Hai Times in Hǎinán

Hai Times in Hǎinán

Hainan is the name of a tropical island, situated below mainland China, between Vietnam and Hong Kong. The name in Chinese (海南) literally means “south of the sea” or “south sea.” And it is stunning! Warm weather, palm trees, sandy beaches. The island is volcanic and mountainous inland, with lovely beaches at the edges.

My flatmate and I, anticipating a grey Nanjing winter, booked tickets for a weekend away on a whim a few months ago. We hoped for blue skies and warm weather. I hoped for some hiking and cycling. We got the lovely weather, but I didn’t get my hiking. Once I saw the beach, I realized that actually just staying there would be perfectly fine with me.

Hainan is the home of the world’s first circular, high-speed railway. The capital city, Haikou, is on the north end. The most popular beach town, Sanya, is on the south-west tip. So after a three hour flight and a night in Haikou, we hopped aboard the train and headed to Sanya’s Houhai area for a lovely getaway. Houhai is tiny and stunning; the beach was clean and uncrowded. There were only about five hotels, and a lot more deep green trees. The waves were manageable and the water much warmer than the cold Pacific. At no point did I become numb while swimming, even during our Chinese-language surfing lesson.

The food was as excellent as the scenery. Hainan of course has super fresh seafood. We grabbed lunch with our instructor after the surf lesson. He brought his own fish (caught the day before) and the restaurant prepared them. They were delicious!

The area can also grow amazing fruits, especially mango and coconut. I love mango and probably ate seven to eight over the course of four days. They were very affordable, about seven to ten RMB per mango ($1-2). The folks working the fruit stands would also slice them for you, beautifully and at no charge, then hand you the sliced mango and toothpicks to eat with. Paradise!

A form of sorbet, called 炒冰 (“fried ice”) is also popular. It is easily available at the night markets that pop up after dark. You can select from a range of flavors. I usually got mango or mango and coconut. Sarah was more adventurous and tried kiwi and passion fruit. Another desert called qingbuliang (清补凉, “cool, sweet soup”) is also popular. It consists of a super sweet, thin yogurt with lots of additions including raisins, coconut flesh, corn and others.

The night markets also had savory options, including fried rice, noodles, all kinds of Chinese pancakes (more like crepes than American pancakes), and fried seafood. I wish Nanjing were 20 degrees warmer in winter and also that it had such markets.

Overall, it was a total blast! Lovely to have some time outside, in a different region of China and eating new foods. The dialect in Hainan is also totally different, which was fun to hear. I couldn’t understand Hainanese at all, but people were kind and switched to standard Mandarin with us. Would love to go back and soak up some more sun.


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