One Day in Haikou – Slice a Birdie, Pose in Movie Town and Eat Street Food

The World Travel Exchange 2019 took place from 21 Oct to 25 Oct in Haikou and Discoverist.SG was lucky enough to be invited for the event which saw international media members, travel agents, and tour operators attend. Not giving this opportunity a miss, we headed up to Hainan Island to see what the “Coconut City” had to offer.

A quick Google search turned up results that Haikou was actually a place of political exile. Situated in the southern-most tip of China, Hainan Island was so perfectly isolated that whoever irritated the Emperor would be sent to Haikou. Even in the 1920s and 1930s, Haikou proved to be the perfect escape for the Communists who were fleeing from the political crackdown back in mainland Shanghai. That was a little disconcerting but hey, we also found out that the island presents a nice change of fresh air and plenty of coconuts.

Today, Haikou, and Hainan Island as a whole present a place for refuge for those wanting to escape the polluted air of mainland China, or the dastardly cold winter come year end. Haikou, with its year-long tropical weather, clean air, and sunny beaches, appear to have all the necessary boxes ticked as a beach getaway.

So, with relatively cheap air tickets to Hainan Island, it’ll certainly be appealing to the everyday traveller. The important question then becomes, does Haikou meet the mark as the next great travel destination?

1. Mission Hills Resort Haikou

Located in the Long Hua district, Mission Hills Resort Haikou is quite possibly the grandest development project in Haikou to date. Roughly 1.5 times the size of Manhattan in New York and consisting of 10 golf courses, Mission Hills Haikou boasts the second largest golf complex in the world, just behind its Mission Hills counterpart in Shenzhen.

Except, Mission Hills Resort Haikou isn’t meant for just golfers, boasting hot springs, a water park, and a spa resort to boot. All that sounds wonderful, with a myriad of facilities that offers something for everyone, but not all quite hit the mark. Take for example the hot springs it so touts, Mission Hills have some 160 of them, with each being at various temperatures and purporting to have various effects from soothing muscle aches and enhancing self-confidence (yes, this is a thing). The entire area, however, feels a little gimmicky, and each hot spring pool is average at best, and surely far below the ones you find in Japan.

Also, do note that Mission Hills is quite a distance away from the city centre, necessitating you to hail a cab should you want to explore the city. Perhaps the idea was to present an all-encompassing place that could cater to your every need that you wouldn’t feel like you need to travel out, but when the place you’re confined to appears slightly lacklustre (especially if you’re not a golfer), that presents a problem.

Then there’s the Movie Town, and well talking about the Movie Town…

2. Movie Town

The Huayi Brothers Feng Xiaogang Movie Town may be the best thing going on for Haikou. Looking at the illustrious names behind it, it’s not all that surprising to see this artificial town come to life. To the Chinese, both the Huayi Brothers and Feng Xiaogang need no introduction. The former owns the largest movie producing company in China and the latter is the only Chinese film director to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

This joint venture, along with Mission Hills, have resulted in the creation of a theme park that recreates the movie sets of Chinese hit movies and drama of years past. We visited the “1942 Street” which was built to model the Republican Era in Chongqing, and it’s a great and engaging place for some Insta-worthy photos. There are even shops where you can rent clothing that resemble the outfits of the era and live out your best Chinese drama and film impressions.

It’s not all just photo taking and facades as some of the buildings have actual restaurants and shops which you can purchase souvenirs and the like from. There’s even a hotel right in Movie Town if you really want to immerse yourself in all the film festivities.

3. Qi Lou Old Street

Qi Lou Old Street is yet another iconic attraction of Haikou, a historical and cultural district of Haikou that offers a nice change of pace from the rest of the city. An interesting amalgamation of European and Asian architecture, the buildings you find in Qi Lou Old Street can be attributed to Chinese Merchants in the 1920s returning back to Haikou and building these ancestral homes with influences from their travels.

Yes, Qi Lou Old Street is an area that stands out from the rest of the city due to its architecture, and that warrants a visit by itself, but it doesn’t offer much else after a good hour of photo taking. You’ll find yourself whiling through the streets wondering what else you can possibly do.

That’s when you head over to Qi Lou Snack Street where you can get a taste of classic Hainan cuisine. The food here isn’t mind-blowing by any means, but it does offer you a good variety of dishes if you want to experience what Hainan cuisine can offer.

4. Haikou Volcanic Cluster World Geopark

The Haikou Volcanic Cluster World Geopark is a step towards eco-tourism for the city of Haikou. Consisting of some 38 protected volcanoes, it’s a massive park that features sightseeing, shopping, and even dining. Take a stroll around the park and you can find cafes which sell volcano coffee which refers to arabica beans being grown using the natural volcanic soil.

It’s a long climb up to the peaks of the Geopark, from which you can get a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. But the most enjoyable aspect of the trek is the truly fresh air – a rarity in today’s increasingly polluted tourist sites.

You can quite honestly finish all these attractions in a day, a day and a half at most, if you really want to spread out your time. Truthfully, Haikou doesn’t offer much outside of these places and spending a day in Haikou is perhaps more than enough.

No, Haikou isn’t the most exciting of cities when compared to the Chinese juggernauts of Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu, or even to its southern neighbour of Sanya, but squint a little and you can see some potential of it being the next big destination, it just needs some livening up, and then some.

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