Sanya (三亚) is on the southernmost point of China, at the tip of Hainan island. Known as “China’s Hawaii”, Sanya has 20km long stretches of beaches. As the only tropical city across the coastline, it is booming and packed with a lot of water sports such as snorkeling and jet-skiing, rainforest hiking, and innumerable hotels ranging from 1 to 5 stars. With sunshine all year around, temperatures hover around 25*C even in January and 30*C in the summer time. Its islands and beaches are beautiful and the water in Yalong Bay and Dadonghai are clean enough to have a good swim.
The downtown city of Sanya itself is a rapidly evolving city, struggling to keep up with the pace of its development. The main streets can be an assault to the senses with scooters ignoring red lights, buses, cars and taxis beeping and pedestrians competing to get ahead. Locals seem unfazed by all the commotion and are warm and friendly if you make a little effort. You will see locals dancing along the beach in the evenings, and a range of people selling souvenirs, street food and fairground games. A must visit is the #1 Market, checkout the fresh local produce, kitchen/homewares, seafood and even pearl vendors. In the evening cross the Sanya River (三亚河) to reach a less touristy, cheaper, and fun part of town.
Major areas include:
Yalong Bay (亚龙湾) is a 7.5 km stretch of beach, located 40 minutes from the airport. The area has been developed into a high end holiday destination with luxury resorts, golf courses, restaurants, and a new marina. The beach is well maintained and attracts high profile guests and residents. Be prepared for pay a premium compared to other parts of Sanya.
Dadong Bay (大东海) has Sanya’s best balance between development and natural beauty. The town behind Dadong Bay is more expensive than Sanya, but has better restaurants and a gorgeous beach. The shopping, however, is not as good as Sanya city’s. The ocean has algae blooms that vary the water from thick green to tropically clear. However, even when “tropically clear” the ocean bed is just sand with a rare school of fish or eel. See the beach both in the morning, at sunset (sets gorgeously over the hills), and at night (when people are very scarce). Check out the trails that lead between tide pools along the Westernmost rocks of the beach. The tip of the trail has a dramatic view of the ocean and a deep and deadly ocean cave.
Sanya Bay – stretches around 25 km, but being a public beach it can get very crowded and dirty in particular during Chinese New Year and other peak seasons. It is lined with seafood restaurants and multiple fisherman use pull huge fishing nets directly onto beach.
Haitang Bay is an up and coming development covering 42.8 km of beach. This area has many international hotels slated to open in the next few years. It is 35 minutes away from the airport, and is home of the largest duty free shopping mall in China.
Serenity Coast Extensive residential and resort complex with several international hotels, a world-class yacht club and Luihuito Golf Course
While tourists come in every season, the peak season starts from 1 October to the end of winter. During the winter, Sanya is a popular escape for Russians who primarily stay at Dadong Hai (大东海). In the Chinese New Year, the city will be flooded with tourists and expect everything to be extremely expensive.
- Sanya Nanshan Temple (三亚南山寺). Purposefully-constructed tourist trap began in 1998 with a gigantic statue of Guanyin (a Goddess of Mercy) on a sea-top platform. The park has few interesting spots (save a monastery bells that you can “gong”) but demands a hefty entrance fee over ¥150. A trolley car can shuttle you around the park for extra cash, but it is best enjoyed without the trolley as it really is not that big. Nanshan is about 45 minutes west of Sanya city by car. The surrounding countryside is much more interesting than the park itself.
- Xisha Archipelago (西沙群岛). Gorgeous, remote, and brimming with tropical life, one of this chain of islands was formerly on exotic vacation spot that is now off-limits to travelers, reportedly due to territorial disputes.
- Perfume Bay (香水湾) (2 hours from Sanya by taxi) plus a 100m walk from the freeway. This stretch of beach is rather undeveloped and thus delightfully peaceful (it will probably be only you for a good kilometer on either side). Visiting here is a delightful and mind-cleaning day trip, especially if joined with some hiking around the surrounding farms. Watch out for strong rip tides and pack snacks.
- Tianya Haijiao (天涯海角) Edges of the heaven, corners of the sea, 30 minutes from Sanya by taxi. There is nothing to see but a few rocks in the sea with Chinese characters. The beach itself is not really beautiful, but famously alluded to by various ancient Chinese writers. Admission ~ RMB 70.
- Sunrise Rock (观日岩). It is located on the cliff in the southeast of the island. Standing on the rock, you can get a bird’s view of the whole island and the South China Sea. The Guanri Rock is like a natural stone Buddha facing to the sea. It is also like a huge turtle crawling to the vast ocean. The rock is an ideal place for you to enjoy the sunrise.
- Nanwan Monkey Island (南湾猴岛). There are a few monkeys around to see, but the “monkey circus” is a disgusting display of animal cruelty. They whip and are violent with the animals (monkeys, pony, bear, etc), forcing them to do the same repetitive show over and over all day. Take the D-class trains departing from Sanya Railway Station to LingShui (25 mins). Cost is ~ RMB 24 for first class seat, then take a taxi from LingShui station to the ticketing center. Takes about 20-30 mins and should cost ~ RMB 50. Admission ~ RMB 150 (includes the gondola ride into the park over a floating fishing village).
- Betel Nut Ethnic Minorities Park (槟榔谷). Hainan is home to a large population of ethnic minorities, predominantly the Li (黎) and Miao (苗) Ethnic Groups, and you can find out more about them at this park, about 30km outside of Sanya. The park is very commercial with a large number of shops, snacks for sale and (paid) opportunities for photographs with locals in traditional costumes or with indigenous animals. Despite this, it appears that there has been a genuine attempt to show the traditional life and customs of the two minorities, and the park appears less tacky than some other similar attractions elsewhere in China. The park has excellent signposting in English. Taxi from Sanya and back should cost ~ RMB 200 including the wait in between. Admission ~ RMB 150.
- Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone (‘呀诺达雨林) 35km from Sanya. Yanoda, meaning 123 in Hainanese, is a newly developed rainforest park, well organised and nicely landscaped. An inner shuttle bus (add ~ RMB 40) takes groups to the start point which also has a great view of Chitian reservoir. Wooden paths then take you on a 40 minute hike up a forest valley, past 1000 year old trees that have grown around rocks, with optional light absailing and rope river crossing. At the top, you enter a landscaped lakeside park with lotuses, colourful flowers and a canteen offering a nourishing herbal buffet (mostly for tour groups). The path continues up into the hills, past labelled jungle trees with huge palms overhead. This park is reasonably natural. Poor signposting in English. Admission ~ RMB 70.
- Luhuitou Park (鹿回头公园) or Deer Looks Back Park, on top of the mountain in Sanya where all the green lasers are shooting out from. On top of one of the tallest mountains in Sanya stands a statue of a deer looking back, flanked by a Li boy and a Li Girl. The legend goes that the boy was hunting the deer until the deer approaches a cliff, looks back, and magically turns into a beautiful girl and they fall in love. This place symbolizes young couples falling in love. At night you will see green lasers shooting out from near the statue that is visible from all over Sanya. You will see wild monkeys that take food from humans as well. There is also a wall with chains on it where you can buy a padlock with your names written on it and have your padlocked locked to the chain to symbolize that your love is forever. Or until the lock breaks. Admission ~ RMB 45 entrance plus RMB 15 for optional shuttle.
It’s obviously predominately a seafood capital, with fresh seafood hauled daily by the fisherman in the different bays. Sanya serves up all kinds of seafood, tropical fruits, characteristic drink and the local flavors of all the counties in Hainan. The local dishes of Sanya include Sea cucumber, abalone, and shark fin are precious and nutritious seafoods with various cooking and eating methods. In addition, shrimp, crab, fish, conch, seashell, sandworm, etc….
Hainan’s specialties has 4 famous dishes:.
- Wenchang Chicken got its name from the place of its origin, Hainan’s Wenchang City. Being oily, tasty, tender, smooth and scrumptious, Wenchang Chicken is popular with both the local people and tourists.
- Jiaji Duck is abundant in Jiaji Town, Qionghai City of Hainan. It is said that Jiaji Duck was introduced by the overseas Chinese from Malaysia 300 hundred years ago, so it is also known as “foreign duck”. The appearance of Jiaji Duck is different from both the local duck and Beijing Duck. Because of the special breeding methods used in Jiaji Town, the Jiaji Duck characteristically has lots of tender breast meat, thin skin, soft bones, and fat.
- Dongshan Goat also got its name from its birthplace, Dongshan Ridge, in Wanning. Dongshan Goat has been famous since the Song Dynasty, and was once listed as tribute to the court. The meat can be prepared in a variety of ways such as frying, stewing and boiling.
- Hele Crab is a traditional dish originating from Hele Town, Wanning. Hele Crab is famous for its hard shell, rich meat and full crab roe, and can be cooked by steaming, boiling, frying or roasting, though steaming is considered the best method to bring out the full flavor of Hele Crab. Eating Hele Crab is considered to be beneficial to nourishing the bone marrow and liver, muscles and tendons, and promoting good blood circulation.
Sanya Food Streets
- Seafood Courts at Hexi Road: The most prosperous seafood courts assemble at Hexi Road of Sanya City. Chunyuan Seafood Court, Mingrun Seafood Court, 168 Seafood Court and Laishifu Seafood Court are in rows at this road. These seafood courts are open air and consist of large stalls, only being responsible for cooking the seafood, so the customers should buy the seafood from markets and then bring them here to be cooked.
- Fishing Boats at Hongsha: It is also popular to eat the fresh seafood in a fishing boat. Hongshayupai is the most famous one, which is located in the east of Dadonghai and is a little far. It takes 30 minutes to get there and the customers have to take a free boat to get on those fishing boats.
- Huangliu Duck Street: Huangliu Duck originates from Huangliu Town, Ledong Li Nationality Autonomous County in Hainan. Huangliu Duck is the newly created food, and is used for cooking hotpot and soup and frying with other vegetables. Some restaurants at Shengli Road, Jixing Road and Xinfeng Road can cook the best Huangliu duck. Guangming Duck Restaurant at Shengli Road is the most prosperous one. So this area is collectively called Huangliu Duck Street.
- Waimao Road is a place gathering southern and northern snacks. If you want to taste all kinds a wide variety of mainland Chinese foods, Waimao Road is the right place.
Sanya Phoenix International Airport (三亚凤凰国际机场) is located about 15 km west of the city.
Sanya Railway Station (三亚站) is located on the northern outskirts of Sanya City, about 5 km north of downtown, serving the Hainan Eastern Ring High-Speed Railway and the Hainan Western Ring Railway. Since 2007, the railway links Sanya and Haikou. There are 15 stations in between, Trains are designed to travel at 250 km/h with travel time from Sanya to Haikou approximately 1 hour and 22 minutes.
Sanya hosted multiple Miss World contests in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2015 as well as the Mister World contest in 2007.
Sanya is facing a few challenges as it continues to expand at such a rapid rate, lack of infrastructure to support tourism, difficulty in reaching the location due to limited flights and airport capacity, sound pollution, traffic and road safety, pollution of the beaches and most importantly shortage of quality hospitality staff.
Russian and English signs can be seen throughout the city. Restaurants in Sanya are also infamous for over-charging tourists.
Numerous international hotel chains are now established in the area. There are now over 100 hotels, ranging from international brands to local managed resorts.
Sanya was the first leg of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay in China.
In the 21st century Sanya’s strategic importance has grown for the Chinese military and is home to several navy bases that help develop and protect the internationally disputed shoals and islands in the South China Sea.
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