Golden Week – Hainan Island
Hainan Island – Sanya
China celebrates the founding of their nation each October in a weeklong celebration called Golden Week. We had holidays from school and work, so decided to take a long weekend out of the big city. We chose Hainan Island, in Southern China, because it is a simple three hour flight from Shanghai and has the nickname, “the Hawaii of China.” Some people warned us that it would be over-crowded, as it was the national holiday, and lots of Chinese tourists would be flocking there. However, others told us it was a “safe” place to travel during Golden Week, because it was a sunny beach location, and most Chinese people avoid the sun, so the pools and beaches would be empty. Crowds or not, we were excited to see a new part of a China and escape from the big city for a few days.
Travel During Golden Week
We were concerned about pictures we’d seen of epic traffic jams on October 1st from previous years, but our family driver wasn’t worried. He told us that most Chinese tourists travel by bus or train, so we would be fine driving to the airport, which is in the opposite direction of the train and bus stations. He was absolutely right, and we had smooth sailing all the way to the airport. Even inside the airport was pretty calm with no delays. A few hours later, we landed in Sanya, at the southern end of Hainan Island.
We’d been checking the weather for several days before the trip, and we’re a little concerned that it showed thunderstorms every day. Day number one, they never came to fruition though. Blue skies, plenty of sunshine, and an empty pool were all ours, just as predicted by the Shanghai veteran expats. With the palm trees swaying and tropical flowers lining the pool, there were definitely some elements of a Hawaiian vacation. If they’d pumped some ukulele music in over the speakers, I might have been fooled for awhile. We spent hours enjoying the hotel pools, water slide, and shell hunting along the shore.
That evening, there was supposed to be a bonfire and KTV (karaoke) by the beach, so we went to check it out after dinner. We never found karaoke, but did find a group playing a bamboo dance game, where you had to jump through moving bamboo poles without catching your ankles. There was folk music playing through speakers, and the more experienced people were able to jump through in a rhythmic pattern, dancing their way through. The rest of us just ran through, happy not to trip over a pole!
Day number two was overcast, and what do you know, the pool was crowded. There is definitely an inverse relationship to the amount of sunshine and the number of people at the pool and beach!
We had promised the kids that we would try to visit Monkey Island, a tourist attraction off the coast, near the hotel, so planned to go there later that day. From what we’d read, you take an aerial tram to the island, which is inhabited by thousands of monkeys. Some are wild and others are part of a show of sorts – yes, a tourist trap. The hotel had a shuttle, which made it easy, so we hopped on, ready to get a quick lunch and see some monkeys.
As soon as we got on the bus, we learned there would be a change of plans. Through our limited Chinese and lots of Baidu Translate (a phone app), we learned that Monkey Island was closing for the day because they were prepping for the typhoon, which was coming tomorrow. Hmmm, this was the first we’d heard of a typhoon. In place of Monkey Island, the hotel bellhop suggested going to the local village to eat a seafood lunch. The kids weren’t pleased about missing out on the monkeys, but we had nothing else to do, so stayed on the van and traveled a few minutes into town.
Plan B – Seafood Restaurant
The van dropped us off at a dock, and the next thing we knew we were being led aboard a small boat and setting off across the bay to a floating town in the distance. It never crossed my mind that we might have to take a boat to eat lunch, but we there was no way off unless we wanted to swim back, so floating village it was.
Here’s how lunch worked.
- No menu
- No English
- Point at what you want
- They scoop it out of the water, weigh it, and cook it
- Eat and enjoy!
Oh, and try not to burn your mouth on the condiments – I thought the yellow sauce was mango chutney…no, a mouth numbing, eye watering, hot pepper sauce!
All of a sudden we heard thunder and the entire restaurant decided to end our meals at once. Everyone quickly paid bills and rushed back onto boats to take us to shore, just as the rain started. By the time we docked, we were all wet, but laughing at our crazy lunchtime adventure. We huddled under a small shelter with a large group of other stranded eaters, until eventually a van came to take us back to the hotel. So what, if they squeezed an extra 4 passengers in without seats – we’re learning that this is just how things get done here, so you have to adapt or stay home. If we’d waited for another ride that had enough seat belts, we might still be stranded by the dock. By the time we got back to the hotel, we’d forgotten about the monkeys and were feeling one of those, “did that just happen?” moments!
Day three, a typhoon (Pacific equivalent of a hurricane) was passing north of the island, so skies were overcast and the surf was churning. We hung around the resort before heading back to the airport that afternoon. On the drive back to Sanya, we had a chance to see more of the island and the massive construction projects underway across the southern side of the island. We saw entire towns with high rise apartments and neighborhoods of luxury villas appearing out of what were probably wetlands a year or two ago. My advice – visit Sanya now, before the all the new high rises fill up, while there are still quaint floating fishing villages and undisturbed green mountains in the distance. Blink and it might (will probably) change.