Published: November 7th 2009November 7th 2009
Really, you don't usually see bathrooms this nice, even in fancy apartment buildings.
As I was leaving Bo'ao, the innkeeper gave me a ride to the city where I needed to catch my bus, quite an upgrade from the little local bus I had taken on the way there, packed to the gills with people. It was at the bus station that I got my first hint of the difficulties of traveling during Chinese holidays, as I had to wait almost 2 hours for my bus. Part of that might have been because I was taking the express bus, which was the peak of luxury--huge reclining leather seats, minimal music, no stops--all of which were quite welcome (I'm sure I would have enjoyed the local bus as an experience, and I might have gotten to see more of the island, but I'm always at high risk of getting motion sick on buses, and the less time I'm on them, the better). On the other hand, once again I did not arrive at my destination, Sanya, until late in the afternoon, which meant I had time to find the hostel, check in, and read a few chapters of my book before it got dark.
The hostel I stayed in is considered by some to
The joy of knockoffs.
be the best hostel in China. Other than the one I stayed at in Haikou, I don't really have any basis for comparison in China, but it was a pretty normal, nice hostel by European hosteling standards. However, the first night I was there, they had run out of single rooms (that was my big splurge on the trip), so they had to put me in the building next door that they sometimes rent space in. The downside was supposed to be that they mattresses were not as soft, but really at this point I'm used to standard almost-as-hard-as-the-floor Chinese mattresses, so it wasn't a problem; the only issue was that when I came back late at night, it was locked up and I had to wait for the hostel reception to call the guard to come open it. On the other hand, the bathroom was the most luxurious bathroom I've seen in China, with a real bathroom stall, a nice shower head, and fancy granite tiles. My room in the regular hostel the next two nights was a little brighter and ikea-centered (and had great "Nike BNA" sandals), but not quite as fancy.
Anyway, I decided to introduce
To the south.
myself to some of the other people staying at the hostel, and I joined them for dinner. Some of them were teachers in Guilin, so we had a lot to talk about comparing stories (they teach at all levels, and while they only teach 12 hours a week, they are responsible for lesson planning in a way that other teachers I've met in Shenzhen are not). The hostel had quite a lot of life to it, which was nice.
The next day, I went down to the beach. I waited until about 3pm so that it wouldn't be too hot and I wouldn't have too many hours in direct sunlight (one of the other teachers described his feeling walking along the beach and knowing each step he took he was going further south than he'd ever been before), but the beach was pretty empty until about 5 or 5:30 pm, when all of the Chinese (tourists) decided they were safe from accidentally tanning and started coming out. The beach was not spectacular, but the water was perfect and very warm and clear, and it was a nice bay, surrounded by hills on either side. We stayed there until sunset, and
To the north.
then went to a popular Western-style restaurant where I got a burrito. It wasn't quite authentic, but for only 40RMB (about $6), it was quite a bargain for China (Western-style food can easily cost as much or more as it would cost in the same setting in the US). The city itself is a huge destination for Russian tourists (most of the signs in the area where I was staying were in Cyrillic as well as Chinese--so I was surrounded by two languages I can't understand), but otherwise Sanya, and Hainan in general, are not a huge foreign tourist destination (one piece of evidence was some of the horrible English translations I saw). There were a lot of expat teachers/ students/ etc when I was there, but I think if I hadn't come during a holiday, my experience would have been totally different.
My last full day in Sanya, I went with three British students to a hot spring resort about an hour away. I've been to lots of hot springs, but never any as fancy as this. Once again, the place was pretty empty except for us and some Russians until the late afternoon (though that makes more
Bad English menu
I'm not sure if you'll be able to see all of these, but they include "explodes the potato strip," "fries the Italian surface," "various types approves Sa," and "sheet iron pig digs up."
sense--not only was it sunny, but hot springs are somewhat less enjoyable if the air outside is almost as hot), so we had our choice of springs. There were about 30, in different temperatures and novelties, including tea (with a giant tea bag), coconut milk, rose petals, and sweet alcohol. There was also one cold one that was like climbing into ice water, and a whirlpool, which was one of my favorites. Hands down for most exciting, though, was the one with thousands of little fish that nibbled away the dead skin on your feet and legs. You had to stay perfectly still so you didn't scare them, but once you got a few, more and more would come. It was very ticklish, but also felt kind of good once you got used to it. The only problem was that there were a few big ones that might get overexcited and then actually bite you that you had to keep an eye out for, so you couldn't ever totally relax (I'm not really clear why they left those ones in). We ended our time there relaxing at the beautiful infinity pool and drinking a few last glasses of the free
It's hard to see because of the reflection, but they're there.
herbal tea that is supposed to provide additional health benefits, as it got more and more crowded with Chinese tourists. It was a really great day, and the people I went with were really nice, and invited me to come stay with them in their fancy apartment in Beijing, where they are studying all year.
My last morning I decided to go into town and buy some dresses, which meant engaging in my first ever Chinese bargaining session. I was not totally successful, as it's hard to bargain when you don't speak the language except to say "too expensive," but the shopkeeper had a handy calculator to aid with her foreign visitors, and she seemed to enjoy the process, handing me the calculator to name a price as soon as she had suggested the initial one, but I got two nice dresses for about $4 each, so I was satisfied. And then I got my stuff and got a ticket back to Haikou. This was the peak of traveling, as the holiday was coming to an end and all of the Chinese tourists were traveling back north as well, so the bus station was PACKED and once again I
This was actually a small number, at other times my feet were totally covered.
had to wait a few hours before my bus. So once again, I got into Haikou quite late, and once again I went back to the same restaurant where I had eaten before, ordered the same delicious food, and relaxed at the hostel with the owner and his friends. And then the next morning, I went back to the airport (I had a few moments of panic when I thought I had miscalculated and might get kept off my flight if I arrived less than 60 minutes ahead of time, but everything was fine), and took the short flight back to Shenzhen.
It was sort of nice to be back, even though I still don't totally feel comfortable in this city. But I realized how much taller the buildings are, and how much more greenery there is. And I discovered that the subway had expanded a few stops, so now it goes to Shenzhen University, which was a pleasant surprise (I knew they were doing construction, but I didn't realize more stops were going to open so soon).
That was not quite the end of my vacation, but I will save the rest of it for my next
The resort side of "Hawaii of China."
post, which will bring us up to the present, I hope.