Azure skies, white sand, local dances, bikini-clad beauties and colorful shirts with tropical prints ... these are key elements of any typical tropical holiday.
But you don’t have to endure a long flight to Hawaii, Bali or the Maldives to have such delights. Sanya, the southernmost city in Hainan Province, has all this and more to offer.
In “China’s Hawaii,” I enjoyed strolling in the sunshine on the beach, swimming amidst tropical fish, challenging myself with thrilling sea sports and tropical forest hiking, and experiencing local culture. It’s an ideal vacation destination for couples, family fun, wedding ceremonies and memorable photos.
The average temperature in Sanya is 25.4 degrees Celsius and there is a tropical monsoon climate. Yalong Bay, a major resort area, and other bays including Dadonghai, Sanya and Haitang bays, have colorful coral reefs teeming with marine life. They are popular spots for ocean sports and seafood feasts.
The great ocean views and relaxing environment also attract business travelers, including MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions), annual parties and team-building. Having hosted many domestic and international events, including the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race, the 2011 BRICS summit and Miss World contests, Sanya seeks to promote its MICE business and create a more comfortable tourism and meeting environment. It also has attracted many international hotel chains, quality real estate development, and top food and beverage management.
Day 1 Snorkeling in sea
After the three-hour plane ride from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport to Sanya Phoenix International Airport, you are welcomed by salty breezes. It’s time for some thrilling sea sports.
Wuzhizhou Island, located off the coast of Hainan, is a great place for recreational sea sports such as riding on Jet Skis, parasailing, paragliding, snorkeling, scuba diving and riding in a glass-bottomed boat. The water in Wuzhizhou Island is so clear that you can see down as far as two dozen meters to look at well-preserved coral reefs and colorful tropical fish.
After a quick meal of grilled seafood with some funky tropical music, let’s go snorkeling. While scuba diving requires professional training and complicated equipment, snorkeling is easy. After the boat takes you to a good area, you’ll be given some training and put on a pair of swim goggles, a snorkel and a pair of flippers. You may bring a pair of protective gloves and wear surfing shoes to prevent injury from creatures with sharp bodies or stingers.
Listen to the directions carefully and do a warm- up before going in. You will be accompanied by a coach and follow his instructions. Remember the conservation rules since fragile organisms such as coral are easily damaged. A soft touch can cause decades worth of growth to be undone. Some snorkelers may feel ear pain or a headache when they go below the surface. This is caused by increased pressure underwater. You can equalize the pressure by holding your nose shut and lightly blowing. But don’t ignore such pain and signal your coach if you have trouble. If you got lost, float on the water and look for bubbles to locate others. Use of a dive flag is recommended, but also keep your hands over your head when exiting the water in case watercraft are nearby.
Yalong Bay is concerned by some as one of the best beaches in China. Other top spots include Dadonghai for swimming, West Island for fishing, Haitang Bay for hot springs, and Boundary Island and Queen islands, which are less popular but also very well preserved and attractive.
Day 1 Sun and the Spa
Besides snorkeling, there are many other sea sports. You can float in the air wearing a parachute, rising up to 20 meters while being towed behind a boat. You can also experience the joy of jumping around on water skis.
Ride on a banana boat at 50 kilometers per hour, pulled by a motorboat. For family fun, choose a semi-submerged sightseeing trip to see underwater creatures through a glass-bottomed boat.
After water activities and long exposure to the sun, a spa treatment to fully recover before the dinner is a must. The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya in Coral Bay is born out of an understanding and passion for wellness that focuses on physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Nestled in a tranquil tropical garden, the spa suites allow guests to embrace relaxation and rejuvenation whether as a couple or in solitude.
The expert practitioners will have an in-depth consultation with you before to ensure that all of your needs are met and that the treatment provided is adapted to these needs.
The signature Quintessence oil blended with warming ginger, uplifting mandarin and sacred frankincense all come together to realign the mind and emotions.
Refreshed after a relaxing treatment, let’s go for dinner. If you feel exhausted after one day’s activity and want to save energy for tomorrow’s hiking, you can choose the Sunset Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, Sanya, where you can view the sun set in Coral Bay and enjoy enticing cocktails and a refreshing choice of juices and smoothies. Or you can go to the contemporary beach front Noodle Bar, serving a sumptuous selection of the freshest Asian noodles.
If you are still full of energy, you can go to the First Market — the biggest and most popular seafood market in downtown Sanya.
Those who want a drink with their seafood feast should try the local rice wine made from Shanlan rice, which is a rare kind of rice grown in paddies in the mountains. As an authentic beverage of the Li minority group, it is brewed in a traditional way.
For those who abstain from alcohol, the coconut milk tonic that includes green beans, jujube, diced bits of pineapple, melon and mango is definitely a refreshing drink.
Day 2 Fun at Tropical Forest
Ready for an adventure in a tropical forest? Want to explore the culture of the Li and Miao ethnic minorities? Wear comfortable shoes, carry your backpack and let’s go!
You can take the No. 15 bus which travels through Sanya Bay, Dadonghai and Yalong bays. Located 25km southeast of Sanya City, the tropical forest features lots of pretty scenery, magnificent views of Yalong Bay — the “first bay” in China — and Haitang Bay, as well as romance.
Covering 1,506 hectares, the rainforest, with refreshing negative ions, has 1,500 species of tropical plants and 190 kinds of wild animals. Two-thirds of the scenes of the hit film “If You Are the One 2,” directed by famous Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, were shot here.
If you get off at Yalong Bay station and walk along Liupan Road for 100 meters, you will arrive at the west gate of Yalong Bay Tropical Forest Paradise. Taking a small, open-sided tour bus on the steep mountain road, you will see a magnificent view of Yalong Bay on your left and, on your right, boulders and caves in different shapes, including the Fly Stone, Dragon Tongue Stone and Entwining Dragon Cave.
You may feel you are riding on a roller coaster because of the wriggly road and sharp turns. You may get surprised at the crest of an incline — the descending buses will wait until an ascending bus tops the crest and its passengers, at the driver’s behest, will yell at the other bus to make the trip more exciting.
After the breathtaking trip, we arrive at Orchid Valley. Walking beside the huge waterfall with various species of orchids all around, you will perceive a light aroma and fresh mist and hear frogs and birds.
You will appreciate the intensely colorful Vanda orchid, which can exist only in sunny spots in the tropical rainforest. In Chinese literature, the orchid is the symbol of purity and elegance and is used to describe a gentleman with noble character in poems. The pavilion at the Fly Dragon Pool is the best place to appreciate Feilong Falls. There is a saying that the fifth son of mythical South Ocean King always practices kungfu here and turns into a dragon and flies toward the South Ocean.
The surface of the pool is as smooth as a mirror and dotted with lotus. Many turtles that have been alive for more than 100 years swim in it and are said to bless people with happiness and a long life.
It’s time for lunch. Your stomach will no doubt be rumbling after a hike and you have plenty of choices at the Tropical Paradise Square, which is 450 meters above sea level. You can enjoy the most famous dishes in Hainan cuisine, including tender Wenchang chicken and Dongshan lamb, which is braised in coconut milk. Freshly picked coconuts are available at stalls and you just need to put in a straw and enjoy the milk. You can also send your best wishes to friends at a postal box at 18° 15’ N latitude, which is about as far north of the equator as Hawaii.
Every hour, there is a show given by Li and Miao performers. Join the Li Dachai Dance in which dancers step between moving horizontal wooden poles to rhythmic beats.
Refreshed by the authentic food and entertainment, it’s time for more hiking. Along the path, you will see many wonders of the tropical rainforest including the peculiar Root Stone. The roots of trees grow and encase nearby stones. The root is strong enough to lift up the stones as the tree grows. Walking across the arch bridge, you arrive at the Huge Stone Area.
The path between two stones is wide enough for only one person. The light is dimmed by lots of couple banyans, so be sure to carry a flashlight. After 30 minutes of climbing on the steep Immortal Ladder path, we arrive at the Giant Buddha Stone.
It is said that it was venerated by the Li and Miao people, who used to pray while standing on it for rain and good luck. There is a local saying that when you are lying on the stone, you are the closest to paradise and feel like a fairy. Take a load off and enjoy the panoramic view of Yalong Bay, Haitang Bay and the South Sea.
Day 2 Swing on a bridge
Let’s try something exciting and thrilling. The Guojianglong Rope Bridge is the longest and highest cable suspension bridge in Hainan. The bridge is 168 meters long and 40 meters above the bottom of the valley. Walking on this one-way bridge, you can feel the ropes trembling as the wind blows past when you reach the middle point. Looking at the all lush greenery below, you may feel surrounded by a sense of romance and out-of-this-world tranquility. Looking over South Sea on your left, it feels like you are walking in a fairy land between the sky and the sea. The bridge also has a beautiful name — Lovers’ Bridge. When couples walk across the bridge hand in hand, they will be together forever.
If you feel tired from all the exercise, it would be a good time to unwind and stroll along barefoot on the sand at Yalong Bay Beach. Feel the gentle breeze, hear the whisper of the sea and gaze at the fishing boats and lighthouses by the shore. As night falls, the silver moonlight is sprinkled on the sand. Everything is so peaceful that want to slow down the clock to make sure the moment is engraved in your memory.
How to get there:
Yalong Bay Tropical Forest Paradise
Tickets: 175 yuan (US$28.6) for adults; 115 yuan for kids
Address: Yalong Bay National Resort
You can take buses No. 15, 25, 27 and 29. Get off at Yalong Bay station and walk along Liupan Road for 100 meters. It’s worth mentioning that buses in Sanya pass right by many attractions. Tell the bus driver where you want to go and the driver will remind you when you arrive.
Day 3 Tallest Guanyin statue
Start a day of living as a local Hainanese with a bowl of Baoluo vermicelli, which are rice noodles and the most popular breakfast option in Sanya. Located at the southernmost point in China, Sanya is famed as having the best rice because of the warm weather and rich soil.
Most Hainanese live on rice. The Baoluo vermicelli is named after Baoluo County in Wenchang City in Hainan.
The quality of the vermicelli and flavor of the soup make the dish. The soup is elaborately cooked with pig or ox bones for more than half a day.
The cook should skim off the residue continually to keep the soup clear enough to see the bottom.
The vermicelli should be semitransparent, chewy at first. Food aficionados can choose from more than 20 kinds of toppings and sauces like fried peanuts, sesame, beef, bamboo shoots, pickled cabbage and the famous Xinglong pepper sauce, which is made from yellow lantern peppers from Xinglong County.
According to local people’s recommendations, Xiaozheng vermicelli shop on Hexi Road is the hottest spot for diners.
A good breakfast means a good and energetic day. Walk to the No. 16 bus station not far from the shop and head up to Nanshan Temple, which is named after a popular Buddhist expression — “Good fortune is as grand as the East Sea; longevity is as high as Nanshan.”
As China’s southernmost mountain, Nanshan Mountain is regarded as a place with blessings and good luck.
A Chinese monk called Jianzhen tried to propagate Buddhism in Japan but failed five times during the Tang Dyansty (AD 618-907). Then his ship was blown off course and he ended up at Nanshan Mountain. He stayed there for half a year and finally reached Japan. Therefore, Nanshan Mountain has a close connection with Buddhist culture.
At 108 meters high, Nanshan Guanyin Statue is the tallest statue of Guanyin in the world. Guanyin is the bodhisattva, or goddess, associated with compassion. The statue is 15 meters higher than the Statue of Liberty in the United States.
The statue has one side, or aspect, facing inland and the other two facing the South Sea. One side depicts Guanyin cradling a sutra, or scroll, in the left hand and on the right hand, showing the Vitarka Mudra, a hand gesture that evokes wisdom.
The second has her palms crossed, holding a string of prayer beads that means mercy. The third aspect holds a lotus in her right hand meaning peace.
The statue was enshrined on April 24, 2005, after six years of construction, with the participation of 108 eminent monks from various Buddhist groups on China’s mainland and tens of thousands of pilgrims.
Its delicate craftsmanship, design and engraving are awe-inspiring. There is a saying that after the statue of Guanyin was built in 2005, many typhoons changed their direction instead of landing at Hainan.
Since you will be able to see only one side of the statue while on land, don’t forget to see the other two sides when you are leaving Hainan through the plane windows.
Day 3 Fruit and vegetables
One of the must-try cuisines in Hainan is the vegetarian meal in Nanshan Mountain. There is an award-winning vegetarian set meal for lunch. Many items, however, are designed to look like meat dishes and even given names familiar to carnivores, despite the fact they are made with fresh vegetables and fungus and bean products. The signature dishes are “pork” with pickled vegetables and long-life noodles, which are long noodles said to ensure a long life. As for desserts, the peach-shaped steamed bun is a good choice.
Don’t leave Sanya without trying the tropical fruit — Hainan is known as the “fruit basket of God.” Located in the center of Dadonghai, Honggang Market is the most popular wholesale and retail fruit market in Sanya. Pineapple, Australian mango, dragon fruit, papaya, jackfruit, carambola and mangosteen are in season.
You will be dazzled by so much colorful, sweet-smelling fruit. First, here are some tips: The fruit that should be eaten within a day is more expensive than the fruit that can last one or two days. Remember to bargain with the street vendors and keep your eyes on their scales to keep them honest. You may want to bring your own scale or a 500 milliliter bottle of water (0.5 kilograms) to test theirs. If you want your fruit packed for travel, keep an eye on your purchase to keep vendors from switching your box.
Drinking so-called Daddy Tea is a tradition for Hainanese. You can see groups of three and four people sitting near the street with some dishes on a table under an areca tree. Daddy Tea gets it name from those who enjoy it, many of whom are middle-aged men. The tea is just common green tea or chrysanthemum tea. In the afternoon, people in the street greet each other by saying, “Go for a tea?” The tea stall is like a small version of social media and an important part of local life. If you want to learn more about Hainan, just go drink Daddy Tea.
As the sun sets, it’s time to enjoy the nightlife at Dadonghai’s bars, which include romantic bars with marine decor, live music bars or bars decorated like forests or with other themes. It’s a favorite place for local young people and expats looking for freshly brewed ales and dark beer. Live singers and performers and grilled seafood stalls keep things going late into the night.
If you go
Where to stayMandarin Oriental, Sanya
Mandarin Oriental, Sanya is unrivalled in sheer luxury and elegance, and enjoys a secluded 1.2km nationally protected coral bay and lush tropical flora.
Located just 10 minutes drive from the center of Sanya City and 20 minutes from Sanya Phoenix International Airport, the resort provides convenient access to all major tourist attractions including Dadonghai public beach, the First Market for seafood, Nanshan Mountain Temple and Yalong Bay Tropical Forest Paradise.
At the resort, enjoy the spacious state-of-the-art fitness facilities with the latest Technogym exercise equipment and a relaxing sauna and steam room. For kids, the pirate-themed CoCo Kids Club has activities including arts and crafts, cooking and swimming classes.
Nestled amongst tropical gardens, the hotel is just about a 30-minute drive from both the city and the airport.
Relax at the nine outdoor swimming pools, work out in the fitness center or visit the spa, relaxation room, herbal tea lounge and steam room and sauna, as children enjoy the kids activities at Little Prince and Princess Club.
Address: Yalong Bay National Resort District, Sanya City
The 140,000sqm resort occupies a prime position on Haitang Bay. For families, the hotel offers a wide array of special activities and entertainment to delight all ages. R-Kids is a one-of-a-kind designer kids club for children from infants up to age 12 with multiple indoor and outdoor themed entertainment zones.
Designed with vibrant colors, natural stone and warm woods to reflect its spectacular surroundings, Sanya Marriott Resort & Spa offers 452 well-appointed rooms and suites.
Multiple swimming pools, a kids club, fitness center and signature Quan Spa combined with a comprehensive range of meeting facilities, including an Ocean Front Chapel, make it the perfect choice for holidays, meetings and celebrations of all kinds.
Address: Yalong Bay, National Resort District, Sanya City
Kempinski Hotel Haitang Bay Sanya offers a wide selection of rooms, suites and residential-style villas. Unique to the hotel are 15 private dining rooms, the rare Wood Art Museum, two pagodas from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a dragon boat experience and a miniature 18-hole golf course.
Address: No. 2 Haitang Rd N., Haitang Bay, Sanya City
To visit nearby: Hainan Island, the second-biggest island in China after Taiwan Island, has plenty of natural resources, a wonderful sea view and quality resort facilities. Sanya City is among the most popular tourist destinations on Hainan Island.
Besides Sanya, there are also many islands that are good places to have fun and enjoy nature, including Shenzhou Peninsula.
Boasting a tranquil sea, abundant sunshine and blessed with a perfect location, Shenzhou Peninsula is also one of the most ideal destinations for couples and families to enjoy a vacation.
Located at the southeast of Hainan Province, Shenzhou Peninsula covers an area of 24,000 square meters and is a 20-minute high-speed train trip away from Sanya City and a 40-minute trip from Haikou City. There are many tropical scenic areas not far from the peninsula including Xinglong Tropical Garden and the East Mountain area.
Shenzhou Peninsula has a favorable climate and the natural bay is a perfect place for yacht services. Besides complete pier facilities, you can also lease a yacht for a one-day trip to go deep-sea fishing or engage in other sea sports.
The area has already attracted some big names including Sheraton Shenzhou Peninsula Resort.
One of the biggest features is The Dunes, a 36-hole golf course with an additional five practice holes that has been thoughtfully designed by internationally renowned American golfer and golf course designer Tom Weiskopf to make the most of the distinctive geography and dramatic beauty of this unique location — from the rugged coastal dunes to the strong, craggy boulders.
The unique native bunker style has also been designed to blend in with natural surroundings and made to look like it has been there for centuries.
Weiskopf is famous for world renowned golf course designs such as Loch Lomand, making The Dunes one of the best golf courses in the world.
This golf course is complemented by a world class golf academy and modern clubhouse. Besides the Shenzhou Peninsula, there are also many gorgeous islands with perfect natural views and complete facilities including Seven Island Archipelago, featuring fishing in Wenchang City; Boundary Island, including rare animals and plants, and South Bay Monkey Island, which is a macaque protection zone.