Now that the winter break had come, Nate and I decided to travel to Hainan, the southernmost point of China often compared to Hawaii. We wanted to know whether its reputation was well-deserved. After arriving in Haikou, we boarded a train to Sanya, the tourist mecca of Hainan. Once we reached the city, we decided to stay at a hostel called Lin Mei Mei, a spacious 3-story house at the end of a one-lane alley. A 6-bed room cost 40RMB each night, which seemed reasonable. And as long as the backhoe across the street wasn’t our alarm clock, I would be happy.
Later that night, we walked around the New City, Sanya’s developing district. Apart from the main road, most of the alleys were strangely quiet. Eventually, we reached the beach where a large group of people were dressed in green and orange polo shirts. Perhaps some dance-off competition. But we were too hungry to stay. After finding a xiaochi (restaurant with appetizer-sized meals), we went back to the hostel and played Uno with some other Chinese travelers for a few hours.
Thursday – Dadonghai Bay, Li and Miao Cultural Site
Today we had no real plans, except to meet a Chinese friend who lived here. We met him in the Old City, Sanya’s old downtown. It felt grungy and unkempt with its weathered buildings, peeling walls, and blackened alleys. But it also had a lively feel to it – hordes of motorbikes zipped down the main road, food vendors vied for customers, and tech stores blasted pop music from their speakers.
After lunch, Nate and I went to Dadonghai Bay to find a bike rental shop. It seemed like Russian tourists had claimed this bay for their private use. Nearly every store sign I saw was in Chinese and Russian. Oddly enough, we didn’t see any Russians, but we did find an Australian who told us where we could rent bikes.
The bike owner told us bikes were 80RMB each day. We decided not to rent them. Instead we opted to visit the Li and Miao Cultural Site, basically a reproduction of the village life of Hainan tribes. Most of the houses looked like upside down boats covered in thatch. Apparently, some tribes used to wear tree bark clothes, and another tribe was obsessed with tattoos. Women had to have them if they wanted to marry, and often their face, hands, and legs were covered in a patchwork grid of lines.
Some of their greetings were unique too. In one tribe, you say “bu long” and give a thumbs-up in front of your chin. Another tribe likes pinching your ears. The harder they pinch, the deeper their affection for you. I don’t think I would have had many friends in that tribe.
After we had visited several tribal villages, we watched a grand performance with fire breathers, tree climbers, duck herders, female dancers, and musicians with ear-piercing instruments. Many of the outfits were intricately woven with bright, cheery colors. After their entertaining performance, we visited a mountain tribe who displayed some more life-endangering acts. One guy walked on shards of broken glass, another stepped on a red-hot plate, and one guy licked a fiery metal plate. Must have been a boring life in the mountains.
Friday – Nanshan Temple Complex, Tianya-Haijiao, Sanya Bay
On Friday we went to Nanshan Temple primarily to see the Kwan-yin Statue, a 3-sided white goddess of mercy towering over her visitors at 108m. To give you some perspective, she’s twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
Since buses weren’t too frequent, we took a taxi with a Beijing couple. The wife kindly regaled us with some Chinese opera as we sped to the temple. Once we got there, we paid the steep entrance fee (150 RMB) and took a caboose tour bus to the giant statue. After leaving the bus, we walked to the base of Kwan-yin. She seemed to gaze benevolently upon the swarms of tourists at her feet. I probably could have laid down on her big toe. Some tourists had placed incense sticks in several large iron vessels and were bowing down to her.
After seeing Kwan-yin, everything else seemed less grand to me. The temples were substantial, the grounds well-manicured, and the incense ubiquitous, but they just couldn’t compare to Kwan-yin herself.
Later we bused to Tianya-Haijiao, the southernmost point of China. Unfortunately, you can’t walk to the ocean without a fee, and we were too cheap to pay it. So we contented ourselves with watching other tourists walk along the beach taking pictures of themselves at the tip of China.
In the late afternoon, we stopped at Sanya Bay and strolled along the beach. While most people rested on the beach, some children played in the ocean and elderly men flew kites. Of course, wedding photographers prowled the area with doting couples not far behind. We sided with the majority, and rested for a few hours on the beach as palm trees swayed in the wind.
Tomorrow, we planned to climb Wuzhishan, the tallest mountain in Hainan (1,840m) known as “Five Fingers” and often shrouded in fog.