Hainan is among the 5 most visited sites by Chinese on vacation
For the Chinese New Year holidays (春节) I went to the beaches of Hainan (海南), China’s second largest island after Taiwan. The island of Hainan, means “South of the ocean”, so as its name indicates is located in southern China, very close to Vietnam. The capital of Hainan is Haikou, on the northern edge, although the most touristic city is Sanya, on the southern edge.
Sanya is one of the 5 cities with more Chinese tourism in the holiday season. The other 4 are: Lijiang (Yunnan), Kunming (Yunnan), Xiamen (Fujian) and Taipei (Taiwan). There are about 10 major cities in Hainan which are connected by the high-speed train and several highways which make it easy to get around the island. The bicycle route stopping from city to city is also quite common.
The island has the privilege of having, together with Lasha, the lowest pollution rate in China. It is also characterized by its tropical climate where the annual minimum does not fall below 16 degrees and the maximum reaches 35 degrees. Typhoons are abundant so you have to be a little alert.
Beaches of Hainan
Trip from Kunming to Haikou
From Kunming to Haikou it’s about a two-hour flight. I went in January. Just getting off the plane had to stay in short sleeves because of the heat. I stayed at the comfortable North20 hostel. It is located on Haidian, a small island that is part of Haikou but is separated from the city by the Haidian River and joined to it by several bridges.
In the afternoon I rented a bicycle and went around Haidian Island by myself. In 3 hours you can go almost all over it; see the beach (which is just so so), the parks and lakes (very nice). The stretch that connects with Haikou where the local fishermen sell their daily goods while the sun sets on the horizon is also worth a visit. You can also go to the university area to feel the life of the city, eat a coconut between resting and resting and get lost for a while and then meet again.
It cannot be said that Haidian is a paradisaical island with white sandy beaches (although with many palm trees). However, I liked the good climate, the great variety of tropical fruits, the calm, the greenness of everything and the university atmosphere that gives life to this small island next to Haikou.
Beaches of Hainan: Visit to Wenchang
I was thinking of going from Haikou to Sanya stopping from village to village. I had come to Hainan mostly to enjoy the sea and Haikou didn’t seem to offer me any spectacular beaches, so the next day I headed east to Wenchang. The first stop from Haikou to Sanya.
Arriving in Wenchang after 10 minutes I realized that despite the greetings and smiles most people gave me, the city itself, in my opinion, had no special charm and I didn’t want to spend another night away from the beach.
It’s a known fact that the Chinese don’t usually like the sea or don’t care so many cities in Hainan, instead of being on the coast, rise 15-20 km from the sea. To one that may seem like being in the middle of nowhere. You have to move around a lot to enjoy the sea and it’s not entirely convenient.
That’s why I didn’t stay one day in Wenchang and directly took a bus to Dongjiao Yelin; a village of fishermen and farmers where I had read that right next to the beach there was a huge coconut palm plantation that made the place quite beautiful.
Beaches of Hainan: Visit to Dongjiao Yelin
Dongjiao Yelin surprises above all by its calm and the enormous amount of palm trees that surrounds it. To enter the beach you have to pass through a resort while along the way the villagers stop to sell you coconuts. You can buy a giant coconut for 5Rmb (one euro) and when you finish, ask to have it opened and torn to pieces so you can eat it. Yummy!
The beach has its charm, surrounded by palm trees, empty and clean. You can relax in the resort’s hammocks overlooking the beach and watch as a man climbs a palm tree next to you with amazing ease to cut the coconuts that are ready, or look into the distance and watch a monk doing taichi on the shore.
That same day he was 28 years old. Since I didn’t feel like spending it alone in one of those “lost” cities, I suddenly changed my plans from going from town to town to go directly to Sanya. Filled with big luxury hotels and Chinese and Russian tourists, Sanya promised at least fun. I immediately returned to Wenchang and took the bullet train that leaves you in two hours in Sanya.
Beaches of Hainan: Sanya
I arrived around 8.30 p.m. at the simple Captain House hostel. Just entering I met two Chileans and an Argentinean who had been in Sanya for 2 weeks combining relax on the beach during the day and party at night. That day was not going to be an exception.
I immediately made good friends with them. We had a few beers on the terrace and I told them that I had come expressly to Sanya because I wanted to celebrate my birthday. From then on, it was a very long and unforgettable night.
The boys left the next day and I stayed there for a little more than a week. First visiting the most touristic beaches of Sanya and then looking for deserted beaches or lost villages with a rented motorbike. I wasn’t alone for a day. The first few days I met people I was meeting at the hostel and then 4 days later my friends from Kunming arrived.
Sanya – Dadonghai and Xiaodonghai Beaches
In the city of Sanya there are two main beaches, one on each side of the coast: Dadonghai (大东海) and Xiaodonghai (小东海). “Da” (大) means big and xiao (小) means small. Dong (东) refers to the east, and hai (海) means sea.
So as its name indicates Dadonghai is the great beach of the east, and Xiaodonghai is the small beach of the east. Dadonghai beach is more crowded than Xiaodonghai beach but Dadonghai is prettier and has more crystal clear water.
Sanya – A special place just for us
In one of our motorcycle rides discovering the beaches of Hainan, we find ourselves in front of an empty beach a family hostel in the less tourist part of Sanya. We loved it and changed immediately. Once installed we were told that the whole area had just been bought by large hotels and the following year all that would disappear.
After the long motorcycle rides during the day, every night we would go back to the hostel to relax in the hammocks watching the sunset with a coconut or a beer in hand.
We even celebrated the Chinese New Year there where we swelled up to eat fish and seafood for only 10 euros. We spent the days enjoying that place but also a little sad because we knew that we would never be able to return to such a special corner of Sanya.
Hainan’s legal drug
During one of our walks we noticed that the streets were very clean but with red spots on the floor. They looked like blood stains, but they were not. In Hainan a lot of locals consume a relaxing substance that is very addictive. It is not illegal as you can see stalls everywhere. Especially in the mornings when they set up their little table and start to prepare the mixture.
A leaf wrapped in synthetic powder is chewed together with part of another fruit. Then the bitter juice of the fruit joins the juice of the leaf and you start to salivate. The liquid should not be swallowed, but spit out. It is a blood-red liquid.
The minute you chew, it hits your head hard and you’re half stunned. The high doesn’t last long. When the effect wears off you spit out what’s left because it’s not supposed to be eaten either. It is curious to see hainanese who consume it daily with lips and teeth completely red.
Beaches of Hainan – The coast of Sanya
Among many other places we visited, we also went to Yalong Bay. It is the most famous part of Sanya and one of the most beautiful as long as you know how to stay away from the crowds.
Surrounded by 5-star hotels, if you don’t stay in one of those hotels you have to enter the beach through the final part where the Chinese crowd. It is advisable to walk to the hotel area where the beach becomes much quieter.
Still, my favorite beach was one we found on the penultimate day outside Sanya, next to a fishing village called Tenghai. Half empty, surrounded by nature, it was closed at the ends and had a giant rock in the middle of the water. Our second small paradise.
We liked the place so much that the next day we went to stay in a hostel next to the beach to spend the day there, go kayaking, watch the sunset, the sunrise and leave because the holidays were coming to an end, at least for me.
I returned directly to Haikou because I had the flight that same day. Two weeks visiting the beaches of Hainan were enough. I got the relaxation and disconnection I needed to gather strength and endure the next 7 months that I was left without a beach until I got home. If anything, no matter what they say, there’s nothing like living near the sea.
If you liked the post about the beaches of Hainan, don’t forget to value it. And if your are planning to go to China you can check our organized trip to Yunnan or to our list of tips for traveling in China.
You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
– Mae West –