Story & photos by Bernard L. Supetran
With a fascinating ancient civilization and more than a billion citizens, China is undoubtedly on every jaded traveler’s proverbial bucket list, notwithstanding the language barrier and the diplomatic row in the West Philippine Sea. With scores of destinations beckoning you to visit, making the choice can be as difficult as scaling the Great Wall.
The island of Hainan, the smallest and southernmost province, is a unique place to begin an Odyssey to Chinese sights and sounds. Situated off the mainland, it is an eclectic mix of the old and the new, and breaks one’s preconceived notion of monotonous Buddhist temples and Oriental houses.
The island province, perhaps just one-third the size of Luzon, is dubbed as China’s counterpart to Hawaii and Dubai because of its beaches and posh resort hotels.
To raise its profile as a global tropical getaway, the government made Hainan visa-free for 30 days to 59 countries, including the Philippines, but such declaration doesn’t extend to the mainland. Chartered flights to the capital city of Haikou are mounted occasionally by Philippine Airlines through select tour agents led by Juan World Philippines and its partner China Tee International Travel Services.
With a plethora on a first-timer’s checklist, here are the top 5 must-sees for an all-time high in Hainan.
Step back in time in Haikou’s little version of Hollywood in this 567-hectare nostalgic theme park where some of the Chinese period movies are made. A joint venture between Feng Xiaogang and Huayi Brothers Media Group, its centerpiece is the 1942 Street, which contains 91 buildings built to recreate the Republican Era in Chongqing. They include Chiang Kai-Shek’s residence, where guests can have snapshots with actors in the circa-1940s military uniforms. Other landmarks in the World War II-inspired street are the Xishan Bell Tower, Cathay Theatre and the Shanghai Rong Guang Theatre.
Instagram addicts will have a visual with the postcard-pretty structures in the 300-meter-long Nanyang Street, a circa 1950s Beijing street, the Park View Area, the European-themed Church and Square and the Avenue of Stars, which bears the signatures and handprints of Chinese and international celebrities.
While making snapshots,there are rows of street cafés where you can munch on local specialties and souvenir shops where you can make your initial shopping.
Yetian Li Minority Nationality Village
This cultural theme park is a must-see, which showcases the indigenous way of life of the Li and Miao tribes, which have been living in Hainan for over 3,000 years. Li’s traditional crafts of pottery, dance and the hammering skills were awarded the World Intangible Culture Heritage status. The Miao minority group, who dwells in the tropical rainforest, meanwhile, are famous for silver handicrafts and rattan weaving.
Far from being a static destination frozen in time, the village is a living museum where guests are welcomed with the typical tribal rituals, followed by indigenous dances, music, games and food tastings on the side.
Visitors can stay longer to have a more intimate understanding of the Li and Miao people by immersing in their cultures by trying out their craft and sampling their cuisine.
For beach bums who can’t shake off their fascination for the sea, the southern coastal city of Sanya won’t disappoint. Just ask Miss World organizers why they have made it the pageant’s venue seven times, and you’ll get an idea why this has been China’s “beach capital” of sorts.
With sleepy shores and blue waters stretching almost infinitely, each section with an interesting character, which makes it unique from the nearby cove.
Riyue Bay is an internationally acclaimed surfing spot for its waves and powdery beaches. Yalong Bay boasts of luxurious resort hotels, which make it an upscale spot. The waters are gin-clear, making it perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Dadonghai Bay offers a chill-out vibe for basking under the sun to get the next shade of tan. At night, it is ideal for a nocturnal crawl as the party crowd pours in for barbecue, drinks and lounge music.
The traditional fishing village of Luhuitou Peninsula is a curious find where you can see locals engaged in their folkways. At the mountaintop is a sculpture of a deer where Sanya was named after. Hiking up to the statue rewards with stunning views of the peninsula’s undulating contour.
Meanwhile, Sanya Bay, regarded as the warmest beach in the city, has an expansive, mile-long stretch of white sands. As a bonus, you can catch a glimpse of the iconic 108-meter-high Guan Yin bronze statue at the Nanshan Temple complex.
Je T’aime Undersea Restaurant
An entertaining afternoon tea (read: merienda) in Sanya is way more interesting with the synchronized swimming and acrobatics of its mermaids. Scores of fishes and manta rays are a mesmerizing sight to behold as you feast on the buffet of noodles, finger foods, pastries and ice cream, which may well be your early dinner.
If you are up to the challenge, you can plunge on a scuba 101 lesson in this man-made seawater tank and swim with the marine creatures.
For a touch of ultra luxe living, swing by this 54-hectare seven-star property with the 52-story hotel as its centerpiece. There are 1,160 guestrooms, 154 suites and five palatial underwater suites. The sprawling complex includes the gigantic open-air Lost Chambers Aquarium, water theme park, and a host of family-oriented recreational facilities where 24 hours isn’t enough to enjoy them all.
Foodies can choose from the 21 restaurants, bars and lounges, whose top-of-the-line is the Ossiano Underwater Restaurant & Bar, which has opulent floor-to-ceiling glass windows with a mesmerizing view of the aquarium and a menu featuring seafood from around the world.