Hainan is a fairly large island off of the southern coast of China, between Hong Kong and the Vietnam border. Known as something of a remote hinterland through much of Chinese history (the kind of place to which one gets exiled), Hainan has been aggressively developed for tourism, including especially resorts near the city of Sanya on the southern coast, as China’s Hawaii. I’m told that Hainan even advertises on U.S. CNN!
When my employer announced that we would have our office retreat at a resort on Hainan, I must admit that I wasn’t too thrilled. I thought that somewhere like Chengde would be far more exciting (somebody had even suggested Pingyao, an old walled city, by train). I thought the greatest benefit of the trip would be having another Traveler’s Century Club country under my belt. (Why Hainan is considered a separate country, I’m not too sure.) But, I must admit, even if Hainan isn’t quite Hawaii, Sanya’s resorts are well-executed and thoroughly enjoyable, and the natural environment clean and beautiful.
Sanya is a bit over an hour’s flight from Hong Kong, and flights are fairly plentiful. Flights are also available from Shenzhen Airport. We stayed at the Marriott Sanya Resort & Spa, which is not the newest upscale resort (the Hilton is newer and other hotels are opening soon, including a Ritz-Carlton), but tastefully designed along a wide stretch of pristine beach. The rooms and beds were quite comfortable, and the pool fun. The beach is sufficiently large, the sand soft and the water clear. The weather was glorious and warm (though we are told that there were some cloudier, cooler days before we arrived). All above expectations, though the resort experience was predictably totally isolated from any sense of being in China.
We also went on a couple tours. Of course, staying in resort hotels and going on group tours are not our usual travel M.O. at all, but at least the resort was comfortable and enjoyable. The tours were depressing. Monkey Island, as it turns out, is a thoroughly landscaped amusement park. The gondola ride to the park is beautiful, and there are indeed plenty of monkeys, but not at all in a natural setting. We did see one totally surreal “animal circus” performance, however.
The other tour was to a Li and Miao minority village. The Li and Miao are two of the “native” ethnic groups of Hainan, to be distinguished from the Han majority that now dominates the island (and the rest of China). While I believe that some original Li and Miao villages exist on Hainan, and I by no means expected to see anything really authentic on a group tour, the place to which we were taken was a full-fledged amusement park, complete with fire-breathing little people. While some displays (of traditional homes, weavings, etc.) were not bad, the overall experience was dispiriting.
But the hotel, the beach and the weather were great! A solid choice for a quick beach getaway if you don’t mind staying at your hotel.