Easter bunny on the beach on Christmas day. This is China.

Five things to do in Hainan

by Heather on 2 January, 2013

It was my first Christmas abroad and I was determined to make it feel nothing like Christmas. Christmas in Maryland is nearly freezing and sometimes snowy. Nanjing, where I currently live, is similar. I couldn’t think of any place I’ve less rather be than Nanjing, so I decided to travel somewhere warm for Christmas. I found myself in Hainan, often referred to as “China’s Hawaii”. Because it’s a tourist destination, I’ll tell you about the various things to do in Hainan.

Things to do in Hainan
1. Pearl shopping.
Hainan was once known as “Pearl Cliffs” for the abundant amount of pearls that were once available on the north coast of Hainan. It’s still notoriously-known as a pearl mecca because the island farms oysters in shallow bays around the island. If you go to any market or lay on any beach, you’ll be approached by someone trying to sell you pearls.

If you’re interested, you’ll want make sure that the pearls are real, so don’t be afraid to rub the pearl against the biting surface of your front teeth. Call me crazy, but it’s an easy way to see if it’s real. And I did it.

You'll find many freshwater pearls in this bay!

You’ll find many freshwater pearls in this bay!

2. Visit Nanshan Temple.
I’ll be the first one to admit that temples aren’t that interesting to me. The truth is: a lot of temples look the same to me. If you stop to take it their beauty, you’ll notice the precise details and uniqueness of each temple. But to be honest, it’s just not my thing.

Although, Nanshan Temple is well-worth a visit. It’s pricey at 150 RMB (about $25 US) for entrance, but it’s truly awing. The park has a 108 meter sea-side statue;  a much smaller version made of gold, diamonds, and jade; and kung fu and traditional music performances. It also provides insight into the customs of the local Li and Maio ethnic minorities in Hainan.

Photo credit China City Search

I told you, it’s worth visiting!

3. Indulge in a hot spring. 
Here is my advice: if you’re going to go to the hot springs, don’t go after you’ve gotten a sunburn. I was keen to go to the hot springs on the day that we visited Monkey Island (as it was on the way back to the hotel and we had already paid for the private car and driver for the entire day). Unfortunately, I forgot about the sunburn. If you’re looking for something to do before a late flight home, they are a great way to end your vacation in relax mode though.

In my opinion, the Haohanpo Hot Springs weren’t anything extravagant. (I’m told the Nantian Hot Springs are much nicer, which is where we thought we were going.) The pools were either too hot or too cold and the fish in the fish pool didn’t bite at me once. (I was really looking forward to getting rid of some more dead skin). They did clearly label the pools in English, there was a milk pool, and the main pool had a swim up bar (with no alcohol) and a gorgeous waterfall.

Photo credit Sanya Paradise Travel

In order from left to right: red wine, white wine (that smelled like baijo), and beer.

4. Sit for a portrait.
If you’re looking for a late-night activity, try scouting out a place to have your portrait drawn. We ran into three Chinese men sketching portraits on Dadonghai Bay. We were so impressed with the different styles of two of the men that we decided to wait our turn. One man used colored chalk to create artsy portraits, another used pencil to create modern portraits, and the third tried to keep up with the other two by mixing the two styles. It was well-worth the money and even the sore cheek muscle the following morning.

Sit still and smile (for an hour).

Sit still and smile (for an hour).

Well now, she looks mighty familiar!

Well now, she looks mighty familiar!

5. Relax (or don’t) on the beach.
There are countless beaches on Hainan, an island situated in the South China Sea. We spent most of our vacation laying on Dadonghai Beach, drinking cocktails and soaking up the warm sun. But there are plenty of other beaches in Hainan: Yalong Bay for the most quiet beach, Riyuewan Bay for beginner surfers and paddle boarders, or Sanya Bay  for a resort-style beach.

If you aren’t keen to soak in the cancer-causing UV rays or lay under the umbrella reading, there are plenty of water activities. Besides the obvious (swimming), you can go scuba diving, jet skiing, parasailing, banana boating (being quickly pulled by a boat while holding on to a float), and kayaking. Banana boating, kayaking, and jet skiing are mostly harmless, but I’d be careful when selecting parasailing or scuba diving as some of these companies may not be properly licensed.

Warm, sunny weather, oh how I've missed you!

Warm, sunny weather, oh how I’ve missed you!

Other honorable mentions
1. Taking a tour to visit the local Li and Maio tribes. This is great if you want to get up close and personal with a more-traditional side of China and away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist traps.

2. Visit Tianya Haijiao. This area is known as the place where “the sea and the sky meet”, a lovers paradise. With two large stones carved with “sea” and “sky”, the location is a hotspot for romantic tourists. It also caters to wedding and lantern festivals.

3. Take a ride to Nanshan Monkey Island. This nature reserve for macaques is a long ride from the beaches of downtown Sanya and a short cable car lift from civilizations, but it’s worth every cent if you’re a monkey lover. I’ll be writing an entire entry about this place soon.

Merry Christmas from Dadonghai Bay, Hainan!

Merry Christmas from Dadonghai Bay, Hainan!

What do you think?
Have you ever visited Hainan? What did you think of my list of things to do in Hainan?

Escaping Abroad January 3, 2013 at 6:32 am

Nanshan Temple looks awesome.. so does the beach, I’m surprised!

Heather January 3, 2013 at 11:43 pm

It’s really beautiful! Are you surprised about the beach being awesome because it’s in China?

Ryan @Treksplorer January 5, 2013 at 4:40 am

I didn’t realize Nanjing was that cold! I haven’t come across too many posts on Hainan; it was nice to learn a little bit about it and some of the cool things to do and see there. Are you still down there on vacation?

Heather January 5, 2013 at 6:58 pm

You’re not the only one. I didn’t realize Nanjing was so cold until I moved here at the end of fall. I’m glad the post was helpful and interesting! Sadly, I’m already back from Hainan. I was only there for five days. I’m off to SE Asia in a week or so though. I need more warm weather!

Will January 5, 2013 at 7:18 am

Nice list! After my December trip to snowy Beijing and nearly freezing to death during an 11-hour train trip, it would have been nice to have a warm Chinese beach. Unfortunately, I was stuck in north the entire trip. It looks like you found a nice winter getaway – thanks for the article.

Heather January 5, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Thanks! I’m starting to realizing that China isn’t the best place in the winter. It’s so cold, windy, and snowy. I had a five days break over the New Year holiday this week. I thought about going to Beijing, but I couldn’t stomach the negative Celsius and the very low Fahrenheit temperature. I headed to Shanghai instead; although, it wasn’t much warmer there. Too bad I couldn’t afford to head to the beach for another five days. At least I’ll be in SE Asia in the warm weather in about a week or so.

Digital Overland January 10, 2013 at 3:19 am

Enjoy SE Asia. I’ve been all over, including 6 months in China. I love Chinese people, and enjoy staying there, but everything is a bit gloomy. Been spending tons of time on Thai beaches the past few months after leaving China…oh, SE Asian beaches ROCK.

Heather January 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I feel the same way about China being gloomy. It doesn’t help that it’s been cold and cloudy since I moved here three months ago. I am so very excited for beaches and jungles in SE Asia. I need warm weather to get me out of my funk.

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