Living in Kuala Lumpur with its hot and humid weather, stepping (or more accurately, coming out of the airport) on Hainan Island was like I never left home. This island on the southernmost part of China is blessed with sun all year round — and well, tropical weather. Hainan Island is the largest (and makes up the majority) of the Hainan Province, which consists of 200 islands scattered across three archipelagoes on the South China Sea. During my visit, I dropped by the capital of Haikou on the northern coast of the main island, as well as the popular and touristy Sanya on the southern coast.
Hainan Island with Parlo Tours
China is such a huge country, that there are so many cities and provinces in the country that I have never heard of, and probably never thought of visiting. I have to admit that Hainan is one of such places. I’ve only heard of Hainan because I love chicken rice, and in Malaysia, one of the most popular ones is the Hainanese Chicken Rice (which I thought came from Hainan). It was only on this trip that I found out it’s actually a dish created in Malaysia/Singapore by the Hainanese that migrated here — and is an adaptation from the original Wenchang Chicken (which I got to try during my visit, and it was oh so delicious).
Got a little carried away there by my love for chicken rice — but back to Hainan, I was invited on this Muslim media/agent familiarization visit to the island by Parlo Tours. It was only a 3 to 4 days trip to the island, but since this was my first time traveling (and working with) this top Malaysian travel agency, I was excited. I didn’t have to plan my itinerary (tickets were included in my tour but I’ve written down the prices to each attraction anyway), and just went along for a carefree ride!
We took an early morning flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hainan Island on Malindo Airlines. After a three and a half hour flight, we arrived in the capital city of Haikou at noon. From the airport (and after a quick lunch in Haikou), we bussed it for another three hours or so to our first destination in Sanya. It was a very long day on the road — and we only had time to visit one local attraction for the day.
Paddy Field National Park and the Star Dinosaur Park
The Paddy Field National Park is a newly opened attraction (2018) in the Haitang District. It is a rice theme park dedicated to paddy — as it is one of the main crops on Hainan Island. The park features rice fields, a Star Dinosaur Park with over 300 life-sized dinosaur models, flower gardens, paddy-themed restaurants, and open-air live show performances.
Guests to the park are driven around in a battery car, as the park’s first phase spans more than 200 hectares (with more phases in the long-term plans). We arrived at the Paddy Field National Park in the evening; so we got to witness the paddy fields at sundown, and see the lights illuminating the dinosaurs come dark. The dinosaur park is the biggest one in the world — though it just blows my mind as to why they would think of placing dinosaurs in a rice field! Basic park entrance for high season costs CNY88 (US$13), and low season CNY75 (US$11).
Hilton Garden Inn Sanya
After our visit to the park, we went for dinner before being dropped off at our accommodation in Sanya — the Hilton Garden Inn Sanya. This 4-star hotel only just opened at the end of 2018; and therefore looks extremely clean and new. My room was spacious and equipped with all the modern amenities and facilities; and had a balcony that offers views of the surrounding condominiums and housing estates (the hotel is somewhat in the city center, but there is not much to do around its vicinity). Buffet breakfast offers a large variety of local and international cuisines, and I especially loved the sweet grapes and mangoes every morning.
A new day in Hainan; and an entire day to explore the city of Sanya, a popular tourist destination for being one of China’s top beach getaways. Sadly, we were not headed to the beach (though I would have loved to spend a day soaking up the sun, sand and sea vibes); but instead, spent the whole day learning about the city’s nature, culture, and history.
Yalong Bay International Rose Valley
Our first destination of the day was to admire the beautiful flowers of Yalong Bay International Rose Valley. Upon arrival, we were ushered into the battery car for a tour around this 2,755 acres of land with nearly 1,500 species of roses (and other trees and flowers like sunflowers, orchids and bougainvilleas). Our ride took us around the valley through flower gardens, winding paths, streams and bridges — until we finally stopped at the main garden that is filled with rows and rows of red roses as far as the eye can see.
As with most places in China, the red rose garden was packed with people; but despite the crowds, it was still quite fun walking along the rose bushes for pictures. There were also photography booths around the area that allowed visitors to take pictures with swings and peacocks for an additional charge. Our tour ended at the souvenir shop selling an array of rose products like tea, cookies, handicraft and skin-care. Entry to the rose valley costs CNY60 (US$8.5) during high season, and CNY50 (US$7) during the low season. A ride on the battery car costs an additional CNY30 (US$4).
Sanya South Mosque
In the afternoon, we dropped by the Sanya South Mosque for the Muslims in our group to pray, and for non-Muslims like me to admire the mosque and roam the surrounding area. The Sanya South Mosque is the city’s biggest mosque, and though the original structure was erected since the Song Dynasty, more than 900 years ago — the current one is a reconstruction that was recently completed in 2017. The mosque looks pretty majestic with its mix of classic Arabic and traditional Chinese architectural influence, and all-white exterior.
Song Cheng Romance Park Romance Show
After our visit to the mosque, we spent the rest of the evening at the Song Cheng Romance Park. I have to say that it’s just amazing that there are all these ancient city replica’s all over China — and they are always beautifully done, looking exactly how it would have been back in the day. The Song Cheng Romance Park is no different. It covers a wide area of 225 acres with themed zones and entertainment areas; promoting the city’s folk cultures like the Tianya traditions, the Li and Miao tribe customs, and even a replication of the Yazhou Ancient City.
During our visit, we walked through the ‘ancient town’; and spent some time shopping at the souvenir shops, buying small eats at the many stalls, and I even got an outdoor ear spa session (where they dug my ears with long tweezers)! We then ended up at the Sanya Qianguqing Grand Theater, where we witnessed the “Legend of Romance” show. Even though I have watched tons of such performances in China; they never fail to amaze me time and time again — with their beautiful and colorful costumes, mesmerizing traditional dances, crazy acrobatics and brilliant water and fire displays. And yes, the lovely Chinese music. Tickets to the park and show (depending on seats) ranges from CNY280-480 (US$40-70).
The Atlantis Sanya
We ended the day at the Atlantis Sanya — one of the most beautiful resort brands in the world, and one that has been on my bucket list for many many years. I didn’t know that there was one in China (I first came to know about Atlantis from the one in Bahamas), and I was thrilled to finally be able to visit an Atlantis Resort. From a floor-to-ceiling gigantic aquarium in the lobby, to private ones in the underwater suites — I was in awe, just like a little child. More about my visit to the Atlantis Sanya here.
And on the third day in Hainan — we spent the morning learning about the ancient tribes that still live on the island, and then took a bullet train to Haikou. We didn’t have much time to explore the capital city of this island province as much as I would have liked to; but at least we got to visit an ancient street, and stay at the biggest resort in all of the island.
Binglanggu Li and Miao Cultural Heritage Park
After checking-out of our hotel in Sanya, we made our way to the Binglanggu Hainan Li and Miao Cultural Heritage Park, about a 45-minute drive out of the city. The heritage park was founded in 1998, and showcases the cultures, customs and traditions of the ancient Li and Miao tribes of the island. The park (like all parks in China) is huge; and because we didn’t have much time to explore the entire area; we hopped on a buggy that brought us to the only part of the park we were to explore that day, the Ganza Li Village.
It was really interesting learning about the Li people of Hainan Island. Originally living by the ocean, they were forced inland by the other tribes that started coming to the island; and ended up planting rice on the mountainside. At this village replica, we dropped by the Totem Art Museum and the Tattoo Museum (where we got to admire their tribal face tattoos); walked through the area displaying the Li peoples’ weaving, fishing and farming techniques; learned about their daily life through art and music (like nose flutes); and even visited the boat-shaped houses. I also got to try their rice wine, and bought some coconut snacks to bring home. It was an enlightening visit and I really enjoyed it, and kinda wished I had the chance to visit the Miao Village too. Park tickets for high season cost CNY96 (US$14), and low season CNY80 (US$11.5).
Bullet Train from Wanning to Haikou
And then it was time to leave Sanya! We travelled by bus to Wanning (a 1.5-hour ride), where we boarded the high-speed train from Wanning Station to Haikou East Station. Our passports and tickets were manually checked upon entry into the station waiting area; and at the autogates, our Malaysian passports went through the scanners with ease. The bullet train was clean, and the ride was comfortable; and it only took about an hour for us to arrive in Haikou. Train tickets cost CNY95 (US$14) for 1st class seats, and CNY 59 (US$9) for 2nd class seats.
Zhong Shan Road
Upon arrival at Haikou, we were met by our tour bus that took us to one of the oldest streets in the city — Zhong Shan Road. This pedestrian only street is part of the Qi Lou Ancient Streets that date back to more than 2,000 years. Most of the architecture around these streets are a fusion of European and Asian, influenced by the overseas Chinese merchants from the early 19th century. Zhong Shan Road is completely tiled and lined by colonial buildings on both sides, looking so pretty with its intricate carvings, wooden window frames, and Baroque columns. They now house souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants; and have copper statues (depicting the life of locals in the olden days) along the street. We were given just enough time to walk the length of the street and back; but I really really wanted to explore further!
Mission Hills Resort Haikou
We spent our last night in Hainan at the beautiful and absolutely gigantic Mission Hills Resort Haikou. The resort area is so big that it has ten 18-hole golf courses, a mineral hot-spring spa so big that it’s listed in the Guinness World Records, an actual permanent movie set, a waterpark, a mall, plenty of museums, and a variety of sports venues. You can read more about my time at Mission Hills Resort here.
The next day, we were taken for a quick tour around the resort grounds and a visit to Movie Town Haikou; before our transfer to the Haikou Meilan International Airport for our trip home to Kuala Lumpur.
Halal Food in Hainan
My trip to Hainan with Parlo Tours was a ‘Halal’ trip — and therefore, all our meals were had at ‘Halal’ muslim-friendly restaurants. While in the capital of Haikou, we dined at a restaurant called Madahuzi that was run by Muslim staff and served the most delicious lamb skewers. In Sanya, I noticed that most of the ‘Halal’ restaurants that we visited were mainly North China cuisine — we went to one called Ga Si Xin-Jiang Da Pan Ji (that literally translates to ‘big plate chicken’) so the chicken dish was delicious; and another one called Mukam Xin-Jiang Uyghur Food City that served a yummy meal of mutton rice (it looks pretty much like our Malaysian nasi beriani).
And when in Hainan, have lots and lots of tropical fruits, especially coconuts! We spotted coconuts almost everywhere; from fresh ones to bottled juices and shakes. It’s the perfect drink to cool off from the hot and humid Hainan weather.
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*She Walks the World was a guest on a familiarization trip to Hainan Island, China with Parlo Tours. And as always, all opinions stated here are my own.