Tropical Haikou has atmosphere and easy-going charm to spare. Unlike Sanya, Hainan Island's tourist destination of choice, the provincial capital of Haikou remains something of a well-kept secret. Pleasant broad palm-lined streets, French colonial architecture, Tang and Song Dynasty monuments and memorials all make for an attractive backdrop to the everyday hustle and bustle of life in this port, with Han mainland immigrants mixing it up with Li and Miao ethnicities.
Haikou's off-the-beaten-path allure is heightened by the fact that it's an excellent point of departure for explorations of the rest of Hainan. Head east toward Wenchang or southeast to Qionghai and continue down East Hainan's South China Sea beach-laced coastline toward Sanya. Travel south into the heart of the island and the highland peaks of Wuzhi Shan and Qizhi Shan. Try the less-traveled western route toward Dongfang and curling around toward the Jianfeng Ling Forest Reserve. And if you've just come from the south and are headed back to the mainland, Haikou is just a short 30-kilometer ferry trip across the Qiongzhou Strait from Guangdong's port city of Hai'an.
And lest you fall into the mindset that Haikou is a mere way station, we stress that it is a very worthy destination in and of itself. Local attractions include the old colonial quarter, Wugong Ci (Five Officials' Memorial Temple), the old Xiuying Battery sea fort, the Ming-era Hai Rui Mub (Hai Rui's Tomb) and a lovely long sandy beach, among others.