When people think of China’s Hawaii, Sanya seems to be at the top of every traveler’s mind when daydreaming about the island of Hainan. Pristine beaches are nice, but do not deprive yourself of a cultured experience and try venturing down to the island’s largest city, Hainan’s capital of Haikou.
Dive deeper into China’s southernmost province by exploring the capital’s culture and cuisines. Taste its authentic, world-wide famous foods, from Hainan Chicken to Hainan Noodles. Delve into its tropical parks, museums or explore the old downtown and roam its eclectic bazaar streets. And last but not least, enjoy the selection of beaches that Haikou has to offer
The Beaches of Haikou
Haikou has its modest share of beaches although they might not rival the clearer waters of Sanya, Bo’ao, Lingshui, Wanning and Wenchang’s shores. Haikou’s coastline may be less touristy but is well worth the visit.
Haikou’s best beaches are adjacent to the twenty kilometer stretch of Binhai avenue. This road starts from the famed Qilou Old Street in downtown to the very edge of Haikou in the west.
Xi Xiu beach offers a variety of water sports and activities for the active tourist. From surfing to sailing, you can even swim to its floating station pontoon located 150 meters from the shore. Xi Xiu beach is connected to the Haikou Marina and is also home to the national sailing team.
There are many cycling and jogging lanes for those who want to enjoy the shores while staying dry, with plenty of amenities to enjoy a day spent by the beach.
Further down Xi Xiu beach is the 'clock tower beach' area, which has noticeably different topography than the rest of the area. Not as lounging friendly, it’s an ideal place for kids to learn about marine life with plenty of shells and rocks to uncover. Not to mention its signature clock tower.
Flocks of beach goers head to Holiday Beach and for two good reasons: its sand and its springs. What makes Holiday Beach so popular is its unique hot springs center, especially in winter times, where you can still enjoy the warm waters.
Wuyuan River Beach is not your typical leisure spot. This beach also lies at the end of a scenic, tree-shaded boardwalk that connects from a wetland park. Wuyuan River Beach is more for those who enjoy playing in outdoor activities since it's generally not the kind of beach where you can bring a towel and lay in the sun. Rivers meander throughout the sands which are more hilly than flat. Still, it’s a quiet, serene place of natural aquatic beauty.
Qilou Old Street
Haikou' cultural melting pot of an historic town center houses numerous boutiques, food & beverage shops, and more. The number one spot for most tourists, this newly revamped area has a rich history dating back to over a century ago with influences from Singapore, Malaysia and all the way to western side of the world.
Qilou Old Street is the hidden gem of Haikou. It features vintage, multi-story shophouse buildings with designs that first originated in Europe.
This artsy, trendy part of town has 600 arcade-houses spread across 30 streets, making it the largest preserved qilou district in all of China.
Its early origins are of a town built by overseas Chinese who returned to their homeland at the turn of the 1900s, importing not only their wealth, but also Western-Romanesque architecture.
Huoshankou National Park
Huo Shan Kou literal translation means fire mountain mouth, and for good reason: you can journey to the inside of this dormant volcano’s crater. With a narrow descent to the bottom of the crater and then an ascension with a nice panoramic view of Haikou at the top of the hill. Huoshankou Park is rife with lush tropical vegetation, wild fruits, exotic flowers, ponds, and other natural wonders.
But to prepare for the heat and possible crowds it’s best to arrive at the opening times. And do wear proper outdoor apparel and shoes, and maybe pack some ice water. But don’t worry about being caught outside all day in the tropical heat, there are plenty of shaded spots and exhibits. You;ll be able to navigate this park with the information in English.
Just be ready to sweat because getting to the highest point of the crater is a steep walk both up and down the volcano.
Hainan Tropical Wildlife Park and Botanical Garden
The last must-see touristy thing to do on our list is Haikou’s very own tropical wildlife park. But do note that this is not your typical, walk-in zoo. You will need to plan on hiring a driver if not having your own car for the day.
The Safari part of the tour is how it’s described. Passengers will drive by compounds that house mighty lions and tigers (and hybrid breeds of both) and can get out of the car to feed them live chickens (yes, you read that correctly!) or to feed raw chicken meat to crocodiles or bears.
And there are plenty of feeding stations for the more human-friendly herbivores such as camels, elephants and ponies. And you can also ride on top of several of these animals.
This park is outside of Haikou’s metropolitan area, so plan on taking anywhere from half an hour to one hour just to get there. To save time and make a whole day’s trip worth it, you can plan on also visiting the Huoshankou park since it’s fairly close.
Tip: unless you’re into wildlife, it makes more sense to visit this park if you have children.
The Hainan Museum
A trip to Haikou would not be complete without a morning or afternoon spent at this world-class museum. Hainan’s human history dates back ages and it is interesting to see how this island came to be.
Within the museum are countess indigenous artifacts on display as well as the visual interpretations of the island’s early inhabitants.
Watch a wonderful presentation on how its volcanoes came to existence (millions of years ago) and observe the geological formation of the island itself.
Perhaps you may have been underwhelmed at other museums’ English translations. Hainan’s Mandarin-to-English texts are quite accurate, readable and will not leave you wondering as you roam its themed rooms.
On the ground floor is an actual shipwreck exhibition and many displays about the South China Sea.
Tip: Make sure you tell your driver (or plug into Did or whatever taxi-hailing app that you use) “Hainan Provincial Museum '' and not the Haikou Museum - also a good recommendation but not quite as grand as this museum!
Food & Drinks of Haikou
Hainan cuisines are considerably milder and lighter than that of the Chinese mainland. Haikou is the hub of Hainan and there is no shortage of authentic restaurants and shops to taste its famous foods and refreshing drinks. But to narrow down the choices, here are our selected dishes we think you should try first:
Hainan Chicken, also known as Wenchang Chicken, first originated in Wenchang City. This world-famous organic style of chicken is found in many 5-star hotels and restaurants in China, sometimes served as an adaptation called Hainan Chicken Rice.
Hainan’s style of chicken is cooked in near-boiling water which keeps its tenderness, and when ready to serve, is enjoyed by dipping the chicken pieces into sauces and spices.
A native dish of Haikou, Hainan Noodles gained notoriety to the rest of the cities on the island and is now a staple part of breakfast. Its rice-flour noodles are boiled and served in a special meat broth, topped with bamboo strips and roasted peanuts.
Make sure to top these dishes with a Calamansi, a thirst-quenching, nourishing beverage made from Hainan’s own local citrus fruits. And for dessert, the must-have Qingbuliang is an ice-chilled local favorite. It is made with cold coconut milk and a cornucopia of ingredients; from tropical fruits like watermelon and pineapple, with added raisins, and veggies such as peas, sweet potatoes, and some tiny macaroni's and “jujube”.
Originally pulished on Hainan Airlines' High Life Magazine