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Travel Guide Asia China Hainan

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Introduction

Hainan

Hainan

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Hainan (海南) is one of the newest provinces in China, only being split off from Guangdong province in 1988, and the smallest by land area. The province is made up of several different islands, the largest being Hainan Island, which the province is named after. Hainan Island has been part of China for most of its history although Han Chinese migration has always been slow. Even today a large percentage of the population are minority groups. Hainan can be a higher end budget traveller dream come true. Lots of resorts with few visitors, except during the national holidays, makes for some great deals. There is also excellent diving, hiking and beaches to explore. Although not super expensive there is very little tight budget options or backpacker infrastructure, like in Thailand, in Hainan.

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Brief History

Large populations of people settled Hainan during the Song to the Ming dynasty. The local Li population rebelled but the Ming goverment brought in Miao soldiers a different minority group from Guizhou, to supress the rebellion. Many of the Maio people stayed in Hainan after the war was over.

During the 1920s and 1930s the island was a center for communist activity. The communist allied themselves with the Li people to fight against the Japanese during the occupation. Even with the strong communist presences on the island it still was one of the last places the communist took control of in May of 1950. Many people thought Taiwan would fall quickly after Hainan fell but there was no internal rebels in Taiwan and the US 7th fleet arrived in the straights of Taiwan after the outbreak of the Korean War.

The resources of Hainan were not exploited until the 1980s after the liberalizing of the economy. Also Hainan has become a major point for domestic Chinese tourists. The island shares the same latitude with Hawaii and the same climate. There are many beautiful beaches and mountains to explore. Although with the economy of China getting better and it being easier for Chinese to travel to other countries, like Thailand or Malaysia, many of the newly built resorts have been hit by hard times. The middle class Chinese can't afford to make the trip to Hainan and the wealthy can afford to go to some place more exotic.

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Geography

Hainan, separated by the Qiongzhou Strait from the Leizhou Peninsula of Guangdong, is the largest island administered by the People's Republic of China. The area of Hainan Island (32,900 km2, 97% of the province) is similar to that of Belgium. To the west of Hainan Island is the Gulf of Tonkin. Wuzhi Mountain is the highest mountain on the island at 1,840 metres. Hainan Island measures 155 kilometres long and 169 kilometres wide.
Wetland covers 320,000 hectares, 78,000 hectares of which were created artificially. Most of this is located in the eastern and northern part of Hainan

Most of the rivers in Hainan originate in the central area of the island and flow radially in different directions. The Wanning River in the southern part of the island is the largest river surrounding Hainan. It is 350 kilometres long. The Nandu River in the northern part of the island is 314 kilometres long, and its tributary, the Xinwu River, is 109 kilometres long. The Changhua River in the west is 230 kilometres long, and the Wanquan River in the east is 162 kilometres long. Evaporation during the dry season around the coastal areas greatly reduces the flow of the rivers. There are very few natural lakes in Hainan. There is a well-known artificial reservoir, the Songtao Reservoir, in the central-north area.

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Cities

  • Haikou - The capital of Hainan, is on the northern coastline and handles most of the commerce with the mainland.
  • Sanya - An attractive city, however mainly used as a transit point on route to the beaches.
  • Bo'ao - Bo'ao, a well developed tourist town on the east coast of Hainan is the seat of the Bo'ao Forum for Asia. Bo'ao is somewhat over an hour from Haikou and about two hours from Sanya.

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Sights and Activities

  • Beaches - best enjoyed in summer
  • Mountain Hikes
  • Nanwan Monkey Island
  • Minority Villages - There are 39 minority groups that occupy Hainan. The largest are the Li minority, who number around 1 million, and together with the Miao are the original inhabitants of the island and live in the tropical forests.

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Events and Festivals

China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.

Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.

Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.

The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.

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Weather

Hainan has great weather year-round. Although a little more rainy during the winter months (December - February), it is possible to enjoy the ocean pretty much every day of the year. The summers (June - September) can get very hot and humid so make sure to spend plenty of time in the water in order to cool off. Temperatures are usually between 27 and 33 °C during this time, except for the mountainous areas. In winter, temperatures rarely drop below 10-15 °C.

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Getting There

By Plane

Haikou (the capital of Hainan) and Sanya (the beach 'capital') are the two main towns on the island and both have airports. Haikou Meilan International Airport (HAK), about 25 kilometres from Haikou, has a small number off international flghts to Bangkok, Taiwan, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Macau and daily domestic flights to Beijing, Guangzhou, Kunming, Nanning and Shanghai.

Sanya Phoenix International Airport (SYX) offers mainly domestic flights and international flights to Hong Kong, Moscow and Seoul. It also serves the same domestic routes as Hainan.

By Train/Boat/Bus

Trains run daily from Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai. The trains are loaded onto ferries to cross the sea with passengers remaining in the train cars. The trains stop at both Haikou and Sanya, as well as Dongfang, a smaller station between Haikou and Sanya.

You can also reach Hainan by boat. Buses take the ferry.

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Getting Around

Haikou at the North end and Sanya at the South end are connected by three highways - east coast, west coast and through the hilly centre. More-or-less any significant place on the island is on, or at least close to, one of these highways. As anywhere in China, there are buses to almost anywhere.

Two railways connect Haikou and Sanya. One is the old western ring railway, and the other one is the new high-speed eastern ring railway. Another high-speed western ring railway is under construction. High-speed trains run between Haikou and Sanya at up to 250 km/h, takes one hour and a half between the two cities.

As the smallest province in China with relatively flat landscape, Hainan is an ideal destination for long journey cycling trip. On the East Coast it has a 300km long national road (G223) connecting Haikou, Wenchang, Qionghai, Lingshui and Sanya. The route, which is packed with most famous beach resorts and tourist attractions, is the easiest ride and most popular among amateur cyclists. The Middle route crossing Wushishan (Five-Finger Hill) takes some more toil to go. While it is possible to ride along the West coast, this area is the least developed and more preparation may be needed.

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Language

As anywhere in China, Mandarin is the lingua franca; nearly everyone can speak it with the exception of some of the elderly. Due to the proximity with Guangdong, some locals speak Cantonese as well.

The main local language is Hainanese; even other Chinese considered it difficult to learn as it employs many unusual consonants which have no equivalent in any other Chinese "dialects" or Western languages, and has an odd tone structure. Nevertheless, learn a little of the language if you can, as locals are very proud of their language, and even knowing a few basic greetings will get you acquainted with the locals much more easily. They realise that Hainanese is difficult even for native speakers of other Chinese "dialects", and much more so for foreigners, so they'll politely correct any pronunciation errors you make. Hainanese also has dialectal variations between different parts of the island, and it is not uncommon for Hainanese from different parts of the island to converse in Mandarin instead, though the Wenchang dialect is considered to be the prestige dialect, and is generally used in news reports and understood throughout the island.

Hainan also has significant numbers of speakers both of other Chinese dialects — the Danzhou region has its own local dialect and there are Hakka speakers on the island — and of unrelated languages. The Li people, who are the largest non-Han minority on the island, speak a language that is distantly related to Thai and Lao. There is also a Miao community on Hainan, which continues to speak the Miao language. Nevertheless, most younger people from these groups are also able to speak Hainanese and Mandarin as well.

As elsewhere in China, English is not widespread but some people speak it quite well. Staff at the main hotels and beach resorts will usually have a functional command of English. Hainan is a traditional destination for Russians escaping their winters, so many shop keepers and restaurant staff know some Russian, and much signage is in (bad!) Russian. However, trying to engage anyone in a conversation more often than not will prove fruitless.

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Eat

  • Wenchang chicken - although many people have heard of "Hainanese chicken rice", only the method of preparing the chicken originates from Hainan, from a dish known as Wenchang chicken, which is also considered to be the signature dish of Hainan throughout China. The method of cooking the rice was actually developed by overseas Hainanese after they migrated to what is today Singapore and Malaysia.
  • Seafood - very good, very fresh and at reasonable prices
  • Try betel nuts, which can make you high

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Drink

The Singapore-based firm Asia Pacific Breweries have a brewery on Hainan and their brands of beer, Tiger and Anchor, are common all over the island. As in anywhere else in China, a range of both Chinese and imported beers are widely available as well. Hainan also has a number of locally-brewed pineapple-based beers, odd but worth a try.

The island is covered with coconut trees. So drinking fresh coconut milk is a must!

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Sleep

Most of the hotels in Hainan are geared towards Chinese tour groups. A few youth hostels have started to pop up but most of them are Chinese hotels just saying they are youth hostels. The asking price for a room range in price from RMB100 to RMB200 depending on the quality. It is always possible to bargain except during a national holiday because that is the only time of year these hotels fill up. Therefore getting a cheap room might be hard to find but finding a good deal on a good room is very easy to find.

View our map of accommodation in Hainan

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Accommodation in Hainan

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Hainan searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Hainan and areas nearby.

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This is version 32. Last edited at 9:06 on Aug 16, 17 by Utrecht. 8 articles link to this page.

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