Thinking of extending your summer holidays in an exotic island? Why not try Hainan, the only tropical island in China?
Over the past four days, I have been busy hosting a press trip in Hainan -- 1.5 hours from Hong Kong or 3 hours from Beijing by plane.
It was my first time to visit this beautiful island and I must say that it has delightfully surprised me in many ways.
While it is true that some parts of Hainan start to fill with hotels and high-rise residential buildings, there are still plenty of hidden gems on the island to be explored.
Hainan is the place that meets everyone’s needs and desires – whether you are looking for an unexploited beach with fine sand and palm trees, a green tourism destination that cares about the nature and animals, a healing resort that calms your mind, body and soul, a cultural paradise that is full of diversity and history, or a luxury spa and hotel experience at a fairly affordable price compared to that in Mauritius or Maldives.
Here are a few recommendations to do in Hainan based on my experience:
1. Visit the Sea Turtles 911 in Lingshui fishing village near Sanya at the South of the island. Founded in 2008, the non-profit organisation aims to rescue and conserve injured sea turtles on the coastal regions in Hainan. It is home to the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle and Green Sea Turtle. We met the Founder Frederick Yeh, an American Chinese, who passionately explained to us about their work and so far they have cured and released over 170 sea turtles. During our visit, Fred also released a 76kg sea turtle (with the help of five other strong men as it was massive!) into the sea after it has received caring treatment in the hospital over the past seven years. Witnessing the sea turtle being released back to the sea was quite a moving, magical moment. We also visited the Sea Turtles Shelter at the Ritz-Carlton Sanya where Fred and his team go regularly to educate the guests and children about their work.
2. Visit the Jianfengling Mountain, a three-hour car ride from Sanya in the Southwest of Hainan. This Ledong province is largely hilly. Despite a layer of frost after the tropical rain, we very much enjoyed our one-hour hike to the top of the mountain and saw a bit of the sea. The paths were clear and easy. We stayed at a local hotel overnight and woke up at 7am the next morning. It was such a healing moment when we saw a layer of mysterious frost covering the peaceful lakes and mountain. As far as I know, all the hotels there do not provide Wi-Fi, so it is a perfect way to spend all your time on reading a good book or writing a book that you always want to write.
3. Amongst numerous beaches in Hainan along the East Coast, I recommend Yalong Bay spanning 7.5km of sandy white beaches and surrounded by natural rainforest and mountains. The beaches there reminded me of those in Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand. Despite various big hotels built on Yalong Bay recently, surprisingly it was very quiet and fairly empty (some 10 people) when I took a swim at 8.30am. I guess one reason was that Chinese people don’t like to get tanned?!
4. Even though Hainan is hot throughout the year, we did enjoy our one-hour experience in the Sanya Pearl River Nantian Hotspring Resort which boasts the largest open-air hot spring base in China. Encouraged by our tour guide, I tried the fish spa for the first time. It was a funny experience and the fishes did help smoothen my skin as they ‘kissed’ or ‘ate’ the skin of my feet! In the resort, there are some 37 pools with different flavours, ranging from red wine (it did smell good!), coconut, lemon to rose, coffee and milk. We went there in the middle of the afternoon and yet felt totally refreshed and rejuvenated after the even hotter hotpsring experience. An ice cream did taste better after this!
5. If you like history and culture, Yazhou is a must-go place in Hainan/China. Located in the boarder area of South China Sea, it is the centre of politics, economy, culture, education and merchandise trade in the south of Hainan island in the history. The city became a political safe haven for exiled writers and politicians following the Song dynasty, earning Yazhou the nickname the quiet people's home. Spend a day (or half day if your schedule is tight) to wander around the old streets in this ancient city and explore the Yacheng Academy where you can visit the well-preserved Temple of Confucius.
6. Food is an important culture for Hainese people. They plant and produce their own coffee which is strong and nice. Also try their four traditional dishes: Wenchang chicken, Jiaji duck, Dongshan lamb and Hele crab. Hainan is also known as the “fruit basket of God”, so don’t leave Hainan without trying pineapple, mango, dragon fruit, papaya, jackfruit, and mangosteen. During the trip, we had chicken for every lunch and dinner (no kidding) and yet none of us were fed up with it.
7. I am biased. I always like Banyan Tree hotels after having stayed with them in Mexico for a personal trip last year. During the trip, we hosted the journalist in Banyan Tree Sanya for one evening. The resort was utterly intimate, luxury and unique. Each of their 49 villas has a private swimming pool, an open-air bathtub in a lotus pond and an outdoor terrace. The sunset resting on their private beach was just spectacular. I also liked their famous Balinese spa, especially the gentle foot massage at the beginning and a small bowl of papaya and dragon fruit and a cup of hot lemongrass tea served at the end of the treatment.