Most people hit the beach to relax and soak up the sun. Hainan offers an added attraction: the cleanest air in all of China. Folks like it so much that one startup claims to have sold 500,000 bottles of the stuff in smog-shrouded cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
The enormous tropical island is China’s most popular vacation destination among Chinese looking to get away. It drew some 16 million visitors last year, many of them middle- and upper-class city dwellers seeking relief from the country’s notoriously foul air.
“In Beijing I couldn’t see the sun behind the gray smog, but on Hainan the sky was blue,” says Norwegian photographer Cicilie Andersen, who documented the island for Escape the Smog.
Andersen learned about the island while planning a two-month trip to China early last year. She hoped to make time for a visit, but after a few days in Beijing and Harbin, made it a priority. “I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I even slept with the masks at night,” she says. Andersen made the six-hour flight south.
She spent three weeks on the island, mostly in its biggest city, Haikou. She also visited Sanya, a resort city on the southern end of the island popular with the wealthy. Of all the things she saw, Andersen most enjoyed the whistle-stop bus tour she took with 25 middle-aged tourists to the island’s must-see spots.
Every few hours the driver turned everyone loose on an attraction, where they all dutifully snapped selfies and bought duty-free souvenirs. The most unusual stops included a taxidermy fish museum peddling Omega-3 supplements, a mattress factory hawking pillows, and Luhuitou Park, a hotspot for wedding photos. Hundreds of primping brides dotted the coastline, flanked by bridesmaids, grooms, makeup artists, and photographers. “Couples were running around everywhere, having the most intimate moments of love, surrounded by hundreds of people doing the exact same thing, and trying to have their photographers frame them alone,” she says.
Andersen captures the absurdity of it all with her camera. The bright, quirky photos look like vacation snapshots from a place where the sun is bright, the water is blue, and, above all, the air is clear.