23/05/2024 02:01 AM
From Kurniawati Kamarudin

The unique architectural heritage and historical treasures, including the Great Wall of China, the Tiananmen monument and the Forbidden City, draw tourists from across the globe who are also here to explore the rich tapestry of culinary delights.

However, many may not realise that China has another 'hidden gem' besides its adorable pandas, one that can capture the hearts of anyone and make this country, with a population of 1.3 billion, a top tourist destination.

Located in the southernmost province of China, Hainan is not as popular among tourists as Beijing, Shanghai or Chengdu in the southwest, which often attract large crowds.

The splendor of the beaches in Hainan, China is renowned as the 'Hawaii of China'. -- Credit: Dale Preston

However, Hainan, which consists of several islands, also attracts nature lovers, particularly those who long for beautiful beaches, earning it the nickname 'Hawaii of China' because of its scenic resemblance to the popular destination in the United States.

With a tropical climate and summer all year round, even though China is a four-season country, Hainan is not only a draw for those looking to escape the winter, but also a hotspot for surfing and scuba diving enthusiasts.

This writer had the opportunity to visit the island, also known as the 'city of bougainvillea,' with Chinese media and 11 major media outlets from nine ASEAN countries as part of the 'China Up Close' programme.

The stunning beaches of Hainan, China leaved a lasting impression on the writer.

The visit from April 22 to 28 indeed opened my eyes to Hainan's potential to be crowned one of China's premier tourist destinations.

Indeed, this province is not only blessed with beautiful beaches stretching from Yalong Bay to Sanya Bay but also offers priceless experiences for those travelling to Hainan.



With an area of 35,400 square kilometres and a population of over 10 million, when you visit Haikou, the capital of Hainan, or other cities in the province like Danzhou, Wenchang, Dongfang, and Sanya, you will not miss seeing this flower.

It is everywhere; bougainvillea is not only planted along the roads, outside buildings, offices, or parks by the municipal councils but also seems 'mandatory' in every home in the province.

With the diverse colours of bougainvillea arranged in appealing landscapes, it certainly creates a mesmerising view. It feels vastly different from back home, where bougainvillea is seemingly unappreciated.

My colleagues and I were thrilled to take photos or videos as souvenirs with the backdrop of possibly thousands or millions of beautiful bougainvillea flowers.

Hainan, China is known for its extensive cultivation of bougainvillea flowers. -- Credit: explore_hainan

“Bougainvillea is an iconic flower for Hainan province, and that's why you see it everywhere and planted in every home. It is also the  flower for over 30 cities in China," said Lyu Qing in Malay when noticing our excitement upon seeing the various species and colours of bougainvillea.

A journalist from the Malay Language Department, China Media Group, who was our interpreter throughout the programme to explore Hainan, said bougainvillea has high value and potential in medicine, food, and environmental restoration, which is why it is a focus for the province's administration.



With the highest annual output value in the province of 760 million yuan (49.2 million RM) for this tropical plant, a Bougainvillea Garden has been established in Sanya, adjacent to Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City.

Covering an area of 126,000 square metres, bringing together more than 450 species of bougainvillea germplasm resources from around the world in one garden, it also serves as a research exhibition centre for its  commercialisation.

 “The park has been open to the public and tourists since March, and it not only studies the diversity of bougainvillea species or their ecological importance in environmental restoration but goes beyond that.

“Research is also conducted here to identify its potential in the cosmetics field, especially its colour, which is said to be used as a lipstick dye and other beauty products," said Lyu Qing.

Hainan, China is known for its extensive cultivation of bougainvillea flowers. -- Credit: thisishainangov

Additionally, something even more special awaits visitors to this garden located in the heart of the tropical flower research exhibition centre.

Visitors can get up close and personal with bougainvillea through more interactive methods using the latest technology, keeping everyone, especially children, engaged.

Visiting it for the first time, my colleagues and I felt a surge of excitement as soon as we stepped into the exhibition area because it wasn't just an ordinary exhibition with items neatly arranged in transparent glass cases.

The exhibition space seemed 'alive' with the use of Augmented Reality (AR) technology, allowing visitors to explore the diverse types of bougainvillea in a three-dimensional virtual landscape.

Like a 'living' garden with millions of bougainvillea flowers of various colours surrounding visitors, the three-dimensional display also allows them to walk on it.

The writer (in the middle) with media colleagues at Bougainvillea Park.

“It feels like being in a beautiful garden, and visitors can also ride a simulated bicycle to explore the garden's beauty.

“I didn’t expect this technology to make us even more excited to learn about bougainvillea," said a Malaysian media representative Khairil Bashar Kamisan, 39, who also didn't miss the opportunity to take photos at the expo.



Also aiming to be known as an economic zone and global innovation hub, Hainan's administration not only focuses on bougainvillea research but also on other agricultural fields like coconut tree cultivation and marine research.

“Sanya, the southernmost city in Hainan, not only has many beautiful beaches but also innovation and research centres, leading to the establishment of Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City, which conducts biotechnology and renewable energy technology research in the region," said Lyu Qing.

With this city, Hainan opens its doors to companies, researchers, and investors to collaborate in developing innovations that can benefit the environment and society.

This includes providing special areas for startups and business incubators to support young entrepreneurs in turning their ideas into marketable products and services, potentially boosting the province's tourism value.

“Hainan is highly focused on research and innovation technology to elevate this province to the outside world by utilising its resources for tourism, economic purposes, and more, including its beaches and agriculture," added Lyu Qing.

Hainan, China is another attractive tourist destination to explore. - caixin global

Therefore, the province also focuses on cruise/yacht tourism, and it wouldn't be complete without experiencing Sanya's scenic coastline, which stretches for 263 kilometres, on a cruise/yacht.

Given the opportunity to explore Sanya's breathtaking scenery at dusk and night on a yacht from Phoenix Island Harbour, my tired body was rejuvenated by the cool night air, accompanied by the dazzling lights of iconic buildings around.



Compared to other cities in Hainan, Sanya is the main expansion area of this province as it also houses the Sanya Central Business District (CBD) besides the technology and innovation city.

“CBD focuses on modern trade, finance, cruise tourism, yachts, cultural and recreational centres, thus providing a broader scope for the development of its free trade port," she said.

Last year alone, no fewer than 220 cruise ships entered and exited the port, including 18 foreign cruise ships with a total of 191,700 arrivals, a 433 per cent increase from the previous year.

Indeed, Hainan doesn’t just promise the joy of experiencing its rich natural beauty, as it also attracts those seeking challenging activities like mountain climbing in the northern part of Sanya.


It also attracts those who love shopping or want to buy branded goods at tax-free prices at the Sanya International Duty-Free Shopping Complex.

Located in Haitang Bay in Sanya city, this complex is the second-largest duty-free outlet in Asia, offering a wide range of branded goods that can make anyone go on a shopping spree.

“That’s why Sanya is known as a city that never sleeps because it caters to all, with natural tourism, shopping centres, and trade and business activities," said Lyu Qing.



Offering various tourism attractions, the province also caters to luxury tourism groups through its most iconic resort, Atlantis Sanya, a hotel and recreation complex that provides a unique experience for visitors of all ages.

It is part of the world-renowned Atlantis brand, also found in Dubai and the Bahamas, known for its ocean and Atlantis city mythology theme, designed with luxury and promising an extraordinary marine life exploration experience.

With more than 65,000 marine species, the recreational complex is connected to the hotel, named 'The Lost Chambers Aquarium.' Our excitement peaked as we stepped inside.

We had the opportunity to see various types of marine life usually found in the deep sea while walking through a glass tunnel, making us feel like we were 'diving' with these creatures.

This is because the marine life view in this aquarium not only surrounds visitors on the left and right sides but also extends above, providing a new and exciting experience not only for children but also for adults.

The most thrilling part was seeing the friendly actions of three whales, especially with children, as they approached the aquarium glass where the children stood, seemingly wanting to play and interact.


For those who want to explore The Lost Chambers Aquarium, you can purchase tickets priced between 190 and 220 Yuan (RM124 - RM144).

Indeed, there is much more interesting about this province, also famous for its variety of tropical fruits that can also be found in Malaysia, such as mango, papaya, water guava, passion fruit, banana, rambutan, and pineapple.

However, a week in Hainan was a fascinating eye-opener for me, having visited several interesting places in China, showing that this province also has immense potential in the tourism industry.

Surely, a week there was not enough, and I now miss its ambience and beautiful scenery, and I will certainly return to this province. See you again, Hainan!


Translated by Salbiah Said

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