Hainan: Backpacking among the Billionaires

I had always wanted to visit Hainan island, which is marketed as the Chinese version of Hawaii. The climate is certainly the same as Hawaii, and the sheer amount of luxury hotels around Hainan is also similar to what you would find across the Pacific. But what is there to do on Hainan island for a mere backpacker?

Sanya Phoenix International Airport was my arrival point

I flew to Sanya from Singapore (with a short layover at Hong Kong Airport – didn’t bother going downtown this time), and I usually make the mistake of arriving at a new destination in the evening, which means more trouble and stress to find my way to the hotel or hostel. Not this time. I finally learned from my previous mistakes and made sure I knew what I was doing as I embarked on my tropical trip!

Haikou shoreline
The icon of Hainan: Nanshan Temple

First impressions of Hainan were very good. I have been to other tropical parts of China, such as Xishuangbanna and even Guangzhou/Shenzhen, but never this island. What you need to know when you come to Hainan is that a lot of Chinese tourists use this as their ‘getaway from life’ kind of trip. Passports are expensive in China, but Chinese people can visit Hainan almost free of charge (minus airfare) as they don’t need a passport to get here.

Yalong Bay is the scene of many luxury hotels
The St. Regis Hotel, Sanya

My cheap hotel was in Sanya in the south of the island, which is also where most of the luxury hotels are based, in particular around Yalong Bay, and Haitang Bay. I enjoyed experiencing the city life and had a walk along the beaches, although I did get the feeling that a solo backpacker was not particularly welcome near these luxury hotels. As far as I know, none of the beaches are private, but you still have to watch where you are going, as the resorts organise water sports activities for guests, and if you are not staying at that resort then you are unceremoniously ushered away if you don’t show your hotel key card upon request.

Pristine rainforest on Hainan island
Monkeys were everywhere!

So if you’re not a millionaire, what can you actually do here on Hainan island? Well, what I found most fascinating was the rainforest in the centre of the island. I spent 2 whole days sweating profusely as I explored the Yanuo Tropical Rain Forest Resort, all the while watching my footing for poisonous snakes. Thankfully, I didn’t see any snakes, but monkeys are everywhere – I hate monkeys!

Qilou Old Street reminded me of Saigon

For culture, the Binlang Ethnic Village is a great place to stop at, to learn about the life and art of the minority Li and Miao tribes, and for food, drink, and general joie de vivre, Qilou Old Street was a main hang out of mine. I didn’t meet any other travellers to talk with (most people were rich, middle-aged holidaymakers) but I did enjoy the vibe at Qilou Old Street. There is a fairly good wildlife park here on Hainan island, too, as well as many shopping centres – but, again, unless you have lots of money there may not be any suitable souvenirs or memorabilia to take back to your hostel.

I will plan to go into more detail about these places when I get a more stable internet connection! 


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