Visiting Wenchang’s Tongguling / Yunlong Bay

The beach at Yunlong Bay, Wenchang, HainanI’m embarrassed to say that after living in Haikou for a year and a half, it was only this past weekend that we finally got out of the city and explored a bit more of Hainan. I could blame a lot of things for the lax attitude about travelling around the island, but as this weekend proved, I simply need to try harder — the rewards are great.

It was all on a bit of a whim that Friday afternoon Maggie and I decided we should go somewhere before the rush of Mainland tourists descend on Hainan for the joint Mid-Autumn Festival/National Holiday kicking off later this week. We opted to test the waters, so to speak, by sticking somewhat close to home, and head to the next city down the high-speed rail line: Wenchang.

Wenchang is famous for two things — a good source of brides for early 20th Century Chinese power elites, and fatty, under-cooked chicken. So, admittedly, on paper — not the most attractive travel destination.

But it’s only an hour by bus (half-hour by high-speed train) from Haikou, and if you’re willing to get out of Wenchang a bit, it has its rewards.

We met up with our travel companions, Jonathan and Christina (and their two little girls), bright and early Saturday morning at Haikou’s East Bus Station. While the Hainan high-speed rail is great (I’m told), the major flaw is that the stations are all far outside city centres, and thus require an additional step in the transit process.

View Haikou & Hainan in a larger map

Instead we took a reasonably comfy A/C’d coach from Haikou to Wenchang (50 minutes, 19RMB), and then from Wenchang we grabbed a smaller bus to Longlou (~60 minutes, 7 RMB), a dusty one-stoplight town that’s only claims to interest are that it is a stone’s throw from some nice beach real-estate, and it is home to the new Wenchang space launch centre (of which we saw no trace of).

Before grabbing a couple 10 RMB sanlunche rides to the resort a few kilometres away, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat. We were pointed by a woman at the bus station (and I use the term station in the loosest way possible — it was a newspaper stand and a couple of chickens) to a collection of tables surrounding the outside of a wide open building just up the road. We found a table under a tree out of the mid-day Hainan sun and asked for a menu. With a look of confusion, the waitress explained they didn’t have menus, and we should just go into the kitchen and see what we wanted. We managed a table full of veggie dishes, and one Wenchang chicken. I will say this for the place, it put our expectations right where they needed to be for the rest of the trip to improve. As for my first Wenchang chicken — it is basically a celebration of everything Westerners prefer removed from their chicken — it is a plate of boiled, partially cooked, extremely fatty meat, chopped unceremoniously so that each piece contains maximum bone shrapnel. Ours was made complete with a few remaining feather stems still sticking to the pale rubbery skin.

The beach at Yunlong Bay, Wenchang, HainanThe only resort (advertised, at least) in the area is the Wenchang Tianfu Yunlong Bay Holiday Resort. Heavily doused in Chinese ostentatiousness, the resort is complete with a long driveway reminiscent of the Danbi Bridge at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, and a massive Buddha statue.

We had to wait to check-in, and so wasted no time getting down to the beach and exploring a bit. The only Hainan beaches I’ve visited are Haikou’s and Sanya’s, and neither impressed me all that much. When compared to other beaches in China, they shine, but when held up to the white sands and clear waters that other SE Asian nations have to offer, they’re a bit lackluster. As such, I was pleasantly surprised when we were greeted with a rather stunning one at Yunlong Bay.

The water was as warm as a bath, and much clearer and bluer than anything else I’ve seen on Hainan so far. The sand stretches for miles, and–aside from the sun-lessened hours of dusk and dawn–was virtually empty. Even at the busier time late in the afternoon, people only congregated in a very small section of the beach close to the steps up to the resort. A short walk in either direction resulted in plenty of isolation.

The one downside to the water is that its shallows are littered with rough rocks hiding just below the surface. We didn’t explore enough of the bay to see if any of the other sections of the beach were clearer, but the area right by the resort wasn’t fantastic for casual swimming. This wasn’t a huge deal to us, as Casey is a bit apprehensive of the waves, and so we stuck to the large swimming pool instead.

Dinner at the resort can really only be got from one restaurant. Thankfully though, the food was great and reasonably priced and portioned. Outdoor tables allowed us to enjoy a bit of fresh air and fresh seafood while listening to the waves crash on the beach below. The grounds also feature a large BBQ area, but as the main clientele of the resort seems to be company getaways, you are expected to bring your own stuff for the grills. I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get some nice seafood BBQ, but the pit area was full of some well-liquored Chinese guys, whom we later discovered were quite the patriots (waving anti-Japanese Diaoyu Island signs), and so likely was best that we avoided it.

A well-worn pier on the beach at Yunlong Bay, Wenchang, Hainan

Day two was meant to be a trip to the Tongguling Nature Reserve; however, hiking up a mountain in the Hainan heat with 3 kids and one pregnant wife seemed a lot less appealing when we had the comforts of the resort at our disposal. The trip wasn’t without a bit of activity though. With time to kill before we had to check-out, I rented some snorkeling gear from the dive shop located on the grounds, and found that what the rocky water took from comfortable swimming it gave back in fish watching. Only a few dozen metres from shore I was greeted with a solid amount of coral inhabited by a wide variety of fish, crabs and other sea-critters. Twice I found myself in the middle of a cloud of tiny fish as a school, several-hundred strong, swam by me. We were told by the dive shop that better coral could be found out further, but it required a boat ride and a bit more time. They also offered full scuba trips as well, which I’ll definitely be looking at exploring the next time we go.

And there will definitely be a next time. All said, the trip was a relatively cheap weekend escape from the city, that while not a 5-star luxury experience, offered more than its value in fun in the sun. Before we found out that we’re having another baby, we had considered heading to Malaysia for the Christmas holidays, but now we’re somewhat forced to stay closer to home — and so it’s nice to know we have some reasonable vacation options just a couple hours away.

Some more photos…

7 Responses

  1. Hey man!? Didn’t know you guys were expecting again. Congrats. I’m father of 2 and it’s a mix of constantly wanting to hug and strangle the kids. 1 is a handful 2 is trouble 😉 At least for me, now my wife works every 2. weekend.

    • As I was writing about having #2 I realized I never actually posted on here about it. Just announced it on Facebook. So much of my random blather is dumped on Facebook these days, I rarely blog at all anymore 🙁

      I’m starting to realize though that I need to continue updating here, as one day FB will die — whether quick or slow — and so much of the life milestones put there will have no permanent record.

      But yep — expecting #2 in March! Am really excited, but also not looking forward to those first couple years of crying and drooling. Casey’s finally at an age where I just love hanging out with him because we can chat and play and stuff. I am curious what the two of them are going to be like with each other.

      • Yeah, I dropped FB, so I didn’t know. True about blogging being “forever” too. Never though about it that way, but fortunately I rarely use anything but my blog anyway. So got my writing “secured” so far.

        I don’t want to worry you about kid nr 2, but my experience is that it’s a whole other deal with 2 kids. It doesn’t help that I’m alone with both kids every 2. weekend as C works. That leaves me completely locked down with no help. My dad died a few years ago, and my mom is demented, so there’s no help from that front. I have 3 brothers, whereas only one is competent to watch kids, and he has increasingly little time to help, even though he would like to. Also, to be fair, I wouldn’t give him the daunting task of watching both at the same time in their current age. That’s simply too big a favour to ask.

        Mark (our oldest at 2½ y.o.) is like Casey, easy to be with alone and I enjoy it. We can do stuff together and talk about what we see. Our youngest (Alex) is now 10 months old and he’s a good kid too and easy to entertain. I like being with them both and alone of them, its easy enough. I get breaks when they take a nap and can actually get a little done on the side. That’s my experience from when we had Mark anyway. But together they can be a nightmare. Not that they gang up on me, but trouble is more than doubled. It’s hard to tackle one kid’s needs, when the other is stirring up trouble at the same time. Furthermore, Alex still hasn’t slept through the night. Not even after following the book I bought (from your advice). The book worked nicely on Mark, but Alex is another matter it seems. Not sure if it’s teeth, growing pains or night terrors (I know you’re an expert n that regard) or whatever.

        Since they are both good kids and not extremely hot tempered, I’ve concluded that are just too close in age. They need attention all the time or else stuff will happen (Mark for example starts drawing the walls, jumping out the window, climbing tables and whatever you can imagine they do at that age, whereas Alex will fall from trying to stand, and take stuff we thought he couldn’t and so on).

        I’m looking forward to the day when they grow a little older both, and the close age will be a plus like everyone tells me. Also it would be cool not to be woken up 2-7 times each night and sleep 5-6 hours in average. Yup, I could go to bed earlier, but that would mean dropping the last part of my “me-time” for 2-3 hours. The only time that keeps me sane.

        About jealousy, I can’t say that it’s a big issue with Mark and Alex. Mark has a helpful personality, and most of the time there’s no problems. Mark can be a little jealous, but not enough to worry me. So all in all that’s’ not worrying me much… (yet?). Only thing is that Mark doesn’t always know his strength when he tries to hug or cuddle Alex. But that will be better as they get older.

        And I’m not trying to scare the shit out of you, because kids really are different and I’m pretty sure it will be a different experience for you guys. I know we have our hands fuller than most, since my ears and eyes are always wider open when other parents with similar aged kids are around. That doesn’t mean I get a lot of understanding, but maybe I’m just too whiney for people to care. I’ve had colleagues look at me befuddled when I explain why I look like crap and says I’m exhausted from the kids. They have never had issues and often I hear them say that their kids slept through the night after 3 months (so indirectly they say that we are to blame ourselves). Others just go blank in the eyes and I can almost see them thinking that it must be bad parenting, because having infants was “soooo easy” for them and therefore all kids must be. Well they are not.

        And let me state: I love the life out of the suckers, really. They do wear us down these days though. Wouldn’t be without the time either. But you know… *yawn* 🙂

        And so, again I’ve outdone myself and wrote too much…. Sorry.

        Btw. I posted a recipe now.

        • Lol — cheers for the insight man. As Maggie’s a full-time stay-at-home mom, it’s a rare situation for me to even just hang out with Casey alone. Can’t imagine what it must be like juggling two yourself.

          Again, thanks for sharing. Really is helpful knowing what to expect (even if just *maybe* expect).

          Ordering an oven as soon as the Chinese holiday is over — am definitely going to try that recipe!

  2. Sounds like a great time. Love the pics, Maggie looks stunning! Casey is getting so big, adorable! Noticed a pic of the pier, were there any people fishing there?

  3. HiRyan, I just found your site by looking for information about Hainan. I like the pictures you posted. I’ve only been to Sanya and the south side of the island. It seems that anywhere near Sanya is just resorts, but get out the town and suddenly you are on deserted beaches.
    Again thanks for the pics.

    • Cheers. I’m pretty happy to have found a beach that’s nearer to Haikou than Sanya, and is a lot less populated. There are several resorts in various stages of disrepair on the coast where we were, but the one I linked to above seems to be the only functioning one. That said, there was quite a bit of construction going on (you can see some cranes in the distance in some of the photos), so it might not be long before the whole area is (over-)developed.

      Just north of this area, where the actual Tongguling nature reserve is, is a massive straight-stretch of beach as well. We didn’t get to it, but I read here that it is quite pristine as well. Though I think there are some warnings about riptides/currents to be careful of.

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