Tian Chi Lake is the center of the Jianfengling Forest Park.
Tropical Hainan Island is a winter refuge and will be a popular travel destination for the coming Spring Festival holidays. But this doesn't necessarily mean that hotels will be booked out and there will be hordes of tourists. There is another option: Pass by the golden beaches and head into the wild.
Though half of Hainan's forest cover was felled to make way for rubber and sugar cane plantations between 1950 and 1980, some of the island's tropical rainforest remain, in the central highlands, where a rich variety of tropical plants flourish and fauna, such as the endangered Hainan gibbons, can be seen.
Mostly remote and hidden far away from convenient transport links, some of them are actually easy to reach and offer unique natural interests and descent commendations.
Of these areas, Jianfengling Forest Park is recommended. Part of Jianfengling National Nature Reserve, near Jianfengling town, you can get there in about four hours, by bus, from Haikou. It is just two hours away from Sanya.
The park entrance is a 3-km uphill hike from the town center. From here, a well-paved 12-km road winds its way into the heart of the park, passing rubber, sugar cane and tropical fruit plantations run by the Miao and Li minority people.
Another trek worth taking is to Jianfengling Peak, or Pinnacle Peak, which overlooks the town of Jianfengling and can be accessed by a 20-minute bus ride (it takes 50 minutes in a tricycle). It is more than 1,400 m above sea level and comprises a dense forest topped off by a summit that looks like a Gothic church's dome.
Visitors can scale the peak along a steep stone path. From the park entrance, there is a dirt road leading to a parking lot at the foot of the pinnacle. From the parking lot, at an altitude of 934 m, it takes several hours to reach the top of the summit. Your reward is a truly spectacular view, especially at sunrise or sunset.
The major tourist site in the park is at the end of the main road, an artificial lake called Tian Chi, or Heavenly Lake.
About 3 km further, on the lake's bank, is Mingfeng Valley, or Phoenix Valley. Along a well-paved 2-km road visitors can explore a secondary tropical forest. Unfortunately, there are few animals (except a kind of red-bellied squirrel), or birds to see because of heavy poaching up until 10 year ago.
Tian Chi Resort is nearby. Staying here you are free to wander around and enjoy the peace, especially in the morning before day-trippers arrive.
At this time there is birdsong and assorted frogs and reptiles may make an appearance. You may even see a red jungle fowl cross the road. One guest was told "a big, shy cat" in a tree was a rare clouded leopard.
While there is little likelihood of being bothered by clouded leopards, mosquitoes and leeches can be a problem. It is wise to dress in a long-sleeved shirt and pants.
Another advantage of staying in the resort is you may get the opportunity to visit the reserve's primitive forest, which is about 4 km away from the resort, on the opposite side of the lake. The resort manager, surnamed Zhao, may be able to arrange this.
The forest is dense but surprisingly quieter than Phoenix Valley. There are a few birds and squirrels, more frogs, reptiles and more leeches, so many in fact there is even a 200-m "leech path".
There is a small platform in the forest. A fire watch tower erects on the platform, from which you can view the forest canopy and lake. Here you may see woodpeckers, barbets, minivets and nuthatches. Even giant squirrels might make an appearance.
You cannot dally too long as you will need some time to get back and avoid all those leeches on the way down.
Jianfengling Forest Park, in Hainan province, is a rich habitat for flora and fauna, such as orchid (left), Indian bloodsucker (center) and jumping frog (right).
(China Daily January 24, 2008)