Spring Festival is just around the corner, and from east to west, north to south, folks all over China are checking their calenders and making travel plans. Whether it be to visit the homestead or sink into some body of tropical water, Chinese New Year is a time to get away from the day-to-day, and if you haven't yet planned your Chinese New Yeargetaway, there are still great China flight and hotel deals to be had on Ctrip. In the meantime, read on for one China traveler's tale of a journey south last winter.>>> Hainan Island is one of the cheaper destinations to travel to this Spring Festival, and that's good news for those of us who want to escape the dreary cold weather that reigns almost everywhere across central and northern China. On my search for China destinations for under RMB 5,000, I found a round-trip flight to Sanya for about RMB 3,500, which made me want to repeat an arduous yet awesome trip I took last winter.
Let me paint you a picture of my Sanya vacation last year:
It was January 8. Classes had just finished at the University of Science and (lack of) Technology where I worked, and my boyfriend and I figured the coast would be clear to head from Ganzhou to Hainan, since Spring Festival wasn't until February 23. We were wrong. By the time we got to the Guangzhou train station there were already 5-10 hour long lines and the natives were getting rowdy. It didn't take long until we reached our queuing limit and gave up on the crammed station.
Picture the "You wanna buy a watch?" trope from movies
Unsure of our next step, we were approached by one of the never-far-away touts who opened his trench coat and pulled out a collection of Hainan brochures. Desperate times called for desperate measures and we followed him to his office to find loads of students and migrant workers in the same situation: ticket-less and desperate. After some hard bargaining, walking away and a dramatic chase scene, we finally got our tickets down to a reasonable price (just RMB 150 each including a 1.5-hour ferry ride from Haian (Hǎi'ān, 海安) to Haikou). Of course everyone else paid less, but TIC (This is China). We waited for hours until our overnight bus to Haikou finally arrived. It had three rows of double decker beds which was a relief and things were looking up... until the first stop at the side of the road where dozens more people loaded onto our 50-capacity bus, followed by dozens more at the second stop. Each person claimed a spot on the floor and crammed someone else between their legs, all the while boards were being noisily being hammered into place between the existing rows of beds. I like to think of myself as an adventurous person, enjoying every minute of the freedom traveling gives me, but this was too much for me. With the kung fu movie playing at full blast, various cell phones ringing off the hook, the smell of feet filling the air and too many elbows to the ribs, I had had enough. The tears started rolling down my face, and as soon as I thought things couldn't get any worse, my a tear shorted out one of my iPod headphones. It was a truly, truly sad moment, and valuable life lesson for me: things can always be worse. Luckily, my better half is more calm and collected than I and after some time, talked me into not getting off the overly crowded bus in the middle of nowhere, in the dark. Not soon enough, our overcrowded bus hit the road again arriving about 10 hours later.
Haikou. Think Chinese Florida.
We arrived at the ferry pier around 4:30am, and made it to Haikou (the capital of Hainan) in just over an hour. I appreciated the pastel colored buildings, palm trees and coconuts, but a cold shower and a bed at the Sanya (cost RMB 200-300; journey time 82 minutes -2 hours). We stayed on the Luhuitou Peninsula between Sanya Bay and Dadonghai Bay at what was then called the Oh Yeah Beach Hostel (USD $8) because of its non-touristy location outside of town which came complete with chickens, building rubble and stray dogs. (We recently visited again and discovered it is now called Lover's Bay Beach Cafe Hostel and has lost a little of it's charm, lacking the hammock pictured to the left, but it's still enjoyable. More options exist next door which look a little more lively.
Never have I been so grateful for a beer or eight on the beach (not to mention some great the Vietnamese coffee). Local buses ran into the more happening part of Sanya and at night we tracked down jazz at the Li minority people since the Betel Nut Ethnic Minorities Park was all fake and filled with hordes of other tourists. By the end of the trip we had already forgotten the trials and tribulations of the harrowing journey from the Mainland, but as things came to an end, we did get nervous about the return... Luckily, the way back to the Mainland was MUCH more enjoyable. We took the Coconut Princess cruise ship—a 17-hour boat ride from Sanya to Guangzhou, I highly recommend it. If you get your own room you can avoid being knee-deep in sunflower seed shells on the floor of the dorm rooms (do bring snacks though because the food was gone after the first meal). An alternative route is the train from Sanya to Shanghai which is a mere 37 hours for RMB 500 (hard sleeper). Or of course, you could take a flight from Sanya and cut down your travel time and your funds. But however you get there, and whatever you do, always remember: you're on vacation. Relax. Enjoy. Treat yourself. And if you find yourself traveling in some harsh conditions, remember, it could always be worse.