China Tours Haikou Hainan ~ China Travel Story
Tropical Island Province Getaway Haikou, Sanya
China tours Haikou Hainan: Hainan is China's tropical island province, a little teardrop on the bottom of a map of China that dips into the Gulf of Tonkin. I came here on a tour from Hong Kong; check with a travel agency for China tours and package holidays to Hainan; To Haikou on Hainan north coast, and to Sanya on the south coast, or tour both cities. Note: Sanya High season is December, January, February, and prices for hotels, etc. are higher at these times, especially over Chinese New Year. See Googlemap Hainan.
China Tour ~ Haikou Hainan ~ Volcanoes, Beaches and History
As volcanoes go, Ma'an Ridge Crater isn't very high, just 200 meters from base to crater rim. And being extinct now for some 10,000 years, it's pretty quiet, too.
But it makes up for both with steep sides that have you longing for the days of palanquins and bearers for the 20-minute climb to the top.
Dripping and breathless, I peer through overhanging trees and jungle of undergrowth lining the dormant crater, and know the only way I will ever explore the caves in its depths is if Mr. Lui carries me.
Instead of heading down the trail and stairs to the depths of the crater, we stay on the crater's rim, amidst flocks of tiny blue butterflies that dance in the flowers, and revel in the cool breezes before making our way back to the base.
For now, this is about as exciting as tourist attractions get in Haikou.
Most likely, the next time I come here, Ma'an Ridge will be ringed by a mass of tour buses with multilingual guides, and aggressive young men hawking bootleg CDs and copies of Mao's little red book.
As China rushes to modernize
. . . the 'Old China' is fast disappearing. I like Ma'an Ridge just the way it is: Centuries-old rough stone steps cut into the grassy banks above paths paved with lava rock, and nary a vendor in sight.
I'd arrived the night before in Haikou, Hainan's capital, after a two-hour flight west from Hong Kong. The small jet had banged down on the runway with enough force and shudders to startle the silent passengers into grumbling protests.
On the half-hour shuttle to the hotel, there's just me and the driver; only one of us speaks English.
For me, Hainan's big draw is its exotic locale.
Hainan is as far south as you can go in China, some 30 kms (19 miles) south of mainland China across a wide strait that links the Gulf of Tonkin with the South China Sea, between Vietnam and the Philippines.
South of Hainan, it's all lonesome ocean, where international boundaries are still hotly disputed, and pirates roam the high seas.
Hainan's 15 minutes of (Western) fame happened a few years ago, when China's air force 'convinced' an American military plane to land on Hainan and stay until they could agree on airspace issues.
And though Haikou, on Hainan's north coast, has charms of its own, Haikou's sandy beaches aren't quite as white as Sanya's, the ocean lapping its shore is not as azure blue, and Haikou locals tend to shy away from westerners, not embrace them like their Sanya cousins.
Arriving at night, as did, it's this morning that I get my first good look at Haikou out the window of the Hotel Meritus Mandarin.
In the distance, early morning sunlight shimmers off a silver bridge, then forces its way through the mist to uncover the downtown skyscrapers of this busy port.
Signs of change are everywhere . . .
. . . like the enormous concrete shell rising on a lot across from the hotel. Dozens of hard-hatted workers, like ants in an ant farm, stream from the barracks-style shanties that gird its still-shadowed base to scale its sunny heights.
Most construction workers in China live at the building sites, in primitive conditions no westerner would tolerate. On the plus side, there's no commute, and living expenses are low.
Once, Hainan was a place for exiles, the 'edge of the world'. Now it's fast becoming 'China's Hawaii'.
The south coast city of Sanya, where locals learn English and eagerly welcome foreign visitors, has hosted the Miss World pageant, at a specially built convention centre.
Only a dozen or so years ago, the first luxury hotel had yet to be built in the sleepy fishing village that was Sanya; now you can lunch on Chicken Caesar Salad in the Marriott or Sanya Hilton, or play golf any number of lavish seaside resorts.
I head out with my guide for the day, the affable Mr. Lui, who came recommended to me at the hotel desk.
In short order, he tells me he is 29, was married last year to a lawyer, that they both make good money, though now that they just bought a new car and a house where his parents now live too, money is tight.
After four years at university in Beijing studying something about computers, he's been back in Haikou for three years.
At least I think that's what he said. His heavily accented English and reliance on his electronic dictionary made communicating hard work for both of us.
But in his spotless new car complete with 'The Club' to avert thieves, we set off to explore.
To Haikou Mall . . .
Our first stop is at a large mall 10 storeys high, though only the bottom four are occupied.
And though Hainan is famous for expert weaving, embroidery and carvings by its ethnic minorities, all I see are shops full of the latest fashions from the factories at Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong.
At a huge grocery store selling everything from live fish to electronic keyboards, we buy fruit and water and head out.
"This is the cool season," says Mr. Lui, as we wander through the treasure of antiquities at the Five Officials Memorial Temple, named for its most famous exiles from the Song and Tang dynasties, China's medieval times.
Cool season? It's a sunny 28C (83F)!. "People don't go much to parks now," he continues, "except for young people who want to be alone on dates. But when it's hot and humid in the summer, the parks and beaches are full."
But cool season it must be!
At Holiday Beach, a long stretch of sand and parkland with views across the bay to the city, there's no one else in sight, save a lone wind surfer out in the bay and an old woman who sells us sticky rice and peanut sweets from baskets suspended at the ends of a pole over her shoulders.
Driving home along the wide river as the evening shadows deepen, Mr. Lui and I agree we've had a fine time talking about our lives and cultures.
Let Sanya have the tourists, I think, and leave Haikou to retain its everyday charms.