What are the five best things to see and do in Sanya?

Melanie Nayer

You’ll be tempted to do little more in Sanya than spend your afternoons lounging around at the beach, but there’s much more to do and see in this seaside city. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors think these are the five best things to do in Sanya – including sinking your toes into the sand.
 
1. Golfing. Hainan Island in Sanya has nearly 30 golf courses, including the championship-caliber Yalong Bay Golf Club, which was designed by famed course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and The Dunes at Shenzhou Peninsula Golf Club, a scenic 36-hole course designed by Tom Weiskopf.
 
2. Snorkeling. The calm waters of the South China Sea off the coast of Sanya make for perfect snorkeling conditions. Ask the concierge at your hotel for recommendations on planned trips.
 
3. Spas. While we wouldn’t advocate spending too much time indoors while you’re relaxing at an island known for its 300 days of annual sunshine, we don’t feel you should pass up the opportunity to visit a luxury spa in Sanya. Massages are available right on the beach, but the spas at luxury hotels such as Mandarin Oriental, Sanya and Banyan Tree Sanya have well-trained therapists who can knead your worries away in serene surroundings.
 
4. Beaches. Sanya is surrounded by soft, white-sand beaches, so plan to spend at least one day soaking up some sun while you’re in Sanya. If possible try to wake up early to watch the sunrise, when the sky is awash in colorful purple and pink hues and casts a beautiful glow on the white sand.

5. Markets. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything it’s well worth taking a stroll through some of the most popular markets in Sanya, including First Market (food) and Pearl Market (pearl jewelry).

  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are some travel tips for visiting Sanya?

    Sometimes referred to as the “Hawaii of Asia”, Sanya is a beach lover’s paradise and a favorite escape for affluent international travelers. Before you head to this sun-drenched spot on the South China Sea, our Forbes Travel Guide editors share four basic tips to keep in mind to help ensure your visit goes smoothly.
     
    1. If you’re traveling from the United States you’ll likely first fly into Hong Kong, then take another short 1.5-hour flight on to Sanya. While you won’t need a visa to visit Hong Kong, you will need to obtain a visa for China ahead of time to avoid any delay when you arrive in Sanya. The visa process is fairly straightforward: You’ll just need to drop off your application, along with your passport and a passport photo, in person at the nearest Chinese embassy and can pick it up about four working days later, unless you request rush service. Single- to multiple-entry visas for American citizens currently cost $130.
     
    2. The favored mode of transportation in Sanya is a bicycle, which of course won’t help you much when you’re lugging around two heavy suitcases. Call your hotel ahead of time and arrange for transportation from the airport.
     
    3. Though Sanya is relatively small in size, the Sanya Phoenix International Airport handles a large number of daily flights and can be somewhat overwhelming on busy days, particularly if it’s your first time in China. Baggage claim is on the first level of the airport, and is also where you’ll clear customs and meet your pre-arranged transportation.
     
    4. Though Sanya is Asia’s top up-and-coming resort destinations, what it has in luxury hotels it still somewhat lacks in first-world amenities. Hospitals and urgent care units are still being built in Sanya, so make sure you have a plan ready in the event you get sick. Most of the hotels and resorts on the island have an English-speaking medical staff, but if you’re seeking common American over-the-counter relief you’ll be disappointed. Make sure to pack antacids, pain relievers, antibiotics and any other medication you might need, because there’s a good chance you won’t find it here.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What is the best thing to bring home from Sanya?

    Many Chinese people believe that pearls are the fountain of youth, so when visiting Sanya, China’s newly booming beach resort, pearls are the best thing to bring home. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors, so before you visit one of the city’s markets to find the ones that best suit your tastes, there are two things you need to know before you buy.
     
    First, the pearl necklaces, bracelets, earrings and various other baubles sold on the beach are fake. Unless you want to waste your money on a souvenir with little value, don’t bother buying these items.
     
    Second, there’s a difference between “fake” and “factory rejects” when it comes to pearls. Fakes aren’t even part of the pearl family, while rejects are pearls that have slight imperfections and were tossed out by the factories. Here’s how you can easily spot the difference between the two: If the color of the pearl comes off when you scratch it, the pearl is fake. A real pearl has a powdery effect when scratched, but the color and surface of the pearl won’t be affected. If you’re serious about investing in a strand, ask your hotel to arrange a guide to go with you to the market to point you to the best places to buy pearls and do some negotiating with the vendors on your behalf.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What is the best food experience in Sanya?

    Sanya’s seaside location means there’s an abundance of fresh seafood available, so while you’re here follow the locals’ lead and check out the bustling seafood markets for the ultimate food experience in this tropical city in southern China.
     
    Sanya’s dried seafood markets sell squid, tuna, shrimp and other exotic creatures from the sea. Many Chinese people believe that dried seafood has medicinal value, so you’ll often see locals buying it in huge quantities. Word to the wise: If you think the regular seafood section of your local grocery store has a distinct odor, prepare yourself for Sanya’s seafood markets, where the potent, pungent smells can be intense.
     
    If you want to skip the seafood shopping and go straight to the tasting, head to Chuyuan Seafood Square, where you’ll find nearly 100 private stalls and booths preparing and serving fresh seafood throughout the day. You can even rent your own hot pot here and steam your own food.
     
    Another of Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ favorite food experiences in Sanya is the First Market, which is the largest market in the city and a fun place to browse fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood and spices seven days a week. You’ll see a lot of things here you probably never thought you’d see, such as the insides of chickens neatly laid out on chicken carcasses and live snails and sea creatures still swarming around. Some of it may seem strange, but remember that many of the foods you might not consider eating are delicacies in this part of the world.
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  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    Where is the best nightlife in Sanya?

    Thanks to its growing reputation as one of the most idyllic beach destinations in southern China, Sanya has a nightlife scene that seems to shift in different directions by the week as new bars, restaurants and resorts open their doors and offer varying types of entertainment and events. For now, our Forbes Travel Guide editors think the best nightlife in Sanya is on Yuya Avenue in Sanya City, where you’ll find bars and clubs open until the wee hours of the morning. Many restaurants here have outdoor seating, too, so you can enjoy the scene without having to wait in any long lines to get into some of the most popular spots.
     
    If late nights on the town is not your thing, or you don’t want to worry about arranging transportation to and from your hotel, keep in mind that many upscale hotels and resorts in Sanya also have some form of onsite nightlife, from live beach entertainment and dance clubs to cigar and wine bars.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What is the best way to see Sanya in one day?

    The most popular thing to do in Sanya is to spend the day on the beach or to get out in the water for some fun in the South China Sea. With that said, our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel the best way to see Sanya in one day is to take a short break from the beach and see some of the other worthwhile sights in the city.
     
    First, get an early start and head to First Market to experience local food shopping at its most intense. You’ll see everything from fish and poultry to spices and seasonings, and on occasion live cooking demos and food tastings as well. Even if you’re not planning to purchase anything, a visit to this market is a treat for the senses.
     
    Next, visit the Pearl Market to see how seawater pearls are crafted and cultivated and to try your luck at haggling over the price of a string of pearls. Have lunch at one of the nearby cafés or restaurants lining the street – your hotel concierge can provide recommendations – then plan to hike through one of Sanya’s natural rainforests. You’ll wander through various wetlands and climates on this small island adventure, encountering various wildlife along the way if you’re lucky and being treated to some spectacular views. The rest of the afternoon can be spent relaxing and freshening up back in your hotel.
     
    Some of the best dinners in Sanya can be found at the excellent restaurants located in luxury hotels such as Mandarin Oriental, Sanya and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Sanya. Try the seafood at the appropriately named Fresh at the former or, for a break from seafood and Cantonese cuisine, head to Sofia at the latter for delicious southern Italian fare in a romantic setting. If you still have enough energy after dinner, a walk along the beach, with sparkling Sanya behind you, is a wonderful way to finish off the day.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    Where is the best shopping in Sanya?

    There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Sanya, where you can browse everything from seawater pearls to boutique fashion. Be sure to stop by these three spots recommended by our Forbes Travel Guide editors for the best shopping in Sanya.
     
    1. Pearl Market. Most stores have pearls for sale, but be sure to get the real thing – imitation pearls abound, particularly from vendors crawling the beach. If you’re not sure how to spot a fake, bring a local guide with you, or first pay a visit to the Haiyu Pearl Factory, where you can learn about the pearl cultivation process and know you’re buying the real thing. Many Chinese women believe that pearls have extensive beauty benefits, so you’ll likely see pearls and pearl powders available in various lotions, too. These powders work like aloe vera, which is great when you need to relieve a sunburn after a long day at the beach.
     
    2. Jiefang Road. The pedestrian-only Jiefang Road is the best place to fill out your fashion wardrobe and to poke around clusters of boutiques and shops offering everything from electronic appliances to makeup.
     
    3. Fish Markets. If you don’t mind the pungent smell, take a walk through Sanya’s fish markets. First Market is where you’ll find live fish and poultry, as well as spices, cooking demos, cookbooks and kitchenware. This is where many local chefs shop for ingredients used in their restaurants.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Sanya?

    Between playing at the beach, splashing around in the water and going for nature walks you’ll have no trouble keeping kids happy and entertained during a vacation in Sanya, particularly if you put our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the five best things to do with kids in Sanya on your itinerary.
     
    1. Snorkeling. Ask your hotel concierge about planned snorkeling excurions into the South China Sea. Kids will love gazing at the colorful underwater life and stunning corals just beneath their feet.
     
    2. Hiking. Sanya has many hiking trails, most of which are just a short ride from the beach. Our favorite time of the day to hit the trails is in the morning – again, ask your hotel about organized hikes with local guides who are familiar with the area to ensure you get the best views and walk trails with kid-friendly difficulty levels.
     
    3. Rainforests. Sanya’s rainforests, which are located across from the built-up beach area, are a great place to spot exotic animals and explore miles of wetlands.
     
    4. Butterfly Valley. Sanya’s Butterfly Valley is located on Yalong Bay and features 1,000 square meters of space filled with colorful butterflies fluttering through the air. Take your kids to the open-air cage, where they can be surrounded by the butterflies, and walk through the large exhibition hall that has various species of butterflies on display.
     
    5. Tianyahaijiao Tourism Zone. The Tianyahaijiao Tourism Zone features an ocean park, shopping area and hotels. This is one of the most heavily frequented areas in Sanya thanks to the endless activities available here – your hotel’s concierge should be able to provide recommendations for the most kid-friendly things to do and see here.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are the five best things to see and do in Sanya?

    You’ll be tempted to do little more in Sanya than spend your afternoons lounging around at the beach, but there’s much more to do and see in this seaside city. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors think these are the five best things to do in Sanya – including sinking your toes into the sand.
     
    1. Golfing. Hainan Island in Sanya has nearly 30 golf courses, including the championship-caliber Yalong Bay Golf Club, which was designed by famed course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and The Dunes at Shenzhou Peninsula Golf Club, a scenic 36-hole course designed by Tom Weiskopf.
     
    2. Snorkeling. The calm waters of the South China Sea off the coast of Sanya make for perfect snorkeling conditions. Ask the concierge at your hotel for recommendations on planned trips.
     
    3. Spas. While we wouldn’t advocate spending too much time indoors while you’re relaxing at an island known for its 300 days of annual sunshine, we don’t feel you should pass up the opportunity to visit a luxury spa in Sanya. Massages are available right on the beach, but the spas at luxury hotels such as Mandarin Oriental, Sanya and Banyan Tree Sanya have well-trained therapists who can knead your worries away in serene surroundings.
     
    4. Beaches. Sanya is surrounded by soft, white-sand beaches, so plan to spend at least one day soaking up some sun while you’re in Sanya. If possible try to wake up early to watch the sunrise, when the sky is awash in colorful purple and pink hues and casts a beautiful glow on the white sand.

    5. Markets. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything it’s well worth taking a stroll through some of the most popular markets in Sanya, including First Market (food) and Pearl Market (pearl jewelry).
  • On July 18, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where are the best places to eat in Sanya?

    Sanya’s diverse food scene is highlighted by noteworthy restaurants that fall either on the budget or the luxury side of dining. Travelers will find everything from charming seaside shacks to gourmet restaurants tucked away in upscale resorts. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s tips for the best places to eat in Sanya.
     
    Sofia, the gorgeous Italian restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Sanya, is highly recommended, as is the Cantonese cuisine at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya’s Yi Yang and the fresh seafood at Driftwood Seafood Restaurant, located within The St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort. Come to all three early and plan to enjoy the hotels’ wine bars, cigar bars and live entertainment afterward.
     
    For a more local experience head downtown and pull up a chair at one of the small cafés or restaurants that fill the vibrant downtown district. This is a great area to enjoy fresh fish at a reasonable price – and, of course, the best places tend to be the ones that are the most crowded. One thing to keep in mind is that many people in Sanya do not speak English, so if you don’t speak or understand Mandarin or Cantonese and are uncomfortable dealing with the language barrier, you might consider venturing out with a local guide who can help you order and point you toward the best dishes.
  • On July 18, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to stay in Sanya?

    A number of new hotels and resorts have popped up in recent years in Sanya, a paradisiacal seaside city in southern China. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the five best places to stay in Sanya.
     
    1. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Sanya. Located about 40 minutes from the airport in Yalong Bay, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Sanya has 450 beautifully furnished guest rooms, including 33 private villas with individual plunge pools. All rooms have stunning views of the beach and South China Sea. The hotel also has eight restaurants, an ESPA Spa, the only oceanfront wedding chapel in Sanya and a luxury mall that includes outposts for Louis Vuitton, TODS, Salvatore Ferragamo and Zegna.
     
    2. Mandarin Oriental, Sanya. A luxury hotel on Coral Bay, Mandarin Oriental, Sanya has 296 guest rooms, 68 pavilion rooms near the beach, 18 suites with a private terrace or balcony and 15 palatial duplex pool villas with a private pool, gazebo, sundeck and garden. You’ll also find nine restaurants, a spa and extensive meeting space at this sprawling resort.
     
    3. Banyan Tree Sanya. One of the first luxury hotels to open in Sanya, Banyan Tree Sanya is still one of the island’s crown jewels. Located in Luhuitou Bay, the southernmost tip of Hainan Island, this hotel offers a true escape to paradise: You’ll stay in a beautiful pool villa, get pampered at the Banyan Tree Spa Sanya and dine on gourmet cuisine at the hotel’s seven restaurants.
     
    4. The St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort. Guest rooms and suites at The St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort, which is ideally located on the beach in Yalong Bay, feature a 46-inch flat-screen television, iPod dock, spacious bathroom and around-the-clock butler service. The resort also has five restaurants, a spa and is situated near a luxury shopping space.
     
    5. Conrad Sanya Haitang Bay. This luxury hotel overlooking the South China Sea has a large variety of guest rooms and villas, with some of the latter featuring a private pool along with a long list of other top-notch amenities. The hotel also has several restaurants and lounges, a spa, 24-hour fitness center and a variety of planned activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving.