Visiting China can be a bit of a bother visa-wise. We are often used to visiting almost any country in the world visa-free or at least visa on arrival (like in much of East Africa) or eVisa (like India). But in China, one typically needs to go to the embassy in person or at least post one's passport there.

However, China has a large and beautiful tropical island for which Westerners do not need to bother with visas. Hainan is one of China's premier tourist destinations and a stunning province to check out. It is home to one of China's ancient minorities and boasts a rich cultural history.

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About Hainan Island

  • Population: 10 million
  • Largest City: Haikou
  • Tourist City: Sanya
  • Size: 35,000 Sq km or 13,500 Sq Miles

Hainan is no small island with a population of some 10 million inhabitants. It is the smallest province and southernmost Chinese province and is located just east of northern Vietnam.

  • Fun Fact: Hainan Means "South Of The Sea"

The original or longest native population on the island are the Li people (also known as Hlai people). Today they are around 15% of the population and they are recognized by the Chinese government as one of the 56 ethnic groups of China. Their language is of the same family as that of Thailand. The Li people are mostly located in the southern part of the island.

Hainan Island enjoys comparatively less air pollution than most of eastern mainland China as there is comparatively little heavy industry on the island. Additionally, the island has worked to protect its air quality and environment.

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Climate And When To Go

The climate in Haina is nice and warm for a beach holiday and its climate varies between tropical and subtropical. Haikou (the capital and largest city) has a humid subtropical climate while the rest of the island is classified as tropical monsoon. So while you needn't worry too much about seasonal variation in the temperature you may want to miss the monsoon season (typhoons can also hit parts of the island over parts of the year).  The rainy season is in the middle part of the year through summer.

  • Best Times To Go: Late Autumn, Winter, Early Spring (To Miss The Monsoon)

Tourism And Things To Do

Hainan isn't all about its famed tropical beaches. It also boasts extensive tropical forests that are home to a myriad of different plant and animal species. Total forest cover covers some 61.5% of the island's land area a figure that has been increasing. There have been reforestation efforts on the island.

Tourism is a very important part of the island's economy and most of its tourist arrivals are from Mainland China. Some of the main attractions pulling tourists to the island are the stunning beaches and resorts in the southern part of the island and the inland Five Finger Mountain.

  • Visa Policy: Visa On Arrival For Western Tourists (30 Days Hainan Only)

The Five Finger Mountain (or Wuzhi Mountain) is the highest point in Hainan reaching 1,840 meters or 6,040 feet in the middle of the island. This region is mostly home to the Li ethnic minority who have a number of myths and legends surrounding this mountain. One of the myths is that the five peaks are the five fossilized fingers of a dead Li clan chief, another story is that the mountain is dedicated to the five most powerful gods.

Top Attractions

Some of the top things to see and do in Hainan are:

  • Xinglong Tropical Garden: A Large Area Of Lightly Tended Tropical Gardens With Derelict Hotels And Cafes Hidden In The Forest
  • Bo'ao Temple: Largest Buddhist Temple Complex
  • Sanya Bay: Long Sandy Beach With Large Throngs Of Mostly Chinese Tourist Relaxing On The Beach
  • Five Officials Memorial Temple: Historical Site Of The Banishment Of Disgraced Court Officials
  • Hainan Museum: Massive Modern Chinese Museum
  • Haikou Old Town: Cobblestone Streets With Some French Colonial Buildings
  • No.1 Farmers Market: Sanya's Most Popular Market

When you visit Hainan you will find a tropical island paradise full of tourists, but very few of these tourists will be from outside China or more broadly East Asia. Hainan is a great opportunity to see some of the best of China without having to bother with a tiresome visa. It's a gorgeous part of China largely unknown to the West.

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Hainan is a tropical island paradise and full of picturesque beaches and rich traditional culture. The island is large enough to have a culture of its own and offers many more things to see and do than many of the beach holidays in the world. Being a tourist destination and having a population of over 10 million, the island also boasts lively nightlife. You can also try traditional Chinese cuisine with the local Li cuisine.

You can also learn and explore more about the little-known Li minority and see their customs and culture. One example of a Li custom is women tattooing their arms and backs when they reach a certain age. And one can learn about their myths and legends, like how their clans originated from a marriage between a woman and an animal and how the most important animal to them is the snake. See here for more information about this interesting culture.

Next: 20 Thoughts Every Foreigner Has When They Visit China For The First Time