While few foreigners even know of its existence, Hainan Island, nestled off the coast in the South China Sea, has been the number one destination for vacationers in the country for many years now.

Most westerners do not equate China with tropical beaches, palm trees, coconuts and crystal-clear waters, but Hainan certainly has it all, and then some. When thinking sand and surf, most non-Chinese turn their thoughts to other Asian destinations, such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. But for those in the know, Hainan, and its tourism mecca of Sanya on the southern edge, offering much of the same tropical delights as other better known resort areas, all without having to leave the Middle Kingdom.

Local tour groups come and go in droves, and during Chinese New Year, it may be hard to find a pillow to sleep on or a bargain to be had in any of the tourist shops, as hotels tend to be booked solid and prices artificially inflated to capture the festive spirit and free-spending ways of the merry-makers.

There are excellent beaches in many areas along the coast, great hiking inland like up to Wuzhishan (five finger mountain), good snorkeling and diving options as well as great tropical fruit and seafood served in restaurants of all sizes, shapes, and price brackets. At least once, go for the Dapaidang evening outdoor restaurants so loved by the locals. Not far from Sanya, there is a local coffee plantation well worth the visit, and at the more popular beaches, all the water sports that have ever been invented.

Hainan is very much in the public eye right now, as the Chinese government recently unveiled its plan to develop the island into an international tourist destination. Locals would say the coastal areas are plenty developed enough as it is, and that new 5-five star hotels are not what are needed. However, it is inevitable that the island, with its rich natural resources, unspoiled landscapes and vast economic potential, will become more urbanised over time, especially as the government tries to transform it into the Hawaii of China. The island has a lot to offer sun-seekers where ever they are from, it just may be a good idea to forego visiting during the Lunar Festival.


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