When I told my parents I was off to Sanya, it was met with a “where on earth is that?”. I must also admit that until I moved to Hong Kong, I wasn’t too familiar with Hainan Island, AKA ‘China’s Hawaii’.
Where is Sanya?
Sanya is located on the southern tip of China’s Hainan Island. It even shares the same latitude as Hawaii, meaning it’s warm all year round. Do remember though, that most visitors will require a China Tourist Visa. I organised mine in four days through Hong Kong’s China Travel Service, although a rush one-day service is available for an extra fee. A slightly cheaper option is to obtain your visa directly through the Chinese Embassy.
The reason Sanya is so popular with Hong Kongers is that it’s an easy one-hour flight. We flew with Dragonair who have a schedule that allow you to make the most out of a short trip with an early 9am departure and 9pm return (although we never actually made the return… more on that later). You can also fly direct with both Hong Kong Airlines and Hainan Airlines.
When to go
November to April is known as the best time of year to visit Hainan, although if you’re looking to sunbathe, January and February might be slightly chilly. Similar to Hong Kong, from July to mid October, the island can be subject to heavy rainfall. That said, we enjoyed fabulous weather on our visit at the end of September whilst super typhoon Usagi brought showers to Hong Kong.
Arriving in Sanya
Friends staying in Sanya the previous week had warned me that outside of the resorts, there really is nothing to do. Phoenix International Airport has a bright, breezy feel, a little like Koh Samui. However, on driving five minutes through the main town, it’s clear that Sanya isn’t a laid back tropical island; it looks like a generic Chinese city. That said, once you drive out to the ‘tourist zone’, things start to feel different when you are greeted by glimpses of turquoise sea and sandy bays. The new-ish Anantara Hotel is located close to Dadonghai Bay, a 25-minute drive from the Phoenix International Airport.
From the outset, the Anantara lures you in with its chic modern Thai design, in keeping with other Anantara resorts I have visited. The resort consists of its main building which houses the restaurants and hotel rooms, and a separate area with the resort’s villas. Whilst the hotel rooms look fabulous, I was living the high life in a Spa Pool Villa.
At 500 square metres, this is a huge living expanse with two pavilions. The lounge and dining pavilion also houses a spa room for your own in-house spa treatments.
The separate master bedroom is itself enormous, with two walk-in wardrobes and enormous indoor and outdoor bathrooms. People often ask where the kids sleep on holiday. Well… we put one travel cot in one walk in wardrobe and a mattress on the floor of the other one! The hotel had also thoughtfully baby-proofed all sharp table edges with ‘edge guards’.
The villa pool is huge, far bigger than I’ve seen at any hotel pool villa. There is a sala at one end, which makes for a nice shady place to hang out with the kids. What I love about the idea of a villa within a hotel is that when your kids are napping, you’re not confined to hiding in a dark hotel room with them. If money is no object, you can also opt for a Family Pool Villa with two separate bedrooms.
I can’t mention the room without showing you a picture of the Anantara’s ‘towel art’. This was by far, the best towel work I have ever seen in a hotel! Intricate elephants and a hanging monkey… cute!
The main pool is a lovely, free-form design with a big shallow area where young kids can splash around. If the weather is a bit chilly, there’s a nice covered hot Jacuzzi. There are comfy beds surrounding the pool, my favourite being big double mattresses in cabanas overlooking the shallow area with curtains to create shade.
The beach in front of the hotel has lovely powdery white sand and clear blue sea. It’s not a long stretch; to the left is the Intercontinental Hotel and to the right it looks like they are developing another resort, although we weren’t disturbed by any noise.
There’s a good-sized gym and exercise classes on offer from yoga to beach football. Sadly I didn’t have time to check out the spa but if it’s anything like the other Anantara spas I’ve visited, I’m sure it’s fabulous!
The Kids Club is a big, clean, colourful room filled with toys, arts and crafts and a TV. Outside is a small playground and sandpit. There were daily activities scheduled but I wan’t sure if any residents had actually ever attended these… When I took my kids for ‘Face Painting’ they seemed very confused but then happily found some acrylic paints and let my kids go wild drawing pictures and painting each other.
The main issue parents might have is that the Kids Club staff don’t speak much English. However, they are so smiley and engaging with the children, and mine were delighted to be left there to get on with some arts and crafts. There is a small shaded kids pool located several meters from the club so parents can sit and relax there whilst the kids play under supervision inside.
The buffet breakfast at Shi Yuan is well presented with lots of choice. We also ate lunch at Shi Yuan – although the Western dishes were fine, the local dishes were absolutely delicious! We ordered room service from the Anantara’s Thai restaurant, Baan Rim Nam which was also very good. I did appreciate the offer of plastic cutlery though – more five star hotels need to take note of this!
We walked across the beach to the Intercontinental and enjoyed cocktails and a snack dinner at their beach bar. We had also intended to eat at the nearby Mandarin Oriental but the typhoon cut short our stay!
If you’re looking for a short beach getaway from Hong Kong then Sanya is very convenient (although do remember to get a visa!). There is a huge choice of luxury hotels and I highly recommend the gorgeous Anantara, especially if you can treat yourself to a pool villa! Sanya and the island of Hainan is also a popular golf destination with 27 courses available.
What’s lacking in Sanya, in comparison to Thailand, Malaysia or Bali is the polished service and high level of English. It is a hugely popular beach destination for Mainland Chinese visitors, but if Sanya is also setting its sights on the non-Chinese tourist dollar, service needs to be stepped up a notch.
I feel I couldn’t give Sanya itself a full in-depth review as we made a hurried exit due to Super Typhoon Usagi. Instead of taking a one-hour flight back to Hong Kong, we made the journey by land. Which is a whole tale in itself.