ON Jan 16, the inaugural Kuching to Hainan direct flight took off, carrying 71 Malaysians and two Chinese nationals to Hainan Island’s Haikou International airport via Malindo Air.
The flight took off at 10.30pm from Kuching International Airport (KIA) and arrived at Haikou International Airport at 1:50am after a three-and-a-half-hour flight.
The efforts of a large network of travel agencies in Sarawak, the direct flight is a private chartered flight, organised to run two times per week.
The inaugural flight carried three tour groups, and I was fortunate to be invited on one of the tours to personally experience what Hainan had to offer.
Currently, the local travel agents offering tours to Hainan are Good Times, Natol Holidays and Tours, Bel-Air Travel and Tours, Ibanika Tours and Travel, Great Leap Tours, Summer Holiday Travel and Tour, Truly Travelmart Tour and Transport and Sentaisa Tour and Travel.
When you say Hainan, most of us will immediately envision a glistening plate of Hainan chicken rice, and expectations for a culinary adventure were definitely met during my trip with a constant flow of the island’s famous wencheng chicken, jiayi duck and fresh seafood supplied to our tour.
But apart from being a foodie hotspot, the island of Hainan has much more to offer – from religious sites to theme parks. Hainan definitely has left me wanting more.
A religious pilgrimage
One of the most iconic spots in Sanyan, Hainan’s main city, is the Guanyin of Nanshan – a 108-metre statue of the Buddhist deity Guanyin Pusa, located on the south coast of China’s island province near the Nanshan Temple of Sanyan.
Just a few hours from the Sanyan city centre, the Guanyin statue is just one part of the main attractions found in the Hainan Nanshan Buddhism Culture Park, segmented into three main areas – the longevity valley, the Nanshan Temple and the Guanyin of Nanshan.
Being a non-Buddhist myself, I wasn’t expecting much from the visit to the religious cultural park, but having spent an afternoon traversing through its scenic landscape and intricate temples, I would have to say it is truly one worthwhile experience. If not as a religious pilgrimage, then as a cultural experience.
As you approach the towering statue, you’re able to head inside the temple at its base. No photography is allowed in the sacred temple, so it’s one sight you’ll definitely not want to miss out on because there will be no images after to show you how breathtaking its golden interior really is.
Decked in marble and gilded gold, the base of the statue features a completely golden Guanyin statue in the middle with smaller encased Guanyin statues or golden plaques, embedded in the surrounding walls — a sign of gratitude to the benefactors of this mini temple and statue.
If you head up the stairs on the right of the entrance, you’ll be able to take an elevator and a few winding staircases to reach the very base of the statue.
In this open area, you get a 360 degrees view of the entire park and the beautiful blue Hainan sea.
From here, you’ll also be surprised to discover that the Guanyin statue isn’t just a normal statue, but rather a three-sided statue with all three sides depicting an image of Guany in Pusain different motions.
The side visible from the very entry of the park is of Guanyin cradling a sutra in her left hand while her right hand gestures the Buddhist Vitarka Mudra symbol.
The other two sides depict Guanyin with her palms crossed while holding a string of prayer beads, and the deity holding a lotus flower which represents purity, faith and enlightenment.
Throughout the journey to the base of the statue, I was mostly in awe of the elegant and detailed architecture of the statue and its base temple, but beyond that, I was also humbled by the strong faith of the Buddhist visitors and the dedication they placed in their worship to the Guanyin Pusa.
Sun, sand and fun
One of Sanya’s cleanest beaches, Dadonhai Beach, is only three kilometres away from Sanya city centre.
A good stretch of three km of white sand, warm blue seas and palm trees, the beach is a perfect tourist spot to get some rest, relaxation and a bit of a tan.
Kick off your shoes and feel the fine warm sand between your toes as you take a leisurely stroll around the beach.
But if you’re looking for more of an adrenaline rush, water sports like yachting and parasailing are also readily available for a small charge. Just head down to the shore and ask any of the vendors with a yacht or jet ski if they can take you for a ride.
If sand and water isn’t really your thing, the daintier ones will be glad to find out that there are covered street vendors just right beside the beach.
From food to clothing’s, the area is a pretty good haven for shopaholics to pick up a traditional Chinese outfit, some precious pearls or maybe just a quick tea break on the local street food and delicacies.
Picturesque scenery and fairytale
One of the very last spots we visited in Sanya was Luhuitou Park which is a hill-top park in Luhuitoiu Peninsula.
Directly translated, Luhuitou means a deer turning its head back and it’s named after the famous local folktale of a hunter tracking a deer for nine days and nine nights over 99 hills before falling in love with the deer who turned into a woman when she finally looked back at him.
Trek up the leisurely slope while resisting the urge to join in on the scheduled mini parades and be rewarded with a panoramic view of Sanya’s vast sea, the rolling mountains and Sanyan’s cityscape.
Head a little further and you’ll find yourself with a range of other attractions like a Hailey’s Comet observation station, a miniature lover’s island, monkey mountain with real monkeys, deer house and a pond with of giant turtles dubbed Immortal pond.
At the very top of the mountain, it’ll be time to head back down but if you’re feeling a little lazy, you can always pay a small fee of 10 RMB to slide down a windy marble slide all the way to the base of the park.
A look into the past
On the way back to Haikou, we stopped by the Yetian Ancient Village where we were given a glimpse into the past of how the ethnic tribes of Hainan had really lived.
The cultural park was reminiscent of our own local cultural village but Yetian took it one step further with live exhibitions of how the Li and Miao national folk culture was really like in real interactive settings.
Performers, crafters and guides from real Li and Miao tribes that inhabit the surrounding area were hired and together, they brought you along on an immersive journey on how they used to live and their culture and customs.
Upon entering the village, we were immediately greeted by the sight of Li and Miao grandmothers, diligently weaving cloth and attending to their daily chores.
Probably used to staring tourists, the grandmothers ignored our group vigilantly, only giving us a smile and a nod after we were taught how to greet them in our native tongue.
The live and interactive exhibitions of actual villagers showed us how they talked, greeted each other, crafted and lived.
Divided into several zones, the village features a coconut forest where you can witness tribesmen actively harvesting coconuts; a silverworking station where you can witness craftsmen crafting handmade silver jewellery and tools; a traditional medicine zone where you might just get lucky to receive a traditional Chinese ‘gua-sha’ massage with silver ornaments and an ancient culture exhibition that showcases the Li and Miao folklore and their history.
Movie star for a day
On one of the very last stops in Haikou, we visited the famous Movie Town Haikou, a cinematic theme park, developed to be a a movie and television filming location and a tourist attraction.
As you walk into Movie Town, you will be greeted with trishaw drivers and horse drawn carriages ready to take you deeper into the park, but resist the urge because there will be an attraction right at the very start.
Walking down the lane into town’s church and square, you’ll find the path lined with podiums of handprints and signatures of famous Chinese and international stars and celebrities.
Called the Avenue of stars, the attractions feature stars like Jacky Chan and Yao Ming, where you’ll be able to compare how your hands measure up to these starlets.
While the town is packed with different zones based on different eras like the 1950’s and 60’s Beijing and Nanyang, I only managed to visit the “1942 Street” — a street inspired by Feng Xiaogang’s film Back to 1942.
The scenic street contains 91 buildings and is built with architectural styles form Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing and Shanghai during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
As you enter the street, you’ll be instantly taken aback by how much detail has been placed into the attraction, from the slightly uneven pathways to the vendors and guides, walking around in military costumes. The whole street really does feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
From there, we took our time leisurely walking through the town, enjoying the scenic views and the detailed architecture all while debating if we should rent a costume for a photo-op.
Not a Chinese movie buff myself, I felt a lot of the finer details of the shops and signs and attractions were a little lost on me.
But having experienced “1942” myself, maybe I just might watch the movie for myself.