Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sanya, Hainan Island

Ever hear of Sanya, Hainan Island? I know I hadn't before I moved to China just over a year ago. Since, I've heard it referred to as the Hawaii of China. After hearing great things about it, I decided to make use of my Chinese visa and check it out for myself. Frankly, now that I've seen it, I don't think people who call it the "Hawaii of China" have any idea what Hawaii is really like (nor do I, but I can imagine).

As I'm currently traveling for two months and I'm on a budget, I elected to stay at a moderately priced hotel on Sanya Bay rather than the resort area of Yalong Bay.  This is a view from my fourteenth floor hotel room.
Sanya Bay
City View
I truly enjoy living in China, and I was really excited to be back for a few days in between my other Southeast Asia travels.  After spending the past few weeks island hopping in Thailand, I was really looking forward to a few days back in China. Unfortunately, Sanya wasn't exactly what I was expecting. The beach on Sanya Bay is okay, but not great. They water is dirty and the sand has too many shells to really be soft. While I walked along the water's edge many times, I never went any deeper in the water except to splash my feet.

I love walking and exploring a city on foot. So my first full day on Hainan Island, I walked along the beach, then headed into the city center. I started seeing signs for DaDongHai Beach, which I knew was about 3 km away from my hotel, so I walked in that direction. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the sand on this beach, so much that I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging there. 

DaDongHai Beach

DaDongHai Beach
 Being an island, there's plenty of seafood to eat. However, most of the restaurants are not what you'd expect. There is a lot of Bar-B-Que, Chinese food and Western/Chinese food. Western/Chinese food is not western food by the way. It resembles western food, but the taste and quality isn't quite there, and it's really expensive for what you're getting. Living in China, I actually really like Chinese food. Although, I had a hard time finding food in Sanya that I really enjoyed. It was okay, but nothing that left me wanting to come back for more. As sad as it is to say, I ended up eating mostly at American fast food restaurants. Not quite satisfying, especially for five days straight. There are plenty of Chinese restaurants everywhere, but most of them had limited pictures and menus in Chinese characters only. I speak some Chinese and can order food, but China still has a long way to go before they are western tourist friendly.  

On my way home from town late one afternoon, I elected to walk along the beach to my hotel. It was just after 4pm when I arrived at the beach, and I was stunned to see this long trail of garbage lining the water's edge. I know that stuff washes up on the beach from time to time, and it's really not pretty. Sometimes it's dead fish, other times it's garbage from careless boaters. The sight I had was utterly disgusting, worse than anything I'd seen before. And it went all the way along the beach. So many dead fish; that can't be a good sign. 

Is that from a bed?!?!

Beach Clean Up Crew
There was one woman working her way down the beach, raking most of the garbage into her pail. If you can see in the distance, there are still people swimming. 

After that experience, I stuck to the hotel pool. Clean, fun, relaxing.  

Poolside at Shengyi Holiday Villa Hotel

Elevator Selfie
One thing that pleasantly surprised me was the beach scene at night. After dark, most beaches I've visited are deserted. Not here. The local population gathers on the beach at night to relax in the sand, children dig holes and build sandcastles, men fish, and couples stroll along the water. On the sidewalk at the edge of the beach, groups will listen to music and dance. It really is quite special to be a part of.   

Sanya Bay Beach
I had plans to take a taxi over to YaLong Bay my last full day, but as luck would have it, it rained all day. So I spent my time at Starbucks instead. From what I've read, YaLong Bay is supposed to be the nicest resort area. So you might have better luck over there. 

At the end of the day though, Sanya is still in China. Most of the local population doesn't speak English, and those who do have limited skills. So be prepared for that. This goes for taxi drivers, restaurants, shops, hotels, etc. I have (limited) Chinese skills, the option to phone a friend to translate, and experience navigating this country not knowing anything. I feel at home and the language barrier doesn't bother me, but I've met many western tourists that are really put off by that and don't fully enjoy their stay because of it. I'm not saying don't visit, just know what you're getting so you can manage your expectations. The weather I had in January wasn't fantastic. If this week was the only vacation I'd planned for the year, I would be seriously disappointed by the weather. 

I'm an optimist, so while the beach vacation I planned didn't turn out exactly as I expected, I still had a relaxing week in Sanya. And isn't that the most important thing while on vacation? If you have any vacation stories of experiences that didn't turn out quite like you'd hoped, I'd love to hear them!

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