Culture, nature and beaches abound in Sanya, on China’s Hainan Island. Our correspondent is lured by its many delights

A little known getaway at the southernmost tip of China’s only tropical island, Sanya boasts miles of pure white sandy beaches, lush rainforest and the backdrop of the stunning Wuzhi mountain range. Only a short plane ride from Hong Kong, beautiful Sanya has a balmy climate all year round.

Beside the seaside

Spend lazy days chilling out on crescent-shaped Yalong Bay For a look at local life, head for Haipo beach at Sanya Bay and watch the fishermen trawling for their daily catch. Lazy days are best spent chilling out at the crescent-shaped beach at Yalong Bay, which is twice the length of Hawaii’s, or there is the idyllic Coral Bay in front of Mandarin Oriental, Sanya. Here you can enjoy a variety of water sports and even strap on a tank and go scuba diving. Other technicolour coral reefs can be found on nearby Wuzhizhou Island and West Island, while keen surfers should ride the excellent waves at Riyue Bay.


Get active

Play one of Sanya's world-class golf courses If water sports fail to inspire, golf is a popular land-based alternative. Enthusiasts will be in their element with over 40 courses spread across the island. Start by teeing off at world-class Sun Valley Sanya Golf Resort, which has 200 hectares of fabulous grounds, 27 holes of championship-level golf and the island’s most difficult 18th hole – China’s only par 6. Yalong Bay Golf Club, with its dragon’s claw-shaped course, is one of the top 10 courses in China, while Kangle Garden Golf Club is home to the China PGA Tour’s final championships. Tennis pros should take a swing at Mandarin Oriental’s two floodlit outdoor courts; cyclists can hire mountain bikes for leisurely rides around Sanya City or a challenging trek through the hills. And the really adventurous should do the two-hour drive to Wuzhi Mountain for a truly one-off experience: bamboo rafting on the fast-flowing Wanquan River valley.

Where to take a stroll Near the Cultural Centre are two particularly excellent cave sites which contain Tang Dynasty relics

Back to nature

A Yalong Bay butterflyJianfeng Peak Natural Reserve , which surrounds Jianfeng Peak, is the largest tropical rainforest in China. It is teaming with exotic birds and the natural lake is perfect for cooling off in the afternoon sun. To see a larger species of wildlife, pay a visit to Monkey Island, which is home to 2,000 macaque monkeys. More a peninsula than an island, the forested land is bordered by mountains and the sea. Be sure to pick up some nuts when you arrive ready for feeding time. Back on the coast, Yalong Bay Butterfly Valley is home to thousands of beautiful, brightly coloured butterflies, including many of China’s rarest species.

Culture club

Guanyin, the world’s tallest Goddess of Mercy The bizarrely named Deer Turning Back Park is famous for its huge stone sculpture for lovers. Legend goes that a hunter once pursued a deer out to the headland where it couldn’t escape. The deer looked at the hunter, turned into a beautiful woman and they fell in love. Today, many locals come here to declare their feelings, with the breathtaking backdrop of Sanya beyond. The End of the Earth , which literally means the end of the sky and the corner of the sea, is another idyllic spot. It has an ancient rock formation with Chinese stone carvings that is lined up along the edge of the sea. Follow the winding paths up the mountains for even better out-of-this-world views. A 45-minute drive away, at the Nanshan Buddhism and Cultural Centre, is the most impressive statue on the island: Guanyin, the world’s tallest Goddess of Mercy, at a staggering 108 metres high. Based in the sea, visitors walk out along a pier to reach her. Near the Cultural Centre are also two excellent cave sites which contain Tang Dynasty relics.
Where to be pampered Indulge in luxury treatments at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya and soothe away aches and pains in the steamy Nantian Hot Springs

Super-spa quality

A TCM treatment at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya A spell at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya is a luxurious introduction to traditional Chinese medicines, as well as Asian massage therapies. This hilltop spa has two VIP suites with access to the Secret Garden which has a calming water feature, gazebo, outdoor temperature-controlled plunge-pool, private sundeck and shaded nooks. Another way to treat aches and pains is to get hot and steamy at the Nantian Hot Springs. Rich in the necessary trace elements and minerals, the water temperature averages around 57 degrees.


All in good taste

Map of Sanya Try classic Hainan dishes such as Wenchang chicken, Jiaji duck and Dongshan lamb at Haiya Seafood Restaurant on Binhai Road. For dessert, the delicious pancakes are a must. The other Hainan dish not to be missed is Hele crab – taste it at the heavenly Shimei Bay Seafood Restaurant. One of Sanya’s best restaurants, Ba Guo Bu Yi they have a sister restaurant in Shanghai, is known for its sizzling, fiery menu and nightly live opera performances. Make a reservation to guarantee a table. There are varieties of food from all over China to be found here. And if all this eating makes you want to try some cooking of your own, book in for some classes at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya where the Executive Chef will be more than happy to demonstrate, and where you can enjoy the fruits of your labour at one of the hotel’s al fresco restaurants.


Retail therapy

Heren pearls This is the place to buy pearls: the diameter of the largest pearl king is 15.5 millimetres. Avoid the beach hawkers and street markets and shop at Heren Pearl, Sanya’s well-known factory, where you can learn how they are created. There are freshwater and seawater pearls to choose from and bartering is expected. Crystals, carvings and seashells are other local goodies on offer. Find them at the Summer Mall department store in Dadonghai or Bu Xing Street Mall in Sanya town centre, which is packed with handmade keepsakes and fashion boutiques. Locals shop at the First Market which sells everything under the sun, from tea and coffee to coconut drinks. Don’t miss Mandarin Oriental’s retail arcade which includes The Beach Club, a luxury branded beachwear boutique.

Where to become one with nature Pay a visit to Monkey Island, a peninsula bordered by mountains and sea, which is home to 2,000 macaque monkeys
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