AS a seaside resort, Sanya in Hainan Province has only two seasons a year: the busy season and relatively less busy season.
For those who prefer smaller crowds at the beach and in seafood restaurants, November and December are the best months to visit. The weather is usually pleasant. It’s sunny during most of the day with occasional quick showers in the afternoon. The temperature cools down nicely to make evenings and nights rather comfortable. During the daytime the temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius while the temperature drops to around 25 degrees at night.
Here’s a quick guide of popular attractions.
Islands and seas:
The sea, beaches and water sports are the main reasons most go to Sanya. Apart from the well-known bays, there are several nearby islands worth visiting.
Wuzhizhou Island near Haitang Bay is now gaining notoriety among scuba divers. The crystal clear water makes it easy to be mesmerized by various sea creatures and plants, such as corals, starfishes and other tropical fishes. Another popular activity is jet skiing and underwater sightseeing in a cruise, in which visitors can watch the sea creatures from inside the cruise. Island tours are also a nice way to relax as the scenery of lush vegetation, white sandy beaches and the tranquil sea is nearly flawless.
Fenjiezhou Island, which is east of Sanya, is famous for Big Cave, where the roots of thousand-year-old banyan trees entwine with each other, and flower and fruit trees, such as pine trees and peach blossoms, give a pleasant fragrance.
It is said that during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a general named Zhou Kang first found the cave. Meanwhile, he had found a smaller cave near Nanshan Area in Sanya, and named it, appropriately enough, Small Cave.
Now there is an inscription near Small Cave that reads “The Big and Small Caves.” For many years, modern people only found one cave near Nanshan, and were confused because they couldn’t locate Big Cave. Later when people found Fenjiezhou Island, they realized the caves were in two different places.
Transport to the two islands:
There is a port in Haitang Bay with ferries to Wuzhizhou Island. Boats depart every 20 minutes from 8am to 4pm. The last ferry departs from the island at 5pm.
Fenjiezhou Island is quite far from Sanya. Visitors can take a long-distance bus from Sanya Bus Station to Wanning, which takes about 2 hours and then transfer to shuttle buses to Fenjiezhou Island Port. Ferries depart every 10 minutes from 7:30am to 5:30pm, and the last one leaves the island at 6pm.
There are seafood restaurants on both islands but the prices are much higher than in Sanya.
Wuzhizhou Island Chinese Restaurant serves what many believe to be the freshest seafood and authentic Hainan cuisine. Stir-fried rice, boiled chicken with sauce and seafood barbecue are the signature items.
Newly opened Langguyoulan Restaurant on Fenjiezhou Island is between cliffs. The sailing boat shaped restaurant provides both Chinese and Western cuisine, including Hainan specialties, seafood sashimi and barbecue.
Admission: 168 yuan (US$27) each for both islands, including the ferry fee
Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone
Sanya is also blessed with being near a rainforest. Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone gives travelers a chance to get away from the beach or poolside and go hiking.
Located in a Li Ethnic Group Autonomous County, Yanoda means “one, two, three” in the local dialect. There are two routes in the zone, the Dream Valley water route and the Rainforest Valley mountain route.
Dream Valley is quite challenging to most as hikers need to climb through creeks and ponds to the top of a mountain, but it is definitely more fun.
The water is clear and cool and artificial barriers, such as nets and rockeries, are set up to increase the challenge. A pair of handmade straw sandals is given to hikers. The sandals, which are common daily wear for Li people, are skid proof. Hikers are also required to wear a helmet.
Professional coaches guide hikers through the route, and they organize mini games to make the journey more fun.
Jiang Xian, a tourist from Zhejiang Province, recently did the Dream Valley hike.
“Usually I’m quite scared by such activity because I’m not really an outdoor person, and I agreed to go just because my boyfriend wanted to,” she said. “But it wasn’t as scary as I expected. The coach was responsible and I felt quite safe.” Jiang says it was a rare experience for her. She now knows what it feels like to stand under a waterfall, to climb on cobblestones and get splashed.
“I was soaked through after finishing the hike, but it was quite worth it,” she said. “And what surprised and amazed me was that there were crabs in the ponds. I’ve never seen crabs in the mountains before.”
Hikers can take a shower at the top to refresh after all the exertion.
Meanwhile, Rainforest Valley is easier. A wooden path has been built so visitors can get around easier and safer.
Be on the lookout for upas trees, one of the world’s most toxic species of tree. In Mandarin they are known as “jian xue feng hou” or poison arrow tree. In ancient times, Li people used sap from the trees on arrow tips for hunting or warfare.
Tour guide Liu Yanshi says the trees are only dangerous if the sap comes into contact with blood.
Admission: 130 yuan (US$21), 198 yuan if taking the Dream Valley hike, 40 yuan for shuttle buses in the zone.
Transport: The zone has shuttle buses to popular places in Sanya. People can get the buses in Yalong Bay, Sanya Bay, Mingzhu Square on Jiefang Road and Dadonghai Area. The ticket for the bus is 30 yuan.
Dining: The zone has two major canteens. They serve Chinese buffets. Snack booths sell corn-on-the-cob, hot dogs, fresh coconuts and other fruits.
Specialties: The zone makes its own teas including broadleaf holly leaf, oolong and flower and fruit versions. There is a teahouse in the zone where visitors can taste a tea before purchasing. There’s also a store selling cosmetics and soaps with essential oils extracted from plants in the zone.
The biggest Buddhist temple in China’s southern area isn’t that old. Built in the 1990s, the temple is based on temples from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
Apart from the gorgeous temple buildings, the highlight is a huge statue of Avalokitesvara Buddha on the sea. The 108-meter high statue is the biggest of its kind in the world.
Tips: The Xinguoxian Tour Bus in Sanya goes to Nanshan Temple. Catch the bus at several sites, including Jiefang Road and Sanya Bay. Don’t buy incense from peddlers on the road because they are much more expensive than those sold inside the temple. There is a vegetarian restaurant worth trying in the temple. The admission fee for the temple is 150 yuan.
Luxurious hotels and resorts are mainly found in Yalong Bay and Haitang Bay. The two places are the best if you have both the money and time. The lifestyle in the two bays is slow and lazy. The resorts make it difficult to leave as they have spas, numerous pools for swimming and other activities.
The only disadvantage of staying in either place is that it’s far from Sanya.
Meanwhile, Sanya Bay and Dadonghai Zone have hotels with more favorable prices, and the two bays are closer to downtown. So if you have plans to visit some attractions in Sanya, either may make for a better choice.
If you don’t really know where to go, or you have a tight budget, family hotels in Sanya Bay and downtown would be a nice choice. Such hotels are simple but tidy and many of them provide free Wifi. Although most of these hotels don’t provide breakfast, it is usually easy to find snack venders or breakfast shops nearby.
Seafood and tropical fruit are extremely popular in Sanya. There are several seafood markets and countless seafood restaurants in the city. Crabs, sea fish, shrimps, oysters and scallops are frequently seen in the market. Restaurants will often cook them according to customers’ requirement. Steamed or boiled are recommended because both methods keep the original flavor of the seafood.
Try the restaurants around seafood markets, including No. 1 Market (第一市场) and Chunyuan Seafood Plaza (春远海鲜广场). Meanwhile, fruit stands are easily found downtown. Fresh coconuts, mangos, dragon fruit, guavas and bananas are frequently seen on the streets. Try the fresh fruit smoothies.
The new duty-free shopping center in Haitang Bay has become a big topic in the city since opening in September. The world’s largest duty-free store holds more than 300 international brands ranging from high-end fashion, expensive jewelry, designer perfume, fancy sweets to imported liquor.
It is the first time some of the brands, including Prada, Rolex and Giorgio Armani, have been included in the duty-free shops on the Chinese mainland.
Wanghao Supermarket is a good choice for Hainan specialties such as coconut pancakes or handicrafts made of coconut shells.