Prior to moving to China, the images I conjured of the country were of the standard postcard variety: the enormous Great Wall in Beijing, or a vibrant, modern city like Shanghai. I didn’t expect a tropical haven just a stone’s throw from the mainland — Hainan Island, sometimes called “the Hawaii of China.”
China’s neighbors — Thailand, Malaysia, or the Philippines — tend to corner the market on warm, tropical Asian getaways. But located only 14 miles off mainland China and roughly the size of Belgium, Hainan can compete on its own, thank you very much, abounding with amazing seafood, fresh coconuts, luxury resorts, and fun watersports.
Arguably slower-paced than the Chinese mainland, this island (pop. 8.6 million) is divided primarily into two cities. The capital city of Haikou (not to be confused with the Japanese poetry) is located in the northernmost region. With an airport and railway station that connects you to the southern counterpart, Sanya, Haikou offers a conservative, family-friendly vibe, beaches, and a mighty impressive waterpark.
Meanwhile, dazzling Sanya attracts party-goers and thrill-seekers alike. You can find everything from a private monkey island to lively bars and karaoke clubs to traditional, regional seafood you can’t find anywhere else. Sanya also happens to have the best air quality in all of the cities in China — which, after exploring polluted mega-cities like Shanghai, comes as a very literal breath of fresh air.
1. Best part is, you don’t need a travel visa to get there
Typically, in order to visit China, a travel visa is required and the process (combined with the cost) can be ridiculously tedious. Not for Hainan. Last year, China implemented a new visa-free law to bolster tourism to the island. If you belong to 59 countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, you’re entitled to 30 days of access when you travel to Hainan Island.