No trip to China would be complete without a stroll along the Bund in Shanghai and a trek up the Great Wall in Beijing. More discerning visitors might wander through the mountains of Guilin or head to Chengdu to sample local street food. But spend some time in any major Chinese metropolitan city, and you’ll recognize some iconic scenes that were never written about in your travel guide. These sights may surprise visitors, but they are as quintessentially Chinese as a stuffed 红包 hóng bāo. (In case you didn't know, these are red envelopes stuffed with money, given out at Chinese New Year and at traditional Chinese weddings.)
China Expats and Culture Blog
“Travel” is the subject of many of our online Chinese lessons, so we’d like to think we know a thing or two about destinations in China. Hainan Island is often referred to as “China’s Hawaii.” Located at China’s southernmost point, this popular summer destination is reminiscent of Hawaii because of its sprawling beaches and tropical climate. (Learn how to say “summer vacation” and other summer phrases in Chinese here.) The island has long been a hotspot for sun-loving Chinese tourists and residents of northern China who want to fly south for the winter, but it remains a small dot on the global tourist map. Hainan is largely undeveloped, with an economy supported by small-scale agriculture and 61% of the land covered in tropical rainforest.
This lack of development is what makes Hainan a fantastic vacation spot. Hainan’s up-and-coming status, coupled with its unique geography, offers tourists a broad range of experiences that would not otherwise fit on such a small island. Here is a sampling of the vacation options that make Hainan an ideal destination for any traveler’s appetite.
1. BEACH RESORTS
The most obvious way to spend time in Hainan is to check into to one of its many five-star resorts and bathe the days away on Hainan’s fine white sand. Nothing beats a week at Yalong Bay (亚龙湾), the most popular site for upper-crust beachgoers. Hotels and resorts sit shoulder to shoulder along this bay, and they each stake out a stretch of beach reserved exclusively for their residents. Order an iconic local dish such as Hainan chicken rice (海南鸡饭), made classy by one of the restaurants at the St. Regis, and then wrap yourself in a towel and head to the shore for a beach massage, a water sport, or just a much-needed nap in the sun.
If you’re looking for a little more adventure, step away from the beach and head inland to take advantage of Hainan’s natural flora and fauna. With 61% of the land still covered in rainforest, Hainan offers more sporty travelers the opportunity to experience breathtaking biodiversity and stunning waterfalls. Yanoda (呀诺达, ya nuò dá) is Hainan’s most popular rainforest destination, with Yanoda Rainforest Park a great choice for individuals and families alike. Take a guided hike along the park and try out the longest zip-line in China. Throughout the park, take pictures with people dressed in traditional costumes, as Hainan is the home of Lí (黎), Miáo (苗), and Zhuàng (壮) minority groups. If you’re in a daring mood, strap on some bamboo slippers and participate in a group waterfall climb. Just prepare to be soaked and scared as you scramble your way through the rocky water.
If a rainforest park sounds too commercialized for you, head deeper into the mountains and take a hike to see a less manicured landscape. The Wulingyuan Scenic Area (武陵源, wǔ líng yuán) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to plants and animals that are unique to Hainan. Explore caves, waterfalls, and the Five Finger Mountains (五指山, wǔ zhǐ shān). And yes, the Five Finger Mountains look like fingers. You may recognize them from Journey to the West, the classic Chinese tale in which the monkey king, Sun WuKong (孙悟空, sūn wù kōng), is imprisoned under these mountains for 500 years. Whether you’re versed in Chinese literature or not, it is easy to appreciate the tropical wilderness around these mountains. Just make sure to let someone know if you wander off, so that you do not find yourself trapped between rocks without the magical abilities of Sun WuKong.
4. HOT SPRINGS
The indigenous people of Hainan have been bathing in natural hot springs for thousands of years. While you can no longer experience the springs they did, you can still take advantage of hot springs decorated in the style of the Li and Miao People. The Nantian Hot Spring (南田, nán tián) is the largest open-air hot spring base in China, and is a popular destination for tourists, but there are numerous smaller hot springs speckled throughout Hainan that are frequented by local people. Hot spring waters are rich in minerals and have numerous health benefits, so do as the locals do and find yourself a spring to lounge in.
5. RURAL AREAS
Finally, for those who pride themselves in being “travelers” rather than “tourists,” Hainan is home to rural villages that have supported the same families for generations. Start in a smaller city such as Baoting (保亭, bǎo tíng) and take a motorcycle cab to a smaller village. Along the way, you will pass rice paddies, coconut trees, rubber trees, and tropical orchards featuring plantains, lychee （荔枝, lì zhī）, and the very peculiar 红毛丹 (hóng máo dān) fruit. Shop in a wet market and buy a live chicken, goose, or duck from someone may have raised it themselves, and then watch the vendor clean and kill it in front of you. Watch people stomp on white slabs of rubber and spit red saliva from chewing the areca nut (宾郎 bīn láng.) The villagers may very well be Li, Miao, or Zhuang people, but you won’t see them wearing the traditional clothes that are so often worn in tourist destinations. Rather, they will be living their lives as their ancestors did in Hainan’s unique, tropical beauty.
What do you think? Is Hainan somewhere you’d like to spend your summer? If you plan on traveling there, here’s a list of essentials that you need to pack for any trip to China.