Sunday, 20 September 2015

8D/7N Hainan Itinerary: Day 3

We wanted to go for a day tour and looked through a list of popular tourist attractions around Sanya. We struck off quite a number as they were either not attractive enough or they were just "one of those things" that we've seen pretty too often. We finally decided to visit the tribal villages hoping to see something authentic and traditional and to experience a culture unique to the indigenous people. 

Here are a few things I learned about day tours in Hainan.

1)   Entrance fees for most tourist attractions in Hainan are annoyingly high.

2)   The cheapest way to see these attractions is to get on a group tour organised by local travel agents for the Chinese Nationals. What I mean is in order to follow such tours you will need a China registered mobile which foreign tourists like us do not own. The rationale is these tour operators will not pick its customers from their individual hotels. Instead, they will only pick them at public bus stands along a gazetted route. (mostly along Yuya Street in downtown Sanya which runs all the way to Dadonghai Bay). A China registered mobile is deemed necessary for 2 main reasons. Firstly the tour operator will only give its customers a call at about 9pm on the day before the tour to inform them about the registered number of the bus that is coming to pick them up and which bus stand to wait at. Secondly it is to be able to contact them if they get detached from the group during the tour. Those without China mobiles are not allowed to take this tour.

3)   Foreign tourists especially those travelling singles or twosomes will normally have to fork out an exhorbitant fee if they opt for a private tour with an English guide.  

4)   Taking public buses and going on your own may be the cheaper option but this is quite inconvenient especially when the bus does not drop you right at the entrance of the desired destination. The chances of meeting someone who speaks English who will be able to help you with directions, etc. is almost nil in Hainan.

5)   If you are a foreigner who speaks and understands Mandarin you can use your international passport to register for a China SIM card and get it deregistered  before leaving the country just to be able to follow the cheap day tours meant for the China Nationals. However you still have to be familiar with the various bus stands in town and spend extra on the SIM card.

We wanted to spend the minimum we could but there is so much setback. We were however very fortunate that the concierge officer in our hotel (Hongzhou Eadry Resort Hotel) was willing to help us. He lent us an old mobile belonging to his friend and got us on the group tour. When we received a call from the tour operator, we got this concierge officer to communicate with the guide regarding the location of the bus stand who then personally took us to identify the waiting point.

We made our way to the bus stand from where we would be picked up. It is just 50 metres from the side entrance of our hotel and we were told to be there by 9.15am. At 9.25am the bus has not arrived and I was getting a little anxious. It finally appeared at 9.30am. The bus was already half full but still stopping to pick up more tour participants along the way. We were the only Malaysians among a big group of China Nationals from the various cities of Mainland China.
We were given a form to fill a few things and to put our signatures down. This is a prerequisite to visiting the minority tribal villages.  But then, BLURrrrr. The tour guide was understanding and we were the only ones exempted.

Betel Nut Valley is home to the Li and Miao Ethnic Minority Tribes. It is located in the interior part of Hainan, about 28km from Sanya downtown. It took about 45 minutes to get there. The entrance fee for a walk-in is 143CNY (excluding transport and everything else). Joining this group tour, we only paid 140CNY per pax for entrance fee, return transfer from downtown and a bonus buffet lunch!! That was a deal that made us grin from ear to ear. 
The valley got its name from the myriads of betel nut trees that thrive in the area. It is located in a mountainous terrain surrounded by a tropical rainforest.
The place is very commercialised and extensively 'done-up' for the purpose of tourism. The facilities provided for visitors include clean toilets, proper walkways, stairways, shops, etc.

We took an early lunch before going into the village as the buffet restaurant is located at the entrance. To make a detour here when we are already half way through the village was not a practical thing to do. 
There was a big selection of dishes, rice, noodles, and mantou.
There were a lot of things to eat and it was a satisfactory meal.

Another tour guide took over our group at the entrance. Ah Tung is a young girl of Li ethnicity who was assigned to take care of our group. This girl loves to talk and she talked almost non-stop for the first two hours of our tour inside the village.
The Li tribe has its own anthem.Whenever this anthem is played its tribal members would stand at attention to dance with their hands. 

Many structures have been set up and I was wondering how much of the structures I see are really original and authentic to the tribe. The Chinese are after all good at faking things. There are fake eggs, fake rice, fake prawns, 'longkang oil', and so on in China. What's a building or a structure that they can't fake?
The tour is meant to be educational. There are museums, hallways, exhibition halls to tell the history, culture and customs of the Li Tribe. There are signposts and write-ups in Mandarin as well as in English.
Our walk took us through the village houses many of which I believe are original.
Houses with mud walls, straw roofs and unrefined workmanship which have the barest of amenities are still lived in by a number of tribal members.
 A major activity of the elderly women folks is weaving.
These people are probably used to having their privacy intruded as tourists throng here by the thousands each day. I believe it is a symbiosis. They have inevitably lost their privacy but the money collected from entrance fees and sales of their traditional crafts are probably returned to them in terms of infrastructures and a better quality life.
The finished handicrafts are lovely and are available in village shops set up by the tourism authority.
Betel nuts are dried outside this home.

The village is set in the midst of lush greenery and a part I enjoyed most is the superb scenery and magnificent views from the village.

If you'd care to walk off the tourist track a little, you can see some very serene parts of the village.

There are no proper restaurants inside the village but some tribal delicacies for sale will surely tempt the hungry.

There are sky bridges.
We even got on the zip line to move from one part of the mountain to the other. (This activity is optional)

One of the highlights of our visit here is a show depicting the culture and dances of the Li and Miao tribes.
The dances are specially choreographed and the costumes are elaborately designed by artists whose names are acknowledged on a board displayed at the stage.
It is amusing to see the young as well as the elderly villagers participating in the show.
Even ducks, goats and geese took part in the live performance.
The bamboo dances are among the more commendable dances of the day. The show which lasted close to an hour was generally entertaining.

From the Li Village we moved on to the Miao Village. They are not too far apart but the Miao live higher up on the hill.
The Miaos tend to be more primitive and animistic compared to the Lis. They still worship stones and animals.
Their houses are constructed differently.
A Miao woman inside her home
The village is smaller but the climb up is rather steep. We finally reached the peak. There are a few shops meant for tourists and we took a breather here before making our way back to the entrance.
This is a photo to remember some of the members in my tour group. 
We were happy that the tour was systematically organised. Our attendance was contantly checked at various points. Each family or small group is given a number, 1,2,3 ......etc for easy calling. We board our bus and left for downtown reaching our hotel at around 6pm. It was almost a full day tour.

I started to miss Hele crabs and decided to eat crabs for dinner again. There is a restaurant in downtown that is much talked about. It appeared in half a dozen Hainan Travel Websites and food blogs and it is touted to be the best restaurant in town for a seafood meal so we made our way there after our day tour.  Fat Lady Restaurant is located at Shengli Street just behind Sanya International Trade Centre. We were surprised to see a big restaurant with only one table occupied. So famous and no one comes here??? How come??
Anyway we ordered a few things to go with rice. A plate of clams.
We made a big mistake with the Hele crab by allowing the restaurant to choose the cooking style for us. Hele crab in glass noodle didn't make the famed crab stand out in taste.
The vegetables was OK but soaking in thick oil. We paid 180CNY (RM110) for these few dishes. Felt a little disappointed by the over-hyping of this place.

After dinner we went to shop for some groceries. That was the end of our 3rd day in Sanya.

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Anonymous said...

Hi like ur blog very much,very useful gg around sanya,known that book local tour is cheaper by using china sim card,but how n where to book local tour

toh anne said...

Cos i find online all is by prviate van,we are8pp gg to binlanggu n namshan cultural,if book as wat u done by local tour,it save quite alot,thanks n hopes to guide from u,where to get the local tour contact when we are in sanya

Lily... said...

Local tours can be bought from the hotels you stay or from travel agents around the city. There are especially many in Dadonghai Bay and a number in downtown Sanya but we paid slightly more as we feel booking from our hotel is safer and with all the help we got from the concierge officer, it was worth it.

Lily... said...

Anne, the answer on where to find local tours is written above this comment.
It is advisable not to book online as the rate is usually higher and sometimes the reliability is questionable. Should u choose a private tour it is not as expensive as the cost is shared by 8.

Anonymous said...

You are very good at writing up on your travels. Happy travelling and continue writing.

Lily... said...

The only reason you may feel so is because the story is original. Do visit my blog from time to time.

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