Sunny Sanya’s staycation
The Chinese Riviera of Hainan Island
If there is a claimant for the title of Chinese Riviera, then Sanya it is. The resort city at the southern edge of Hainan Island has seen a huge boom in domestic and overseas tourism, thanks to its chic topnotch hotels and resorts offering uber luxury.
Located barely 400 kilometres (km) off the coast of Vietnam, Sanya is the southernmost part of China, with the exception of a few small islands in the South China Sea. Thanks to the sea breeze, Sanya boasts of the highest quality of air to be found in the country. Unlike most of China, Sanya enjoys tropical weather all year round, complementing its rich natural resources that extend from the white sandy beaches and azure blue horizon to the dense rainforests. Home to over 20 different ethnicities, including Han, Li, Miao, and Hui, Sanya blends diverse cultures, allowing visitors to appreciate the authentic folk customs of these groups.
From family trips to golf tours, destination weddings to honeymoon getaways, Sanya is amongst the top choices in China and indeed the region, equipped as it is with modern facilities, infrastructure and amenities. With reasonably good flight connectivity offered by carriers like China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Sanya is also being preferred by Indian holidaymakers.
“Following the establishment of the Sanya Tourism (India) Promotion Center this year, more stress is being given on how to get more quality luxury tourists from India. In 2018, China received 800,000 Indian tourists. In 2017, the Sanya-Guangzhou-Delhi air route was opened with seven flights per week. Since the beginning of 2019, the Sanya government and tourism enterprises are working closely and actively to explore the Indian tourism market and provide rich tourism products to the Indian tourists,” says Fiona Liu, marketing director of Sanya Tourism Promotion Centre in India.
Exploring the islands
There are two types of taxis in Sanya – large and small. Hotels, resorts and travel agencies often arrange bicycle rentals for their guests. In addition, Mobike, a leading bike-sharing company in China, has brought its services to Sanya. Users can scan the QR Code located between the handlebars, pay a refundable deposit, complete real name confirmation and unlock the bike. The bike costs RMB 1 (INR 10) for every 30 minutes of use regardless of how far you go. Of course, there are also buses available to different tourist attractions and scenic spots.
One can also use the rail and experience the Chinese superfast rail network, which is by far the largest in the world, from either Guangzhou or Beijing. For train travellers who wish to enjoy their journey and look closely at the tropical natural life in Sanya, there is a scenic tourist railway running from Sanya Railway Station to Nanshan. The old-fashioned green trains run every day giving the tourists a memorable view of the land. There are also several cruises, including day-long trips, to various touristic attractions around Sanya.
There is also a water bus on the river that gives the tourists a chance to enjoy the picturesque views along the upper reaches of Sanya River and Linchun River, encircling the city. Recreational vehicles chartered through local car rentals, offer a unique way to explore Sanya.
Attractions across the bays
With a coastline spanning 250 km, Sanya is also home to some of the most exquisite natural beaches and the largest sea-salt site in China. Of the city’s 19 bays, Sanya Bay, Yalong Bay and Haitang Bay are considered the most immaculate. With over 300 days of blue sky annually, this picturesque resort city has plants and flowers blooming all year round.
With a 22 km stretch of pristine sand and sea beach, Sanya Bay is the largest bay in Sanya. Positioned directly across the airport, this popular location is a veritable cultural hub with a cultural zone, a cruise terminal as well as the Coconut Dream Corridor, with its rows of coconut palm trees planted along the streets of Sanya Bay.
Sanya’s coast also boasts of a 108- metre tall statue of Nanshan Buddha. The white three-faced Buddha statue, the fifth tallest in the world, is one of the biggest attractions in Sanya towering over the city as an ode to the land’s rich Buddhist heritage. Visitors flying into Sanya are bound for a treat as flights regularly circle the statue before landing in Sanya airport.
The picturesque Tianya-haijao tourism zone, at the foot of Maling mountain, is famous for a pair of large rock formations with the inscriptions Edge of the Sky and End of the Sea. This natural monument pays homage to an ancient legend about doomed lovers who plunged into the sea to escape disapproving parents and turned into stone! This is where Tianya-haijiao which translates to End of the World gets its name.
Another attraction is Sanya Romance Park, which is bound to appeal to Bollywood fans. In this charming tourist park, visitors can take a leisurely stroll around a variety of themed areas, including the South China Goddess Square, Totten Avenue, Lovers Valley, and the thrilling Haunted Mansion. Every night the park stages The Legend of Romance, a timeless production combining spectacular lighting, choreography, dance, performing art and music to narrate Sanya’s 10,000-year-old story.
Considered a major attraction in Sanya and top vacation resort in China, the Phoenix Island is a man-made island home to five futuristic luxury buildings, as well as Sanya Bay’s dazzling LED light show, themed The Dubai of The East, Vacation Paradise of the Sea.
Sanya Bay Food Street is located along the iconic Coconut Dream Corridor and offers a gourmet meal experience. Jiefang Road Pedestrian Street is one of the most famous shopping streets in Sanya for tourists who want to try out local dishes and snacks and buy souvenirs for friends and family.
A tropical wonderland, both above and below the sea level, Yalong Bay is Sanya’s crown jewel. The area’s rich marine biodiversity is protected by a coral reef natural reserve that shelters thousands of species of colourful fish and corals. With a beach three times the size of Hawaii’s, Yalong Bay is populated with top-tier hotels and resorts, having their own private beaches making this a favourable choice for travellers looking for a deluxe holiday experience.
Yalong Bay’s well-developed under sea tourism offers travellers the chance to try scuba diving, snorkelling, undersea walking, parasailing, glass-bottomed boats, surfing, beach motorcycle rides and many other activities. The bay is also home to China’s only underwater beach hotel offering unique staycation experience.
“Sanya is like a hidden jewel. I was amazed because it was more than I expected. It oozes luxury, a new fun place for a holiday with a group of friends, like a quick getaway. It’s perfect for a bachelor party as well. The place is so pretty, the sky is amazingly blue, the water is turquoise green, the F&B hangouts are cool & it’s so Instagram worthy,” says an excited social media influencer and MTV host Scarlett Rose, who has just returned from Sanya.
In the far east of Sanya, lies the secluded Haitang Bay, a blissful sanctuary for travellers seeking a quiet break by the seashore. The area is also home to some of the world’s biggest luxury hotel brands and resorts in addition to China’s top medical institutions and the single largest dutyfree store in the world.
Known as the Maldives of China, Wuzhizhou Island in Haitang Bay is a prime spot for divers from around the world, barely 10 minutes’ ferry journey from downtown Sanya. The island with its rugged wooden rocks and rough blue crystal water prepares the ideal backdrop for wedding photo-shoots, movie shoots and social media worthy photo-stops for a huge number of crowds. It takes about an hour to enjoy a tour of the high and low lands of the island in a battery cart.
Rising MICE star
Sanya has also emerged as one of the best choices for hosting international MICE events. With 250 top hotels and resorts, Sanya is ranked as China’s fifth best city for MICE after Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou. There are 128 affordable budget hotels too, providing a variety of options for the companies. Also, Sanya specialises in eye-catching innovations like mountaintop conferences, outdoor luxury product launches and ocean-themed gala dinners. It is also China’s top golf destination, with eight panoramic golf courses designed by some of the world’s top architects.
Tang Sixian, consulting director of Sanya’s tourism bureau, says Sanya will strive to continuously improve the level of tourism supporting services in an effort to enhance the travel experience of Indian tourists. “We will soon carry out an omnichannel marketing campaign for Sanya’s tourism products in the Indian market, which will focus on three major tourism products, namely, MICE tours, wedding and honeymoon tours and family tours,” he says.
Henry Huang, the vice president of Beijing Nimbus International Travel Services, a leading Destination Management Company (DMC) of China says, “We work very closely with our Indian travel agent and tour operator partners as well as take constant feedback from the India office of China Tourism (CNTO) in New Delhi. A number of initiatives are underway to further propel Sanya as a prime location for national and international MICE. Sanya government has invited international travel agencies, media outlets, and influential travel bloggers to visit the city; it has participated in international trade shows, promoted the destination through television commercials and through mainstream media in China and abroad and plan to continue the exercise.”
“Sanya Islands as rightly put is the Hawaii or Florida of China. Our role will be to create awareness for the Indian trade and consumers of this pristine destination. We will assist the tourism board to create ads in print and digital platforms, along with it we will arrange some more FAM trips for the trade and media as part of our ongoing effort to popularise Visit Sanya,” says Alefiya Singh, founder and director of Iris Reps, assisting Sanya Tourism in India.
Hotspot for foodies
Sanya’s culture and diversity is best reflected by the extensive array of delicious local culinary choices. In addition to the famous Hainan dishes, such as Wenchang Chicken, Jiaji Duck, Dongshan Mutton and Hele Crab, there are other enticing options including litchi ditch goose and areca chicken.
For the Indian palates, almost every big international hotel or resort can offer Indian food (vegetarian, non-vegetarian and Jain) on demand.
“We coordinate with the visiting Indian group and their special dietary requirements and prepare accordingly in advance. When there is a need for an Indian chef, we make arrangements accordingly. It is not only the chef but also all the ingredients that the chef will need to cook Indian food, especially vegetarian food. We do take special care to keep the cooking process separate from any other non-vegetarian dishes of the regular lot to maintain our commitment,” explains Grace Ma, assistant director of events at MGM Grand Sanya.
Language is still a barrier as locals don’t speak English. Also, China has very strict laws regarding social media. India is not yet on the list of the 59 countries that get visa-free entry, though a landing visa for the Indians is being considered. Yet, the stunning beauty of Sanya is reason enough to overcome the minor handicaps and get there.
HOW TO REACH
From India, Sanya is best connected by China Southern Airlines which flies twice daily from New Delhi to its hub in Guangzhou in southern China and from there on good connections to Sanya. But there are several other options, too, including via Beijing, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
WHERE TO STAY
Almost all the top hotel brands are present in Sanya. A few recommended hotels by Sanya Tourism are the followings. Sanya Bay: Club Med Resorts, Hotel Pullman Oceanview, Sanya Bay Resort & Spa, Narada Resort and Spa Sanya. Yalong Bay: MGM Grand, The Ritz Carlton Sanya, Holiday Inn Resort Horizon Resort & Spa. Haitang Bay: The Sanya Edition, The Mangrove Sanya, Intercontinental Sanya. There are many budget hotels available, but it is better to check with a registered tour operator or with Sanya Tourism.