For years I avoided Hainan because as far as I had heard, it was a dirty, rude knock-off of nicer islands farther south and west (Bali, Phuket, Hawaii).
Well, after four days and five nights in Sanya, I am going to have to set the record straight for any others out there who may have the same impression I once had.
Sanya is beautiful. The sea breeze never stops wiping the heat off of your back and the beaches are each a paler shade of golden. The street food is phenomenal. If you save up some cash or if you just happen to be well-off, then Sanya can be the tropical paradise the ads claim it is. I was lucky enough to be bouncing in and out of five-star hotels, so I caught the best the island has to offer in terms of service, food and just plain comfort.
But I stayed way out on Sanya Bay, the westernmost bay of Sanya, where the hotels are dingy and might lose electricity for a while and the streets are filled with touts, working girls, Russian families and not-so-rich Chinese families: mom and dad carrying the little one, gramma wobbling along six or seven feet back.
For the first few days I took taxis across the whole southern half of the island — from the Beverly Hills of Sanya (the Serenity Beach or 半山半岛 area) all the way to the new MICE capital of the Pacific Rim (they hope), Haitang Bay — and then returned to my hotel at night, tired and sticky. Taxi’s from the Marriot would keep asking me, yo we there yet? and I said, when the road narrows down to one lane, then we’re almost there.
When potholes force you to swerve around a huge puddle, then bust a right, down that seedy alley filled with fishbones and melon rinds, yeah, stop right here. I didn’t get much satisfaction from living seedy and working rich. Except when I hit up the alley next door, where I got me some crab porridge, BBQ shrimp, BBQ fish, noodles and stir-fried clams.
When they offered me that last night at the Intercontinental in Serenity Beach, I took it up immediately. Club suite; view of the ocean; nice spread on the table … the high side of five-star luxury.
Update: Here is the first article of many, Escape to the beach: Living it up in sunny Sanya and Minority Report: China’s betel chewin’ islanders, the Li people of Hainan
Stay tuned, I’ll have articles forthwith. For now, check out these pics: