After leaving Lanzhou early on a very cold morning, (the first airline I've come across where the cabin crew wear navy jeans, pink striped shirts and navy knitted vests), we flew into "Sunny Sanya" and immediately removed a few layers of clothing - which initially made our clothes feel loose. We actually wore T-shirts and had to get out the sunscreen. Our first impression of Hainan was “green”, with lush tropical vegetation, flowers everywhere and trees covering the hills - rather than the brown, bare moonscape of Lanzhou we were used to. There were seafood restaurants (we’ve shied away from seafood in Lanzhou, being so far from the sea) and tropical fruits in abundance. We also ate in one of the many Russian restaurants, which was nice as something different.
Hainan is a special economic zone for developing tourism, so there are lots of resorts in the several bays. It reminded us of the Gold Coast in Queensland as we flew over. This is the high season when Chinese tourists flock in to escape the cold in the rest of the country. It’s also a favourite with Russian tourists so signs and menus are in Russian and even the waiters and street sellers would start speaking to us in Russian. We quickly looked up the dictionary so we could say “we’re not Russians”.
Lots of beachfront (a bit brownish to us) with a boardwalk lined with cafes, bars and small shops, and lots of beach activities in Dadonghai Bay where we stayed. Parks along the beach in Sanya Bay with people sitting in small groups playing Chinese chess, mahjong and cards - also singing, dancing and playing music.
All this made for a great people-watching opportunity. Lots of Chinese couples (honeymooners?) and families playing on the beach, eating and shopping. One intriguing (to us anyway) habit was wearing matching outfits or shirts – often the whole family. The Russians were also intriguing – big, brown, bikini clad and obviously enjoying the sunshine.
The hotel we stayed in (the Sunny Sanya Family Inn) was a small, locally run hotel full of Chinese and a few foreigners like us who were working somewhere in China and escaping the cold for a while. It was - out the back door and 1 minute down a small lane and we were at the beach. Great location, pretty cheap and had good food in the restaurant, even an electric breadmaker producing bread for breakfast.
While there we went on a day trip to nearby Yanoda Rainforest Park. At the hotel we booked what we thought may have been just bus tickets out and back, but it turned out to be a fully organized day tour. The whole experience was super organized and super efficient - the bus driver had our names, as did the ticket office when we arrived at the park, the ticket puncher on the way in yelled “yingyu” and the girl the other side of the turnstile whipped out an English language audio guide for us. We really enjoyed the day, in spite of it being rather controlled and a bit contrived, and it was great to be away from the hustle and bustle. We covered a large area thanks to extensive boardwalks, stairs and rope bridges but we were with the group the whole time and were surprised to come across little drinks/souvenir stalls and music bursting from speakers out in the middle of nowhere. It would have been nice to perhaps wander slowly and get “lost“ on our own. I’m not sure if it’s actually possible to walk round the park alone.
We then went to Bo’ao for a couple of days, staying at the Bo’ao Inn B&B – a great place run by an American woman who is married to a Chinese photo-journalist. Bo’ao is a lovely little town on a river mouth and we were nicely located to walk to the beach (great seafood dinner at a beachside restaurant) or round to the main street which has a range of eateries to choose from and even a teahouse and a coffee shop. We visited an old house built by a wealthy Chinese rubber merchant in the 1930s – almost in ruins now but being restored. We also caught the bus out to a large Buddhist Temple overlooking the river, and wandered through a village and market gardens on the way back. We could easily have stayed another couple of days and enjoyed more of the home cooked breakfasts and delicious Hainan coffee. The B&B also has day trips that sounded interesting but we didn't have the time.
The holiday ended with a couple of nights in the capital Haikou. We were again lucky with our location. We stayed at a central hotel (picked largely because the airport shuttle bus left from outside) which turned out to be right in a major shopping and eating area, and buses went right past to the places we wanted to visit. Haikou is a Chinese city like umpteen others, but there is a Volcanic Geopark nearby which we visited and Owen the geologist thought was pretty interesting. Unfortunately the museum which we particularly wanted to see for its local cultural information was closed the day we tried to go. It maybe closed Sunday so it could open on the Monday holiday. Museums here are often closed Mondays except for public holidays – which is the opposite from home.
The sunshine also ended in Haikou, with our last day on Hainan being cold and windy with a fine misty rain. So it was back into jumpers and coats to catch the plane to Nanning for a few days over the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). We get daily weather forecasts for Lanzhou via sms (came with our Chinese sim cards) and we’d been watching a cold spell develop up there as we'd enjoyed the southern warmth. The day we flew out of Haikou was supposed to be -5 max in Lanzhou so we were glad we’d come south.