Could Hainan be Asia’s next paradise island destination?


The jetty onto Sanya in Hainan. Source: Shutterstock

CHINA isn’t generally the first destination that comes to mind when planning a tropical island getaway.

But it should be, when you consider that dangling just off the southern tip of mainland China is the picturesque island of Hainan.

Surrounded by warm oceans, golden beaches, green palm trees and scattered with luxury resorts, Hainan island is well on its way to earning the accolade of being one of Asia’s most desirable vacation destinations.

Cut off from the mainland by the Qiongzhou Strait, the island boasts lush highlands, a thriving surf scene, rich and prevalent culture and a hippy aura of relaxation.

And there’s good news for travelers wanting to see this stunning location, but are put off by China’s notoriously lengthy visa application process.

In a bid to grow the island’s international tourism intake, China’s Public Security Ministry and the State Immigration Administration announced late last week that nationals from 59 countries will be allowed visa-free access for a 30-day stay.

This included holders of Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai, Singaporean, Japanese, Australian, New Zealand, US, UK and UAE passports.

Currently, there are 56 direct international air routes connecting to Hainan. But according to China Daily, Sun Ying, head of the Hainan Tourism Development Committee, wants to add on another 44 direct routes by 2020.

While the bean-shaped island may have been missed off the vacation-destination map for some time, it is now providing vacationers with the perfect remedy to some of the more overcrowded, overpriced and overdeveloped tourist destinations in Southeast Asia.

Is there something in Hainan for you?

The 35,000 square kilometer island is renowned for its pristine beaches, especially in the southern region of Sanya.

Likened to the Hawaii of China, Sanya is scattered with luxury beach resorts, golden bays and idyllic sunset spots begging for those double taps on Instagram.

If it’s laidback luxury and pampering you’re after, the glitzy beach resorts such as Sheraton, Banyan Tree Spa, and Marriot are all waiting to welcome you.

The only alarm clock at these beachfront properties is the sound of the serene waves lapping at the shore.

For those wanting to explore the natural beauty, the turquoise waters surrounding Hainan create a diver’s paradise.

With hundreds of tropical fish and a vibrant stretch of coral reef along Wuzhizhou Island, Hainan might just begin to rival other popular diving spots in Southeast Asia.

For those wanting to explore Hainan’s rich culture, head to the central highlands.

Unlike mainland China where temples, shrines, and monuments of bygone times can be found all over, Hainan’s cultural legacy is predominantly found in its indigenous people, who still live on the island to this day.

Up until the 1930s, the main populations on the island were Li and Miao minority, ethnic groups, living as hunter-gatherer tribes in the mountains.

While many of them have now moved into urban areas, a few remain in the mountains, and visitors can trek up to discover hot springs, walk out onto terraced rice-growing valleys and see the Li and Miao ancient way of life.

The islands also boast a volcanic cluster geopark, botanical gardens and a museum for the history buffs and nature enthusiasts.

Any foodies will be chuffed to hear that Hainan takes it cuisine seriously.

Staple foods include meaty Baoluo Noodles, hotpots and scrumptious fresh seafood including lobsters, crab, clams, and squid.

Southeast Asians, or those familiar with the region’s cuisines, may be curious about the origins of the “Hainanese chicken rice”, Singapore’s national dish. Interestingly, the dish in its current form isn’t actually available in Hainan.

Research says the “Hainanese chicken rice” was likely brought to Southeast Asia by early Chinese immigrants, and was inspired by the “Wengchang chicken dish”, which originates from the Wengchang city area in Hainan.

Beyond the beautiful beaches, immersive culture, blissful climate and divine food, Hainan is also home to the world’s largest duty-free shopping center.

Need we say more?

With plans to create casinos and build shopping malls, Hainan will surely continue to attract investment and visitors to establish itself as a “world-class tourism destination.”