Living in Haikou – First Impressions

IMG_4720Well, I promised video/photos or a rant, and I’m happy to report I have no rant to offer.

We moved in last Friday and have been living in a sort of stasis since. As mentioned, the new place is brand new, and so when we arrived to get the keys last Thursday we were happy to see a bunch of shiny new appliances to match — including a nice (Chinese brand) flat screen TV. As much as you can try to get excited about having a new mattress, washing machine or fridge; getting a brand new bright and big TV sort of takes the cake.

The TV is also a bonus for us, as 100% of our media consumption comes via the computer, and the flat screen displays just like a high def. monitor when hooked to my MacBook. Coupled with a 4Mbit Internet connection and xbmc, it’s on-demand, all the time.

Alright, enough about the TV — more about our new place and thoughts on Haikou in general.

So for the past week we’ve been sitting in an apartment with a lot of new appliances, and very little else. The day we were leaving from our temporary apartment, Maggie called the shippers only to find out our stuff was still in Shanghai. The shipper had told us it would be no problem to store it for free in Haikou should our apartment hunting take longer than expected, but upon finding out that it would cost money to store it in Haikou, he made the executive decision to just leave it in Shanghai until called upon.

Thus, when we called to find out where our stuff was (thinking it was either nearly or already here), we were a bit pissed to learn that it was still a few days drive away. To further ingratiate me to this swell and reputable shipping company, we were then informed we’d also have to pay an extra 200 RMB upon delivery to actually have our stuff moved into the apartment. Apparently, they’ll move it out and onto the truck for free, but you have to pay extra to have them move it in. Pairing that with their liberal weighing methods I mentioned previously, all I can say is — scam, scam, scam!

I know, I promised no rant. To their credit, the stuff did arrive, and we did manage to bargain down the 200 RMB to 100 RMB. Aside from a few dings here and there, and my aquarium stand being mostly de-plastic footed, everything was in one piece — amazingly, considering the shape the boxes were in.

Our New Place

Living in a brand new apartment has a lot of perks, and a couple of downsides. The perks are somewhat obvious — it’s clean, new, virtually all under warranty, there aren’t pounds of other people’s dead skin in your aged mattress, the stains are yours alone, etc.

In the negative column is the fact that every ding, scratch or crack is sort of on you. Gone is our ability to state with absolute confidence: “That was like that when we moved in.”

The other tricky thing with an apartment that’s never been lived in is that when put on the spot for things it needs, it’s hard to remember everything. We quickly hashed together a list for the landlord when we signed the contract, and then nervously called the next day to find out if the place had any sort of water heater (it did, but hadn’t been installed — one of those on-demand ones). Post move-in, and after the landlord was well on his way back to his home on the Mainland, we also realized half the rooms (including the bathrooms) don’t have blinds/curtains, there’s no microwave, no water-cooler thing for bottled water, and a few other relatively trivial things.

All of this is pretty easily solved, but it was just stuff that hadn’t occurred to us upon moving in as we’ve always just sort of moved in and were ready to go.

Minor quibbles aside, the place is great and so is the neighbourhood. It’s nice and quiet, with no road noise at all. We’re less than a block away from the sea — though unfortunately a development (by Li Ka-shing!) is blocking our way to the water. So instead we have to walk an extra 15 minutes down the road — the injustices we’re faced with, really.

We have a pretty diverse and decent outdoor wet market about a 10 minute walk from our apartment that contains all the fresh seafood and tropical fruit we could stuff ourselves with — along with an assortment of meat and veg. It’s surrounded by small shops that sell basic dried goods and essentials, as well as small stalls that do some local street food for quick snacks.

The community, though only at about 40-60% residence (and a portion of that part-time snowbirds/holidaymakers), is loaded with kids and there’s a small playground where Casey has already grown to love the swing. The community also has basketball courts, a small pond with fish and fruit trees everywhere (there is a papaya and a banana tree just behind our apartment).

We’re also walking distance to a great park that I mentioned before and a driving range, though I am guessing by the Beamers and Benzes in the parking lot that it might be a bit pricey.

Here’s a video and some photos from our apartment:

A few notes from the video:

  1. One of our first orders of business is to replace that solid wood bench in our living room with something a bit more … plush.
  2. Amazingly our 190L aquarium survived the journey and will soon be populated by fish — it’s former resident, my turtle, is now the class mascot for a bunch of youngins at the Suzhou Singapore International School. Getting the aquarium out of its wooden shipping crate (the remains of which can be seen on the back balcony) was a test of will and some skillful use of a rubber mallet. Kevin, you still have my real hammer!
  3. Like the wood couch in the living room, the kitchen table will likely be replaced with something a bit nicer. We also have plans to kit out the living room with a rug that Casey can roll around on.
  4. My compulsion to wave at myself in the mirror is not limited to me having a camera in my hand.


IMG_4714 Mr. Clean

IMG_4718 IMG_4716

Thoughts on Haikou in General

So far I’m feeling really good about the move to Haikou. Here are some random thoughts about living here and how it compares to Suzhou (from my albeit 牛b perspective):

  • It’s cheap. We are paying 500 RMB less per month for our new 144 sqm (1550 sq ft) apartment than we did for our black-mold infested 115 sqm place in Suzhou. Even taking out the fact that we lived in a pricey neighbourhood in Suzhou, we’re still paying less (per m/sq) than we did downtown Suzhou.
  • It’s cheap. Yep, it’s cheap. We had thought that living on the island would drive prices up, and for somethings it does (electricity is nearly twice the price as in SZ). However, the day to day stuff is all generally much cheaper. Meat and veg, as an example, are about 25% cheaper. Coupling that with the ease of access to inexpensive fresh fruit and seafood (something that was a challenge to get in land-locked Suzhou), we’re saving money and eating better/healthier.
  • It’s small(er). Haikou is a big city, and it’s roughly 2mil population beats out all but one of Canada’s cities; however, by Chinese standards, it’s a backwater city that was only made into a provincial capital in 1988. This makes it pretty easy to navigate. Additionally, like our old SZ neighbourhood, where we live now is a relatively new area of the city and so well designed (or getting there) and under-congested.
  • It’s clean. This may have more to do with our specific location, but everywhere I’ve previously lived in China had the unfortunate issue of coating the apartment in dirty dust whenever the windows were left open for more than a few minutes. Our windows are open all the time here, and I’ve not noticed the usual layer of soot-like crap on everything yet. Again, this may be because we’re not near any main roads, and I imagine living downtown Haikou would be pretty similar.
  • It’s dirty. Haikou, by and large, is much a more typical Chinese city than Suzhou SIP’s atypicalness. More horking, split-pant babies pissing in the street and garbage lying about than SIP; but I suppose about the same as downtown Suzhou.
  • The people are friendly. When we moved from Dalian to Suzhou we were struck by how soft the manner of the people was. Northerners, and particularly Northeasterners tend to be a gruff bunch that don’t mince words, but the Suzhou ren have a slightly more reserved and even-temperness to them that we had grown used to in our time there. What we’re noticing about the people in Haikou is how genuinely friendly and content most people seem. Eager to help, happy to chat, and just a little bit more laid back about everything. Jah mon. As a comparison, I’ve met more of my neighbours in a week living here than I did in a year living at my old place.
  • The people are stupid. This is more Maggie’s opinion than my own, but having had to listen to her whinging about it for the past two weeks, I’d be remiss for not including it. Maybe it’s just the slower pace of life, or just the change in educational demographics, but Haikou locals seem to operate differently than on the Mainland. From dealing with utilities to get things set up for our apartment, to setting up a bank account, to getting served at a restaurant; each step of the way had Maggie exclaiming, “Totally unprofessional.” Not an indicator of stupidity, but just as an illustration of how things are more casual here, when I went to register at the local police station we were told directly to come after 3pm, as from 12 to 3 the officer would be taking a nap.
  • We have wildlife. Our community is full of trees populated with various birds. We’ve already had a little lizard make his way into the apartment and one on our laundry — both times scaring the crap out of Maggie. Then, the other night our screens became host to a bunch of flying beetles whose asses light up. There is also a large number of rats this size of some Chinese dogs.
  • We miss our friends. We’re fortunate that we’re quickly being adopted by a great group of people here (that’s you Nicki and Erik!), but we really do miss our friends in Suzhou. I’ve made a lot of friends and acquaintances in my time in China, but our little tribe in Suzhou was much more akin to family than just friends. We knew it would be the toughest part of the move, and it continues to be.

By and large, while emotionally and physically taxing, and pretty expensive, we’re very happy with the move and slowly settling into our routine here.

Much more to come about living in Haikou and hopefully a bit of travel around the island when we find time. For now though, after being offline for a week (my longest stretch in half a decade), I have many many e-mails and a whole lot of work to catch up on.

25 Responses

    • Yep, the locals can’t get over the size of him — he’s quite a bit taller than most full-blooded Chinese his age, so I think that throws them. He’s also just got a massive head. It’s like an orange on a toothpick.

      Heed, pants, now!

  1. Nice walkthrough of the apartment! Great apartment too, BTW, I’m a bit jealous! And the bit about the rats made me actually laugh aloud and then quickly check to see if I’d woken Marian napping on our couch…nope she’s still sleeping πŸ™‚ Yeah those rats…I call them ROUS’s. Baozi likes to kill them, maybe you can train Button?

    • Haha, I heard you had a full house. You should borrow Banana’s IYH sign and charge!

      Other than possibly licking it to death, I think Button’s much more likely to run the other way if she sees a rat.

  2. Beautiful place Ryan, I am sure you will all be very happy there! Casey is sooo cute! The guy at the police station was having a “siesta” – climate there is pretty similar to Zihuatanejo Mexico where we stay for 2 months each year. Many places close down between 12-3, they take really long lunches and go to sleep. Hey you need a hammock for your patio.

    • Girl in the police station actually. πŸ™‚ Shops and such do seem to shut down here while the sun is at its highest — I can relate to that.

  3. It looks great Ryan. Glad to hear things are going well… apart from a few hiccups along the way. I found your fascination with the banana and pawpaw (papaya) trees funny. You Canadians/ Northern Chinese…

  4. Nice new apartment! I’m jealous of all that space. Congrats.

    I like the TV; it needs a PS3 or something. πŸ™‚ Cool office setup too.

    I’m curious about the internet, though. Is the 4MB plan actually fast? I hear Shanghai’s internet speeds are among the worst in China; I really wonder how yours compare.

    • PS3 is high on my list, particularly now that games are easier to come by. I have a Wii… but meh, I might just hook it up to play Mario Kart on the big screen.

      As for the Internet — I resisted getting the 4M connection for quite a while, but figured a new town called for a shot at better Internet speeds.

      Ultimately it’s going to come down to what you’re trying to access, and some things just can’t be helped (particularly when it comes to going through the Great Filter (all hail). That said, I used to get (well seeded) torrent speeds of about 100-200KB/s and now hit 300-400KB/s pretty regularly. For the amount I download, that makes the extra 60RMB/mo. worth it.

  5. Hello Ryan,
    My name is Nicolas, I came across your site through I am currently living in Sanya for a few months as sort of self-imposed holiday/work/thinking period, away from Beijing where I normally live. Nice website, nice family, and nice and clean home. Hope you have settled down really well in your newly chosen city. (I don’t know if it is already approaching the 0.75 year average time for moving again..haha).
    Just like to drop a note to say hello and introduce myself. If you so happen to wander to Sanya I would be veryΒ happy to meet you and your family.
    All the best,

    • Hi Nicolas, can definitely understand the desire to get out of Beijing for a while. If for no other reason, Sanya will let your nostrils and lungs take a break.

      We’re slowly getting acclimatized to living on Hainan. It’s a lot different than Suzhou, but all-in I think it was a very positive move for us.

      As for the need to constantly keep moving — I think we scored with this apartment, so I’m going to try and hold on to it for as long as possible. Nice quiet neighbourhood with lots of kids my son’s age.

  6. Hello Ryan, I stumbled on your website while searching info. about Hainan. Are you still living there. My wife and I are thinking about visiting early next year.
    I just wanted to drop a line.
    Take care.

    Andy R. from Florida, USA

    • Hi Andy, yep, we’re still here in Haikou. Being from Florida, I think you’ll feel right at home with our sun, humidity, beaches and tropical storms πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Ryan, I’m in Vancouver,BC Canada
    I’ll be in Haikou on Nov 7th for about 2mths.

    I’m looking for a furnished apartment or serviced apartment that’s conveniently located near shopping,restaurants,nightlife.
    I speak Mandarin as well, I used to live in Kunming.
    Let me know if you have any leads,suggestions,recommendations…..Thanks,Yves

  8. Hello Ryan , my name is patrick, I’m from Edmonton, Alberta. I’m thinking about moving to Hainan Island with my wife after I retire in August 2016.. what are the advice that you can give me regarding accommodation, standard of living, and life style? also about opening a small bistro cafe? I need to do some work or I will get bored doing nothing, also if I can make some income. Thanks, Pat.

    • Hi Pat, for accommodation, it will depend what you’re looking for. We had a spacious 150sqm 3-bedroom place and paid 2,800 RMB (about $600 CAD) in Haikou — the island’s capital. There are definitely cheaper and considerably more expensive options depending on what you’re looking for. The best thing to do would be to plan on staying at a hotel or hostel in the short-term, and explore the places you’re considering living before settling for a place. Most landlords require a year lease and at bare minimum 3-4 months rent up front. We found that the country-wide standard of 3 months + security deposit wasn’t always the case in Hainan, where many apartments are owned by mainlanders who aren’t local residents and thus want more up front.

      I’ve very little advice for starting a business, other than it’s not for the faint of heart. You’ll probably need to start a WFOE, which generally requires large sums of money up front and boxes of paperwork. Local regulations and officials frequently plead ignorance, and frustrations abound at every turn. Assuming you started something in Haikou or Sanya, you’ll be competing with a lot of other establishments, some good some terrible, but generally having more local business knowledge. I don’t mean to be discouraging, it certainly can be done — and there are a few foreigners running successful restaurants, it just requires quite a bit of patience, money and gumption.

      Also, I will add — we looked to Hainan to provide us with a tropical home while still limiting ourselves to China. My wife is Chinese, so from a practical point of view, it made a lot of sense. In hindsight (I’ve since left China), if I wasn’t restricted by spousal visa options and not concerned about language limitations, I’d look to other places in SE Asia, which are much cheaper, nicer and easier. If it has to be China, Hainan is a decent choice, but if not, I’d take a good long look around the region for nicer beaches where your money will go farther (and the business climate is more accommodating to foreign currency).

      • Hi Ryan, For a retired couple to live a simple and comfortable life in Haikou or Sanya, do you think it would be sufficient enough with RMB 7000. a month living expenses include three meals a day. Will be cooking at home and sometimes dining out. Also some leisure entertainment, and including rental apartment close to city area or by the beach. Need your advice……. Thank you. Patrick.

        • It wouldn’t be a lavish lifestyle, but you could definitely make that work. The places by the beaches are more expensive, but as I mentioned our rent in Haikou was 2,800/mo. for a 3-bedroom. You can get smaller places for cheaper. It also depends how nice of a place you want — they really run the spectrum, with new high-rises being considerably more than older apartment buildings (with or without an elevator). Bills are negligible, with most things being much cheaper than Canada — summer can be more expensive if you run an A/C unit, but still not terribly expensive. Food prices on the island are a bit more than the mainland, and not very different from Canadian supermarket prices for many things.

          It might be worth checking out ( to give you a sense of pricing. I’ve not been on the site in ages, but it’s what we used to dig around before moving down there. It’s in Chinese, but Google Translate can help if you can’t read Chinese.

      • Good afternoon Ryan,
        I found your website while searching for info about living in Haikou. My name is Rachel And my brother lives in Sanya.
        He is with his wife and 2 kids 7&10
        He’s thinking to move to Haikou because is more convenient for his work.
        Rright now his commute is a nightmare from Sanya
        I’m trying to convince him to move to Haikou because it will be much easier for him
        Can you give me any advise regarding school for kids (they already speak and understand a little of the language)?
        How is the Internet service???
        Accommodation arragements? Good areas to look for and price range and anything else that u consider important to know.
        Im not sure if you still live there because of your last post but even if you’re not please if u can direct me to an expat community that my brother or I can reach?? It would be really helpful. Tx

        • Hi Rachel, we’re not in Haikou anymore, but there’s a decent community on Facebook in the “Haikou in English” group that might be able to provide more information. We mainly left because our oldest child was reaching school age, and thus I don’t have any experience with schools in Haikou. I think Haikou is a pretty good city for a family, the beaches aren’t as nice as Sanya, but also aren’t as busy. Lots of restaurants, cinemas, etc. I work online, and never had any major problems with Internet (other than the usual GFW stuff). The downside to Haikou is that it’s a big city. It’s busy, there’s lots of traffic, and more air pollution than Sanya. I left Haikou though, so I’m probably not the poster boy for encouraging people to move there. πŸ™‚

  9. Hello Ryan,

    Very helpful your feedback about Haikou. I’m interested to live there for a year, could you tell me the name of the apartments or recommend me others apartments?

    Thanks πŸ˜‰

    • Hi Tiffany, sorry for the slow reply. The apartment complex where we lived was called Nanfang Mingzhu (ε—ζ–Ήζ˜Žη  / Southern Pearl). We left in 2015, and while it was the only place we lived while in Haikou, I’m not sure I could recommend it. It is near a bus route or two, and isn’t too far a walk to Baishamen Beach and Baishamen Park, but otherwise it’s far from pretty much everything and getting a taxi can be a pain. Like all Chinese cities though, a hundred other communities have popped up since we moved in there in 2011. Hopefully you found something!

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