Yes.. Hainan Island.. When I see it on the map, the first thing that comes to my mind is Hainanese Chicken Rice (海南鸡饭). It’s abundant in Singapore, and certainly a part of my “once in a while” diet when I feel like I can take on a bit more cholesterol. The thought of visiting the origin of this famous dish didn’t immediately come to my mind at all. Asking around, it seems to have a reputation for being expensive, a tourist trap and not a place with a lot of sights either. So, my expectations weren’t exactly all that great heading there. It’s suppose to be the “Hawaii of the East”, and looking at the map, it’s certainly a big island, definitely bigger than Singapore island! It is apparently a regular holidaying spot for the locals and Russians, which explains why there are some Russian signage around the place. With recent changes to allow visa free access for more countries, I can only see the island getting more and more visitors from other countries as well.
Visa free doesn’t entirely mean you can just rock up though. As I discovered, there’s all sorts of rules that needed to be followed which basically means that you can’t just book a flight+accommodation and just turn up. If you organised your holiday through a tour agent in your home country, you’ll be fine as they’ll do all the ground work for you. But with us, we like “free and easy” travel and just can’t stand going on a tour. The rule requires that we “register” with a local tour agent to ‘organise’ your holiday. I was lucky enough to find one online called Mr. Liu (may not be his real name for all I know), willing to only help us with hotel bookings. We wanted to book our preferred hotel at Anantara Sanya, which we booked through Mr. Liu, and everything was done entirely by email! Granted, we placed quite a bit of trust in each other as he had to book the accommodation and pay for it upfront, and I had to trust that he indeed registered us and trust that he is legit. We only paid for the accommodation when we arrived in Hainan in cash through the driver he organised to take us to the hotel. This could have easily gone wrong both ways. After the fact, I would highly recommend Mr. Liu (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you ever wanted a free and easy tour to Hainan Island. He was super prompt with email replies and seems well versed in English to handle all your queries. Highly recommended!
Our accommodation (Anantara Sanya), is located at the southern end of the island where we stayed for 5 nights in total. We chose it, because we are GHA members that automatically puts us in an upgraded room with a view of the beach. Except the view was probably not what we thought it would be , unless you are into construction ships parked on your beach..
The room itself was definitely quite nice and rather roomy. The star feature was probably the big round bath in the middle, which you will find in Ocean Suite offered by the hotel.
Our trip to Sanya started with a high speed rail ride from Meilan Airport (美兰国际机场), which I must agree was a rather pleasant ride. It certainly looked very new. We took up first class coach, which really didn’t cost much more than the second class. It meant a crowd free cabin and more room to spare, which we thought was well worth the extra we paid for it. Top speed reached around 245km/h, which wasn’t quite as fast as the TGV (in France) we experienced earlier this year. Nevertheless, we got to Sanya in about 1.5 hours.
The first evening at the hotel was supposed to be a “Dinner By Design” experience where we were seated by the beach with our chef cooking up some fine dishes for us. All that went up in smokes when we realised Anantara never get our booking request upfront (done online). We ended just eating at the Thai restaurant at the hotel, which was surprisingly good! Yes.. good enough that we even came back second time!
Atlantis Sanya (亚特兰蒂斯水世界)
Second day, we headed out to the newly opened (Around April 2018) Atlantis Aquarium and Water Theme Park. It had all the hall marks of a tourist trap, and we definitely felt it, like paying for about SGD$8 for a bubble tea! The entrance ticket was a cool SGD$100 for combined aquarium and water theme park, and Ethan had to pay as well (being just over the 90cm requirement)!
It wasn’t like the sea life in the aquarium were actually that special (It’s an aquarium!). But, it does have one unique difference in that it comes with the theme of a lost underwater world! Who doesn’t want to feel like they are exploring a lost ancient underwater city like Atlantis! It certainly made it more interesting for Ethan (and any kids for that matter). One downside though, the aquarium errs a bit on the small side in terms of size. We were pretty much done in less than an hour at leisurely pace.
The Aquaventure Waterpark was pretty good too, very much resembling a themed version of Adventure Cove at Sentosa Island (back in Singapore). There is one major difference though. There are life guards everywhere telling us what NOT to do! There just seemed to be someone watching you blowing whistles at every opportunity they can to remind you that you can’t swim in certain areas like Rapids River ride (must stay on tube), or you can’t come too near the deeper end of the pool, or you can’t slide down together with your kids! If you don’t watch yourself, I bet you would be deaf by the end of the day from them blowing whistles at you constantly. If you can put up with that, the rides themselves were pretty nice actually.
The “Splashers” section of the park was probably the only area where Ethan spent the most time at.
I did try “Leap of Faith” ride, which was arguably the most daring ride at that park. It’s an 8-story tall mega-slide. I barely had time to be ‘scared’ coming down, which was a good thing to know for anyone else who wants to try it. You’re pretty much at the bottom of the slide by the time you have time to go.. “oh crap, i’m going to slide down 8 stories in just a few seconds”.
Riding Electric Scooter
Following the hectic day at Atlantis Sanya, we spent the evening hanging around Sanya bay (三亚湾) and a local mall called MingZhu shopping mall (三亚明珠广场). The mall wasn’t really worth mentioning but it is what you expect of a small local mall. The beach was alive though and looked like a popular hangout joint for the locals. But we eventually discovered a shop renting out electric scooters, which I couldn’t pass on.
It was about CNY300 (~SGD$60) for a day, which is probably overpriced. But unlike typical petrol powered scooters we hire in other parts of Asia, these are well under powered, and frankly weren’t design for 3 of us to ride on it at all. We were lucky we made it home from the beach on the scooter (which was just a 7km ride), with the bike struggling uphill to our resort and battery reporting less 40% left after just this single ride home!
The other challenge was that we just didn’t know where to go charge the battery. So if we ran out of battery, I wasn’t prepared to push that thing all the way back to the rental shop! Anyway.. we rode it back to the rental shop the next day and returned it, probably never renting one of these again.
Romance Park （三亚千古情景区）
On the third day, we took a trip to so called “Romance Park”，which is probably not somewhere I would immediately think of going with a four year old. Romance Park is famous for the theater, which you could compare to similar western shows like Cirque du Soleil, just with a more ethnic theme. It’s certainly more affordable at around SGD$70 per ticket. I ended up giving it a go, because it included a mini zoo and an ice park as well. Having said that, the animals at the zoo didn’t look all that healthy at all..
That did not look like a very happy skipper at all! As for the snow park.. well.. be prepared to be hassled about the fact that you NEED their warm pair of socks (for extra $$ of course) when you get in. I can assure you, we didn’t need it. The park was good for a few photos, and we left after spending about 10 minutes in there..
The main show itself was definitely worth it. Not sure if it was luck, but we got pretty good seating, right next to the “runway”, which meant we get to see the performers real close for some parts of the show.
The story was quite good, and presented pretty spectacularly too, while telling the story of Hainan Island itself. But, closer to the end though, it just got a bit corny, with”mermaids” in scantily clad bikinis “swimming” around a moving canvas directly above the audience. Can’t complain though..
Don’t get me wrong, overall, the show was pretty spectacular given Ethan was able to sit through the entire show. He can’t even do that with kids movies!
Sanya Ocean Sonic Banling Hotspring Resort (三亚半岭温泉海韵别墅)
After the show, we took a short 10-minutes cab ride to nearby hotspring resort to relax. I do have to admit, the variety of hot springs here were actually very good. The environment felt clean and “world class”, with plenty of staff assisting us while we were there. Absolutely worth the “pit stop” here if you are around Sanya
The more unique hot spring we dipped in was probably the coconut milk hot spring.
The one Ethan had the most fun in, was probably the skin eating fish pool..
And it does feature a pretty awesome swimming pool as well, which all of us enjoyed.
Best of all, the resort was so darn quiet! We probably only saw a handful of other tourists there. It’s all good from our perspective, because it’s rare that you can go anywhere in China where there isn’t a lot of people!
Yanoda Rainforest (呀诺达)
We took a “premium” tour for this one once arriving there by cab. According to the local tour guide, you come to Hainan Island to either sample their food, or you go exploring “plants” and mountains. We’ve already sampled some food, so we thought we should give “plants” a try. Visiting this rainforest was again typically not something we would have planned with a four year old travelling with us, but we did it anyway, given Ethan seems to be more ‘open’ to new things these days. Having said that, Ethan didn’t do much walking at all, with daddy carrying him most of the time.
Nevertheless, we probably only covered just a fraction of the park with a tour guide with us, given we probably only spent about 1-2 hours walking max. I did learn quite a few things about ancient and poisonous trees which was a bonus.
On our last day, we spent most of the time hanging around Da Dong Hai (大东海国际购物中心) and Summer Mall (夏日百货) to “wind down”, along with checking out the beach in the process.
It certainly ain’t Gold Coast, but still a pretty decent beach. The malls were not that interesting either, and frankly I didn’t go there for shopping at all. The only fun I can remembered was probably the bumper car ride with Ethan at one of the shopping mall.
Anyway, there were other highlights for the trip worth mentioning, including:
Hainanese Chicken Rice (椰子鸡)
It would be a crime if you left without trying this famous dish. They don’t call it “Hainanese Chicken Rice”.. they simply call it “Coconut Chicken”. I did find the soup based coconut chicken unique, which I don’t see in Singapore at all…
And I couldn’t finish this blog post without talking briefly about Wechat Pay. Must admit, China is ahead of the game in terms cashless society. Singapore is barely catching up with new players like Grab Pay now. Other cashless payment systems like Apple, Google Pay aren’t universal everywhere like WeChat Pay is across China. In China, you really can get around without cash, as long as you have one of the popular mobile app with credit in it, namely Wechat Pay or Alipay. Even grandmas on the side streets would prefer you pay them with Wechat Pay than cash! Having said that, it’s pretty hard for foreigners to get cash loaded into Wechat Pay if you don’t have a local Chinese bank account. I had to trouble a friend back in Singapore to transfer some over, just so that I get to experience this wonderful payment method! Part of the reason I did that, was to take advantage of the large number of “specials” and discounts, which generally is only available to either Wechat or Alipay users. So, next time you intend to head to China, make sure you get a Chinese friend to transfer you some money into a Wechat account of your own!
Along with the convenience of paying with Wechat, I did try shopping on Chinese shopping sites like taobao.com just to see if it’s any good. Well.. I can happily say that Ethan was happy with the soft toys we bought and delivered in just a day or two.
Shopping online meant that I didn’t need to spend time at the local shops, which tend to be overpriced anyway. So it worked out really well for me.
I would summarise the whole holiday as being a “success”. China could feel like a mess everywhere else, but Hainan didn’t give me that feeling. It’s quite obvious Hainan is slowly opening up to the outside world, like another Bali. Hopefully it will be as nice if I ever come here again!