required. Rental cars with a driver are also available. Rental bicycles are available at bike stations in the city and at bike shops. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2011]

Haikou Meilan International Airport is located 26 kilometers (16 miles) from city center. Airport buses provide transport to the city. Service is every 30 minutes. Open 5:30am to 11:00pm. Buses and taxis provide transport between station and city center. An underground transit channel links airport with Hainan Eastern Ring Railway's airport stop. Bullet train provides transport to Sanya, a tourist center at island's southern tip. Train is accessible from inside airport. Ten trains daily. Inter-city buses from Haikou serve most areas of the island. Extensive local bus service is available. Local buses serving Haikou are generally air-conditioned. Flat fare for all destinations.Haikou has a south, east and west bus station. Also has a bus station XinGang passenger port.

Rail service is available to the mainland, via a ferry. Haikou Railway Station is on Yuehai Dadao, also known as city's Western Ring Road. Station is 20 kilometers from city center. Buses and taxis provide transport between station, city center and Haikou Meilan Airport. Hainan Eastern Ring Railway, located on Fengxiang West Road. Provides high speed rail service to Haikou Railway Station, Meilan Airport and Sanya. Train stops at most tourist attractions.

Sights and Attractions in the Haikou Area

Holiday Beach (next to Qingling Avenue in west Haikou) is six kilometers long and lined with Linma Huanglin trees, with hotels, vacation resorts, restaurants and amusement parks clustered on the beautiful Qiongzhou Strait. Ships cruise by; coconut trees sway in the wind. The beach has a sunbathing area, sea sports area, sea food and culture area and leisure area. The Roman-style Hot Spring Paradise, which can accommodate over 1800 people, stages various kinds of performances, including water ballet, diving, and singing and dancing. In the leisure area, with various kinds of camps and hammocks, where visitors can relax late into the night. Admission: Free. Getting There: Bus 28, 29, 40; Travel line 1 and 2.

Wenchang Coconut Trees (20 kilometers southeast of Haikou) form the largest group of coconut trees in China and is one of the most popular scenic areas in Hainan. There are more than 500,000 trees. Coconut juice is called "holy water" by local residents and is said to help people who drink it regain their youthful vigor. Local farmers can climb 20 meters up a coconut tree very fast and fetch a fresh coconut for visitors and hack it open to get the juice. Getting There: Buses from Haikou and Sanya go to Wenchang.

Wet n Wild Haikou is a popular water-themed amusement park. Andrew Chin wrote: “Originating in Australia’s Gold Coast, Wet n Wild has become synonymous with water parks around the world. Its first China location is scheduled to open near the end of the year in Haikou, Hainan Province. The 50,000-square-meter project includes an 8,000-square-meter indoor family water park featuring the brand’s signature collection of thrilling slides and attractions. Global industry leaders WhiteWater West Industries supply all the attractions.: [Source: Andrew Chin, That’s Shanghai, July 28, 2016]

Sanya

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Sanya (on the southern tip of Hainan Island) is pleasant resort city with a population of 650,000 people and nice beaches that see several million Chinese tourists a year. It has many five-star hotels, five golf courses, a "wild animal" zoo, a marine park, and Buddha statue taller than the Statue of Liberty. Sanya hosted the Miss World contest two years in row: in 2003 and 2004. It also hosted the Miss Universe contest in 2003. The contests were a big boon for the Hainan and were credited with helping to turn the economy around.

Most of the new high-end Hainan development are situated around Sanya. Among them are a 450-room Ritz-Carlton, with 33 pool villas, each with its own butler; a Banyan Tree, with 61 villas in Luhuitiu Bay; the 290-room Mandarin Oriental; Starwood's le Merien, and a Four Seasons. Fairmont opened a 702-room resort in 2011.

Sanya has excellent natural harbors and is an an important port. The main beach and resort areas are on Sanya Bay, Yalong Bay and Dadonghai. Among the main shopping areas are Pineapple Shopping Center, Summer Shopping Mall, Flowers Valley Shopping Center, Haitang Bay Duty, Free Shopping Mall, Pearl Plaza (Liberation RD) Sanya and Mong Kok NG Supermarket (International Council of Shopping Centers. A variety of seafood and delicious tropical fruits can be enjoyed at both star-rated hotels and roadside stands.

Haikou and Sanya are 285 kilometers apart. High-speed trains link the two cities major in around 1.5 hours - 2.5 hours, with the fastest trains being the express one that make no stops and the slower one making stops. Conventional trains do the trip in about three hours. A total of 44 high-speed trains and bullet trains run from Sanya to Haikou between 6:45am and 09:45pm every day. The ticket prices are US$21 to US$31.

Web Sites: Wikitravel Wiki Travel Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; Maps of Sanya: chinamaps.org ; Hotel Web Site: Trip Advisor Trip Advisor Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: Hainan is well connected by air, boat, train and bus to mainland cities. See Haikou section below. Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Sanya Tram Map: Urban Rail urbanrail.net

Near Sanya

Bo’ao (near Sanya) boasts a spectacular new international conference center which some have touted as China's answer to Davos. Among those who have snapped up property here for investment purposes is the Hong Kong billionaire Li Kashing. Bo'ao has developed from a small fishing port into a first-class meeting center and tropical tourist resort. Bo'ao is a superb place for golf and sailing. Among its scenic spots and attractions are Wanquan River, Longgun River, Jiuquan River, Dongyu Island and Yuanyang (Mandarin Duck) Island. Bo'ao Port is noted for it steep terrain and complicated water conditions, and embraces three rivers and two islands. Getting There: Long-distance bus from Haikou to Qionghai, then transfer bus to Bo'ao.

Qionghai features an cheesy theme park dedicated to female Communist fighters. At one time tourists could meet an 89-year-old women who fought for Mao against the Kuomintang, watch women acting as fighters by shooting guns and beating drums, and have their picture taken next to an image of a rifle-carrying women in ballet shoes.

Wuzhizhou Island Tourism Zone (north of Sanya) is the "No. 1 Bay under the Sun." One of the few islands in Hainan that has freshwater, it boasts more than 2,000 types of plants, including the precious dracaena. There is pleasant swimming and snorkeling here. Seafood specialities incorporate sea cucumber, lobster, mackerel and sea urchin. Water visibility of up to 27 meters makes it the best place for diving in China. Admission: 168 yuan; Getting There: Boat from Wuzhizhou Port to Wuzhizhou Island.

Tianyahaijiao (southwest of Sanya) is the most famous scenic spot in Hainan. Its name means "the end of sky and the rim of the sea" in Chinese. It covers 10.4 square kilometers of land and six square kilometers of sea, and is marked by several unusual rock formations and spectacular views of crashing white waves, azure sky and the blue sea. Tianyahaijiao was once a great place to get away from it all but now is a little overdeveloped. Admission: 65 yuan; Hours Open: 7:00am to 7:00pm Getting There: Bus 2, 4, transfer to Taihe travel bus

Yalong Bay (southeast of Sanya) is a 7.5-kilometer stretch of beach famous for its soft, white sand and crystal blue sea with visibility up to 10 meters. It is a favorite place of divers. It also has golf clubs and sailing clubs; Admission: 54 yuan; Hours Open: 7:30am to 6:00pm; Getting There: Bus 15, 102.

Li Villages and Culture Sights

Li Villages are scattered around Hainan island with those most frequently visited by tourists about three kilometers from Tongshi (30 kilometers north of Sanya). The Li people have several interesting customs. They cook rice in a hollow piece of bamboo which gives it a distinctive flavor. Their homemade wine is very distinctive. The like to sing and dance when they drink it. Their traditional thatched-roof cottages have unusual curtains of reeds that hangs from the roof to the ground.

Binglangyuan is a Li marriage ceremony. According to the China Daily: “Tying the knot with a Li ethnic minority girl in Hainan province's Binglangyuan is perhaps the Chinese version of the marry-a-stranger-in-Vegas experience.Upon entering the matrimonial hut, an emcee togs grooms-to-be with red vests and caps that incidentally resemble those traditionally worn by organ grinders' favorite performing pet. (China Daily March 19, 2009]

“But instead of a hurdy-gurdy, grooms get a shoulder pole with baskets dangling from both sides. The bride is armed with the same, and the couple takes positions at a balancing beam's opposite ends. They should pass each other without tumbling off or spilling the baskets. After hoisting the bride to ring a bell hanging from the rafters, smooching beetle nuts and crooning love songs, the couple retreats to a more private room. In this "honeymoon suite", husbands savor local candies with new brides and pay them 49 yuan (US$7.2)-plus a tip, if they like. It can be thought of as alimony.”

Sights and Hour or So from Sanya

Monkey Island (on the Nanwan peninsula, 14 kilometers south of Lingshui County, 60 kilometers northeast of Sanya) is the only state-protected nature reserve for macaque monkeys in the world. Established in 1965, the island has become a popular tourist destination and is now home to around 2,500 monkeys of 21 species. More than 400 kinds of plants and fruits, 100 species animals and numerous grottos can be found on the island. It also has the longest over-water cable car in China, spanning 2,138 meters, providing convenient transportation to the island. Guides advise visitors how to interact with the monkeys. Admission: 138 yuan; Hours Open: 8:00am to 4:30pm

Xinglong Tropical Botanical Garden (in Xinglong Hot Spring Tourist Zone, 100 kilometers northeast of Sanya) is a splendid natural region in Hainan, famous for tropical fruits, wild plants and rare species. Built in 1957, it covers 400,000 square meters and is one of four national eco-environment education centers and gene pools of species in China. Called the "tropical plants encyclopedia," the garden consists of five areas: Plants Area, Experiment and Demonstration Area, Technology Innovation Area, Stereo Effect Planting Area and Ecological Leisure Area. The garden also plays an important role in agricultural cultivation and research; Admission: 28 yuan; Hours Open: 7:30am to 6:00pm

Nanshan Culture Tourism Zone (30 kilometers west of Sanya) is famous for Buddhist culture and beauty. Millions of visitors go every year. The zone features three theme parks: Buddhism Culture Park, Blessing and Longevity Park and Hainan Custom Culture Park. It is also home to Nanshan Temple and the statue of the South China Sea Kwan-yin Bodhisattva. The giant sea-side statue of Kwan-yin stands 108 meters and was constructed out of gold, diamonds and jade; Admission: 150 yuan; Hours Open: 8:00am to 6:00pm Getting There: Bus from downtown Sanya

Dongshan (near Wanning, 70 kilometers northeast of Sanya) is the number one mountain in Hainan. It contains sheer cliffs, unusual rock formations, clear streams and dense woods. Stone carving and red characters identify over 100 scenic spots.

Daxiao Dongtian Scenic Spot (40 kilometers west of Sanya) has a history of more than 800 years. It covers 22.5 square kilometers, featuring gorgeous sunsets, caves, verdant mountains and bizarre stones. The place is perfect to appreciate spectacular sunset on the beach with those rocks that witness the passing of history. It is the most popular mountain for its special views of the sea, typical mountain landscape and beautiful rocks, which have been the subject of many classic Chinese poems. It is also home to the Natural Museum of Sanya, which features dinosaur fossils; Admission: 135 yuan; Hours Open: 7:00am to 7:00pm; Getting There: Bus from Yalong Bay

Dongzhai Port Nature Reserve

Dongzhai Port Nature Reserve (east of Haikou in Qiongshan County) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “ Dongzhai Port Nature Reserve (20° 7' N and 110°30'E) covers an area of 2,500 hectares. with a total coast line of more than 50 kilometers. With many windings and bays along the coast line, the Dongzhai Port was formed by a serious earthquake in the year of 1605. The harbour is deep and wide with gentle and flat beach. There are a quite number of tidewater gullies. When the tide rises the beach is flooded and the gullies are full of water and while the tide edds the beach is exposed resulting many shallow pools. The mangrove forest is growing on the beach along the sea coast. The red soil of the land comes from the weathered basalt and the salinized soil is under the mangrove forest with the lowest PH value of 3.78 and the highest of 8.17. The soil of the deep layer is mainly fine sands and soft mud. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“There are six rivers in the Reserve, namely Malinggou, Yangzhouhe, Yangfenghe, Xihe, Sanjianghe and Taolanxi. Besides, there are still some river courses directly emptyed into the sea. During the rainy season, the fierce wind and torrential rain caused by the violent typhoon wash a large quantity of fine sands and organic particles into the harbours, resulting swampland followed by the accumulation of silt. Thanks to the shallow water and gentle wind and calm waves here, it is quite suitable for the growth of the mangrove forests. Since the Reserve lies in the monsoon climate area, the average annual temperature is 23.8 degrees C with 28.4 degrees C in July and 17.1 degrees C in January and 1,700 millimeters of annual rainfall and the temperature of the sea water varies from 32.6 degrees C to 14.8 degrees C with the average of 24.5 degrees C.

“The mangrove forest is the special flora in the beaches of tropical and subtropical areas. In the Dongzhai Nature Reserve, there exist mainly 12 families of flora with 19 species. The Rhiziphoraceae family has the species of Rhiziphora stylosa,Bruguiera sexangula, B. gymnorrhiza, Kandedia candel and Ceriops tagal; the Verbenaceae family of Avicennia marina; the Myrsinaceae family of Aegiceras corniculatum; the Euphorbiaceae family of Excoecaria agallocha; the Palmae family of Nypa fruticans and Sterculiaceae family oi Heritiera littoralis. The mangrove mainly growing in the following harbours: Sanjiang and Yanzhouxi (more than 730 hectares.), Shanweixi (90 hectares.) and Tashi (more than 900 hectares.). The Bruguiera is the only nature tree in this reserve are and the can have 14.5 meters with 60 centimeters of breast high diameters. The Rhizophora stylosa is growing in most of the areas in the Reserve with rich and crisscross root systems and wind and wave resistant characteristics, which is one of the main tree species for the establishment of the coast line sheltbelts. The mangrove forest belts is the ideal habitat for birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes. The common birds are wild ducks, egrets, sanpipers etc. and there are also plenty of fishes, prawns, crustaceans and molluses.

“Set up in 1980, Dongzhai Port Nature Reserve is the first mangrove forest nature reserve in China. Since the establishment of the Reserve, the mangrove forest belts have been well protected and some man-made forests of mangrove have also been established in the Reserve. Beginning from 1980 up to now, more than 500 hectares. of man-made forests of mangrove have been afforested with 65 percent of the planted trees crowned, which has greatly promoted the development of the mangrove forests.

“Surrounding the reserve, there are 72 villages with 13,000 inhabitants who take the agriculture as their main farming activities and fishing as sideline occupation or are engaged in half agriculture and half fishery. In order to run the Reserve well, a policy of responsibility system has been conducted and each person should fully fulfill the job assigned by the authority of the Reserve. In addition, they always educate the public to be aware of the importance for protecting the mangrove forests and give publicity to the rules and regulations in managing the Reserve. Supported by the county authorities, some joint protection and joint guard groups have been set up between the neighbouring townships and villages so as to protect the mangrove forest belts more efficiently.

“Since the establishment of the Dongzhai Port Nature Reserve, some research activities have been conducted, such as the survey of the flora resources, phenology observation, afforestation experiments in different site conditions, ecosystem changes of the mangrove forest etc. and some results have already been achieved. The mangrove forests are mainly distributed along the coast lines of Guangdong Province and some coast lines of Guangxi, Taiwan and Fujian Provinces and the species are more or less the same with that of the Southeast Asian Countries. In China, the best mangrove forests are in the northern coast line of Hainan Island, Guangdong Province. The mangrove forest in the Dongzhai Port Nature Reserve is the typical representative of the Hainan Island. The research work of the mangrove forests is of significant importance in protecting the ecological balance of the harbours and the coast lines. By doing study and practice, it proves that the mangrove forests can be planted artificially and this kind of research will certainly be done continuously in future.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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