Today, China is experiencing a tourist boom even in the outermost provinces. Hainan Island is the smallest and most remote province of the Celestial Empire, and it is as different from the Chinese mainland as Beijing is from Shanghai. Gorgeous beaches, extinct volcanoes, hot springs, sea pearls, coconut groves, plantations of coffee, tea, mangoes, and bananas – all these things are there, on Hainan. However, the island has known bad times. For example, in imperial China, except for the death penalty, the strictest punishment was exile to Hainan Island for the offender and his entire family.
We were there for the first time ten years ago, when my Victor Travel Blog was not even a project yet. Sanya City—the tourist capital of the island—did not impress us, and squalid houses built on its outskirts were in stark contrast to a chain of luxury hotels on the half-empty Yalong Bay beach. Today, ten years later, Hainan Island is different, and its capital, Haikou, is looking more and more like Hong Kong.
In the last ten years, this island paradise has become a popular tourist destination; if I am not mistaken, the number of visitors doubled every year. Prices did not lag behind. During these ten years, they have quadrupled. Thus, if you want to spend a lot of money on the rest, to see the miracles of Chinese reforms, and as a bonus to meet one of the most interesting ancient cultures, welcome to China. Staying here was the most unusual experience in my life.
It seems, it is the Chinese national tradition to take care of the health of tourists to such a great extent. In Beijing, holding a finger on the pulse of my young wife, a doctor announced such an incredible verdict that it was time to look for a plot in a cemetery. However, she could be cured. Tibetan herbs, supposedly, are capable of performing miracles. We were embarrassed only by the method of diagnosis and the price of the herbal collection which cost about the same as a second honeymoon in the Celestial Empire.
On Hainan Island, history repeated itself. Before we even moved away from the reception desk of the Sanya Marriott Resort & Spa, a guide made us a proposal: “You have not many time on Hainan, so it will be better if right tomorrow, I’ll take you out of the hotel after breakfast and we will go to the best Chinese doctors. Longevity Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine Centre in the Pearl River Garden Hotel is famous throughout China.”
I’m a skeptic, and all this was just amusement for me, but Irina with her credulity was a real gift for healers. Besides, she had never had acupuncture. By the way, there is a saying on the island: “I did not know that I had health problems until I arrived in Hainan.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine Centers are very popular among tourists in China. It is not surprising, because you are offered non-surgical relief from any ailments. We gave great pleasure to our guide with several visits to the Longevity Acupuncture Centre. Now, seriously: the acupuncture treatment and feeling of well-being after it were pleasant, but the vaunted herbal tea did not produce any effect.
The Chinese are great traders. Probably, they are able to sell anything. I admire their ability to distinguish what they do from what they think. My wife and I went to see a doctor together.
“I will deliver you from the nicotine addiction for a week,” said he.
“Did you try to quit smoking?” I countered, pointing to a lighter on his table.
“It is necessary for you, not for me,” was the brilliant answer.
In general, China is another planet, the inhabitants of which are difficult to understand. They are just different and think quite differently.
The next attraction of Hainan island was the local shark factory. Of course, there was no workshop for the butchering of sharks, but there was a tasting room with two stuffed sharks made of papier mache, many showcases filled with jars with hieroglyphs on the label, hundreds of small bags with dried seafood, and a nimble girl as a translator. In 30 minutes, she told us all about the beneficial properties of shark oil, shark cartilage, shark liver, and shark penises.
“Shark… Fat useful for vessels… Removes toxins… Quickly… Good for the skin and eyes… Omega-3… Very good for potency… Rejuvenates…”
She spoke with a clear, confident, and expressive voice, as if she bred sharks personally. I almost wept with emotion. Of course, all these miracles could be immediately bought in easy-to-use gelatin capsules. And people buy! It would be interesting to know, are the Chinese themselves treated with these drugs?
If you are going to Hainan Island for the first time, the question, where to live, will certainly arise. Please do not compromise, wanting to save a little. There are three major tourist areas on the island.
• The fashionable Yalong Bay, where respectable Ritz Carlton Sanya, Sanya Marriott Resort & Spa, and Sheraton Sanya Resort are located on the seven-kilometer beach.
• In the Bay Dadonghai, the water is not very clean, and the sand is not pure white, but it’s the best place for windsurfers and fans of night bars and discos.
• I would not even think about the beaches of Sanya City, because they are public. Do you remember the Chinese in the Louvre, the Vatican, or near the Pyramids of Giza? They are noisy as a flock of crows. Thus, in Sanya City you have the opportunity to feel like an ant in an anthill. But ride there by taxi for the sake of adventure.
Once, we have been to Sanya City. Unrealistically low prices for saltwater pearls from vendors on the beach were suspicious. It seemed that beach traders carried with them an untold wealth and you can buy it all. Threads of pink, white, cream, and black pearls, large and smooth, were very tempting. We wanted to compare the prices of the beach and stores, and then to try something authentic from the local cuisine. Shopping in Sanya City showed that the price of Hainan pearls was, as it should be, ten times higher than on the beach, so, we went to dinner.
We’ve liked Chinese food for a long time, at least, that Chinese food which we knew before visiting China. I admit, food in Beijing was not tasty, and, in general, the cuisines of different Chinese provinces are very exotic and not similar to each other. It was time to try something “Hainanese.” We quickly found the restaurant, but difficulties with the choice of dishes from the menu arose immediately. The menu was in Chinese.
A waiter kindly brought a whole truck with ready starters from a kitchen, and Irina jabbed a finger in something that in her opinion looked edible. As a result, we got two warm salads: one of fish skin with scales, the other of pigs’ ears with honey. I swear, you have not tried anything so exotic in your life. Sliced pigs’ ears in batter fried like French fries and plenty of honey sauce. What about fish scales? I have no words.
Not wishing to offend the hosts, and laughing at ourselves, we tried to eat at least half of the selected “delicacies.” After this experience, we ventured only to try turtle soup, thanked the waiter with a generous tip, and went to his Yalong Bay.
The remaining time, we were fed exclusively in the Marriott Resort or nearby hotels. Even at breakfast, they fed us delicious dumplings with prawns, the freshest rolls, and sushi. What divine Peking duck their chef cooked! Such a duck we did not try even in Beijing. Today, resting in Yalong Bay, you will not be forced to experiment on yourself or limit yourself to the hotel’s cuisine. At any time, you can walk to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where plenty of cafes, bars, and shops were built over the past ten years. Of course, any menu is already in English.
Lazing on Hainan Island, take a trip to Nanshan Buddhist Cultural Area or Nanshan Temple. This park is the standard of feng shui. There, the 108-meter statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, guards the island from typhoons. You’ll notice it when your plane lands at the Sanya Phoenix Airport.
There is one attraction which is deservedly included in the Guinness Book of Records. One of the Buddhist Temples located in the territory of the park has a “priceless for Buddhists” relic, the Golden Jade Kwan-yin Statue. One hundred forty kg of gold and silver were used in its creation, and it is decorated with 120 carats of South African diamonds. Impressive.
But I still did not understand if the Chinese believe in god or not so much; however, they can make money out of everything. From floor to ceiling, the temple walls are composed of small cells with gold-plated replicas of the large statue. For a price equal to the cost of a midsize car, you can rent a small statuette for a year, and the all-powerful goddess will protect you personally for a year.
But if you like a more economic approach to your personal protection, then do as locals do: tie a red ribbon to a branch of one of the trees near the Nanshan Temple, almost free of charge.