A Tropical Escape
Sanya, located on the southwest coast of Hainan island, the “Hawaii of China”, is a nature lovers’ paradise, offering a variety of outdoor adventures amidst the island’s tropical forests and on its white sandy beaches, discovers Isabelle Lui.
Drawing tens of millions of visitors – over 53 million in 2015 alone – from around the world, Hainan Island is especially popular with travellers fleeing the winter months. With its tropical climate, natural beauty, and burgeoning tourism, Hainan has something for every travelling family.
Hike and Trek
Boasting an abundance of rainforest experiences, the hiking trails of the island’s south are a must do for active travellers. Yanoda Rainforest features a series of increasingly difficult water challenges testing travellers’ bravery and perseverance as they climb through dense, lush jungle. Challenges include getting across a three-metre deep pool by walking on a string of vehicle tyres; crossing suspension bridges hung in the air; and climbing through a waterfall on an iron chain. Visitors who are not prepared to get wet can opt for a side track that follows the same path but is outside the water zone. Normally it takes two hours to walk the trail and three to four hours to complete the tasks; time well spent as this rainforest route offers the best of the area’s lush vegetation and natural landscapes.
With an expansive beachfront locale, Sanya comprises five major bays, including Sanya Bay, Dadonghai, Haitang Bay, Yazhou Bay, and Xiangshuiwan. Haitang Bay offers an easy-to-ride cycling trail stretching from Clearwater Bay to Begonia Bay, along a captivating beach with uninterrupted views of the sea and, during the evening, beautiful sunsets, revealing a sky painted with warm colours. While the bay has seen a swath of new luxury resorts open, the beautiful coastline remains open to visitors and is a popular wedding photography hotspot. Along the six-kilometre cycling route, you will cycle among traditional sand tombs used by the Hui people, an ethnic group that escaped to the island more than thirteen centuries ago. They then stayed close together as a small community in villages which still exist today. Fresh young coconuts are sold on the sides of the road; and families seeking a summer escape can find a perch on the thatched beach benches which line the trail.
Learn more about Hainan’s ethnic residents at The Li and Miao Minority Village, a unique cultural attraction surrounded by betel nut trees, where visitors can learn more about the multi-ethnic culture of the island’s indigenous people. Watch as elders create authentic local art and learn about the diminishing tradition of face-tattooing, traditional attire, architecture, and the roles of men and women in Li and Miao society, before watching the Miao perform a “fire and knife” show. During the tour, you might bump into one or two alpacas as they take an afternoon walk with staff at the rainforest.
Inside the site’s galleries and tents are displays of ancient artisanal pieces, such as blankets crafted for the Chinese emperors using cotton from a tree species found only in Sanya. You’ll also learn that, centuries ago, both men and women wore dresses, so their apparel were similar in cutting and style.
Explore the Food Scene
Sanya’s culinary offerings also dominate its culture, and contribute to the surging tourism. The four famous dishes, Wenchang Chicken, Jiaji Duck, Dongshan Mutton, and Hele Crab, each has a tie with the region’s cultural background and development. Wenchang Chicken, named after the city where it was first introduced, is a local specialty created with organic home-fed chicken, and was thought to be a dish that would help women conceive a male child. Well-cooked but tender, the chicken is usually served “white-cut”, to be dipped into a sauce made with chopped ginger and spring onion.
Travellers looking to pick their own seafood can head to Sanya No. 1 Market, which houses dozens of stalls selling a variety of inexpensive, fresh produce and seafood, from sea urchin, squid and hele crab, to vegetables, dried seafood and spices. Surrounded by a host of streetside restaurants that do the cooking for customers bringing in their own seafood, and hawkers selling traditional street food such as fried peanuts and sweet potatoes, the market is packed with locals and travellers alike who are keen to expand their food experience.
Into the South China Sea
If you have a bit more time in the afternoon, get on a short boat trip that takes you from Sanya River out to the Phoenix Island in Sanya Harbour and back. During the cruise you’ll see some of the island’s oldest fishing boats and yachts floating in the harbour. It’s the perfect outing for captivating sunsets.
One of the largest diving destination in China, Sanya offers various water sports options to be enjoyed in warm and clear waters all year round. Yalong Bay, Dadonghai, Xiaodonghai, Wushizhou Island and West Island are all popular destinations for water sports-loving visitors, while Yalong Bay and Xiaodonghai’s colourful corals will lead scuba divers to a series of encounters with the likes of glittering actinia and clown fish. Surfing, sailing, and speed-boating are also available, offering families a choice of high-energy activities to add to their itineraries.