General info: Hainan Island is a province unto itself, China’s largest island and the southernmost Chinese territory. In the past it was a place of political exile for corrupt officials, but with the advent of rapid economic growth it has experienced increased development and the rise of tourism. It is popularly known as the “Chinese Hawaii” since it is the most popular domestic resort for Chinese people who wish to spend both their winter and summer holidays in China. China has so much to offer, and is big, and many of its regions are widely advertised and visited, but Hainan doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. Today we are going to Sanya city on the southern coast of Hainan and one of the biggest and most popular destinations on the island. Sanya is the perfect spot if you hate cold winters, and winter is the busiest season, the time when most of the tourists who travel to Hainan visit Sanya since it is the island’s dry season, when the average temperature is 30 degrees Celsius.
How to get there? If you followed the last article you will already know that you can reach several large Chinese cities from Bangkok and then transfer to a flight to Sanya. Also, from almost any major international airport you can take a flight to Beijing or Shanghai and from there transfer to Sanya.
What to see and do?
Explore the city: Sanya is small by the standards of Chinese cities, and also relatively new. It has a bit more than half a million residents. Most of the urban landscape is dominated by modern skyscrapers, hotels, shopping malls, and extensive pedestrian areas which were built in last 10-15 years. You can travel down wide, modern avenues which pass by tall buildings and palm trees and experience what a modern south Chinese city looks like. There are also many side streets which are narrower and older. These streets are shaded with trees and lined with many souvenir shops that may be interesting to you. As always in Asia, you can try your bargaining skills and buy something interesting such as traditional silk shirts, southern Chinese hats, or jade bracelets. You will notice many local residents in the streets who are walking, riding bikes, or selling merchandise. Also you can try to find an outdoor market. In addition to commonplace fruits, vegetables, and other farm products you will see many tropical fruits and sea products too, in addition to many different varieties of fish, small and large squid, octopus, shrimp, and slices of shark and marlin.
Spend some time at the beach: Hainan’s beautiful beaches may be among the main reasons for your visit. The largest beach in the city is called Sanya Bay Beach . It is long and popular, with golden sand stretching for about 25km. Sanya Beach is crowded, so prepare for a large number of people both on the beach and in the sea. Take the opportunity to swim in the warm, clean waters of the South China Sea. If you try to walk along whole beach you will feel like it is never ending. Behind the beach and all along its length there are many bars, restaurants, and hotels. If you are afraid of swimming in the sea you can try out one of the many outdoor swimming pools that belong to the hotels. While having a rest from swimming and sunbathing you can take a seat in one of many bars and have some refreshing juice or a cocktail.
If you want a calmer and less commercialized spot you should visit Yalong Bay Beach. You can reach it easily in less than 2h by taking a fast train from Sanya for only 12eur. Yalong Bay Beach is a large beach just outside of Sanya city, also long but almost empty, with very few tourists. It is located in natural scenery, and behind the beach there is native vegetation with many palms. If you want to spend a day in a tranquil and peaceful place surrounded by the sea, the rainforest, and mountains this is a perfect place for you. Enjoy the azure blue sea and the white sand on the sea floor.
Scuba diving: Wuzhizhou Island is a very popular spot for scuba diving, at optimal pricing. Wuzhizhou is a small island located several kilometers from Sanya. The boat ride out to the island costs 25eur. For 70eur you can rent diving equipment for a whole day. You will have a private instructor who will show you how to use all the equipment and who will give you safety instructions. While diving you will see colorful tropical fish, starfish, and even octopi. During WWII the island was occupied by Japanese forces, and there was serious fighting on Hainan during the war years. Sunken ships and submarines and downed aircraft as well as old bombs can still be found below the surface in coastal waters.
Yanoda Rainforest: The forest is located 30 minutes away from Sanya by car, and it is an amazing opportunity to have a look at Chinese tropical woodlands. The rainforest occupies one of the island’s hills and is really stunning thanks to a combination of rocks and trees rich with green trunks. While hiking through the rainforest you will see trees that are more than a thousand years old.
Turtle 911: This is a non-profit organization located on one of the smaller islands next to Hainan. You can easily reach it by boat. The organization’s mission is to protect sea turtles that are an endangered species since they are often hunted for decoration, or for food, or are captured and illegally sold. In addition to feeding the turtles and breeding them, Turtle 911 also operates a turtle hospital. You can spend a day here helping the workers to feed the turtles or engaging in other activities. It is especially rewarding to help baby turtles to swim for the first time in the sea. There are long term volunteer opportunities at this facility, so ask the staff about it if you are interested.
Crocodile and Tiger center: This a special center in Sanya dedicated to protecting tigers and crocodiles. Located in a special park, these animals live in natural surroundings. You can pay a visit and see a few almost-extinct Chinese tigers, which is a subspecies of the Asian tiger. Only a few of them remain. You can also visit a large crocodile center, which is the only one in China. You can watch crocodiles and even feed them with the meat that will be given to you.
Luobi Cave: This is a fascinating cave that is located just 15km from Sanya. The cave contains the oldest cultural relics of Hainan, dating from the Yuan Dynasty (13– 14 centuries). There are many Chinese carvings and inscriptions on its walls and floors. There are also inkstones on the floor that were used by the Taoist monks who decorated the cave. Legend says that an immortal came from heaven and lived in this cave on earth. There is also a legend which says that if water drips from the cave’s stalactites on your head you will become a talented writer, so give it a try.
Nanshan Temple: The largest Buddhist place of worship on Hainan Island, the Nanshan Temple was built in 1988 to commemorate two thousand years of Buddhism in China. It has very interesting temple halls with very old figures and scripts that date from the Tang Dynasty (7th – 10th centuries). Large courtyards have extensive lawns and a pond. On a platform by the shore stands a 108m tall white statue of Guanyin (the Buddhist and Taoist goddess of compassion, and the guardian of women, children, love, and sailors). It is one of largest statues in the world and the largest statue of Guanyin in the world. There are three faces on the statue, one looking towards China, which symbolizes that she protects the whole of China, and other two towards the sea, which symbolizes her protection of the whole world. Many people come here to pray and receive blessings. You can burn incense as well and enjoy this outstanding statue.
When you get hungry: You are in the right place. In the past I have written here about Chinese cuisine, so generally you can find almost any type of Chinese cuisine here in Sanya. However you should not miss some special local dishes related to seafood such as fried shrimp, grilled squid and octopus, and cooked or roasted fish. A very popular dish is Hele crab, a famous Hainanese dish composed of crab meat combined with steamed ginger and garlic mixed in vinegar. If you do not like seafood but want something Hainanese, you can order Wenchang chicken, a special type of small chicken that is cooked whole together with the head and then cut into pieces. Then you can put the pieces into a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, and ginger – an amazing dish. The average meal for two costs between 8 and 15eur, so dining out on Hainan is really inexpensive.
Nightlife: As is usually the case in beach holiday areas, nightlife on Hainan Island affords many options. In Sanya there are many inexpensive bars and clubs where you can enjoy beer, speaking with locals, or partying until morning. The most famous Chinese beer – Qingdao – costs only 1.4eur. As you know from my previous articles, Chinese people are friendly and are keen to learn new stories from foreigners. Also there are special beach parties at Sanya where people gather on the sand to sing and dance or play guitar next to a fire. You can join one of these groups, and you will find that you are welcome. While enjoying the beach party you will see millions of stars above the beach and sea.
Accommodation: Donghai Rooms and the Blue Sky Hostel are the cheapest options for sleeping in Sanya. A night will cost between 12 and 20eur.
Dawn: Go very early to Sunrise Cliff, located at the southeastern edge of Sanya. From there you can see a big part of the island, Sanya city, and the South China Sea. Wait for sunrise. It will be an unforgettable experience for you when you see the sun climbing out of the sea.