Hainan Island, On the Edge of the Earth By Tom Carter
Hainan Island,on the edge of the earth
by Tom Carter (beijing today)
Updated: 2006-11-06 10:13
It is interesting to note that while the island of Hainan in southwest China is the country's number two holiday ravel destination (in between Jiuzhaigou National Park in Sichuan and Yunnan's Lijiang), most foreign tourists and expats living in the People's Republic have never even heard of Hainan Dao, let alone been there I used to be one of the guilty parties. Despite residing in China for an extended period of time, it was not until I began my epic travels across the country that I was introduced to what is in fact its smallest yet most exotic province.
Hainan's most popular season is, of course, Spring Festival, when legions of mainlanders shuddering from sub-zero winter temperatures spend Chinese New Year on the invitingly temperate beaches of the tropica island.
Conversely, sweltering summers turn Hainan into a veritable Hades (reclusive sun worshipers take note: you will literally have the beach to yourselves). It is not surprising, then, that Hang Dynasty exiles were once banished to 'The Edge of the Earth' as fatal punishmentHainan island has made significant progress over the centuries, from remote settlement to popular tourist attraction by way of repeatedly falling in and out of control of neighboring provinces until at last being granted provincial status in 1988 (disputably along with some 200 surrounding South China Sea islands) and declared a Special Economic Zone to spur investment.
Resultingly, the colonial capital city of Haikou on the north end of the island has become its commercial center, brimming with transportation hubs, department stores and enough hotels to accommodate all of China (which it literally does during the holidays).
Those wishing to remove themselves from the urban commotion will find rustic serenity on the central coastline around Xiangshui Bay, the only traffic being farmers in coned hats and grazing cattle. There, crystal waters lap at the shores of a brilliant expanse of sugary sand, where one may sip on coconuts, feast on fresh seafood and lay undisturbed beneath the whispering palm trees.
For a more cultural experience, the lush Limuling mountain range in interior Hainan is home to the island's reclusive indigenous peoples, most notably the Miao and the majority Li minority, a colorful ethnicity whose proud elders contine to embrace their traditional customs, native dress and intricate body and facial tattooing.
But it is Sanya, 'the Hawaii of the Orient'that is the island's headlining attraction. Developed along Hainan's southerniphery, the bustling port city is framed by attractive beaches, a lively city center teaming with tourists gaudily attired in matching florescent beach wear, and a harbor congested with fishing vessels, the docks a blur of tangled netting, malodorous hauls of fish and salty dogs preparing for their next seafaring voyage.
Beyond the Sanya peninsula, Yalong Bay is a remarkable 7km stretch of white beach edged by a citadel of luxury hotels glowing in varying shades of pastel, their well-tended guests lounging poolside to the soothing sounds of Kenny G (on repeat), cocktail in hand.
No matter what your tastes - ridiculously overpriced or beach bum 1.5 billion people agree, Hainan Dao is the tropical escape everyone shohuld treat themselves to at least once during their stay in China.
Tom Carter, a freelance writer and photographer from San Francisco, has lived in PR China the past two and a half years. He is currently backpacking through all 32 Chinese provinces.
Flights from Beijing to Haikou Airport, four times daily (four hours, 1,800 yuan)
The Treasure Island Hotel chain in Haikou, Xinglong and Sanya are popular with budget travelers desiring resort-style comfort at economy prices (Prices for a double range from 200 yuan in the off-season, up to 1,000 yuan during Spring Festival)
Seafood on Hainan is plentiful, so prices are some of China's cheapest. roves of street vendors come out at dusk to grill a bounty of fresh fare, including various species of fish, clam, lobster, crab, squid and kelp. For desert, locals enjoy gnawing on sugarcane stalks or any of the abundant fruit. And, of course, coconut milk is an islander's beverage of choice, chopped and chilled for only one yuan.
Tom Carter http://www.tomcarter.org of San Francisco is an internationally published freelance photographer and travel writer specializing in the People's Republic of China. Tom has traveled extensively throughout all 33 Chinese provinces and autonomous regions and currently resides in Beijing.
This article originally appeared in a November edition of China Daily newspaper.