Hainan – China's tropical island destination

By Bruce Connolly | chinadaily.com.cn | 2017-09-28 07:14

Hainan – China's tropical island destination

By 2002 Yalong Bay was a leading holiday resort. [Photo by Bruce Connolly/chinadaily.com.cn]

Arriving in Sanya, the bus station was right in the heart of the old port, close to its major fishing harbour – the neighboring sea abundant with fish and other marine products. The old town occupied a narrow spit of land parallel to the ocean, creating a natural port on a mostly unsheltered coastline.

Tourism was in its infancy but construction underway suggested there were plans to develop the area into a major resort that would someday rival popular South East Asian destinations. Sanya has now become a leading winter location when often perfect weather attracts many visitors around the time of the Chinese Spring Festival. In 1993 the fledgling tourist area was centred around Dadonghai ('Big East Sea'), a short distance from downtown Sanya. Yalong Bay and other high-end hotel locations were still deserted sandy coves overlooked by small fishing villages.

Getting to Dadonghai was by something resembling a ride in a wartime motorcycle and side car. There were only a few domestic hotels – thankfully I had documents allowing me to stay domestically - although closer to the beach the first resort-style complexes were appearing. Foreign visitors who had discovered the area's charms were mostly teachers from Guangdong and a few expats wintering from colder northern cities. It was a landscape of beautiful beaches lined by coconut palms with a backdrop of the partly forested hills. The sea looked both clear and clean, indeed it has become an area for snorkelling and diving around offshore coral reefs. It seemed incredible that Hainan was a dreaded place of exile during the Ming and Qing periods – an area of fearsome tribes and malarial swamps – today a 'must get to' destination!

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