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IF there was a checklist in the manual of 'How to become a hot travel destination', Sanya ticks all the right boxes. It has sun, sand, mountains and tropical forest packed into its 1,920 sq km of land in the southern tip of China's Hainan Island.
Add to that an aggressive push by the local tourism board and the opening of luxury resort hotels along the city's shoreline, and Sanya is well placed to woo the worldly traveller looking to explore a different face of China.
Sanya is a new player in the tourism game. It was once a military base tasked to watch over the South China Sea and way back in the Qin dynasty, it was even a place of exile for disgraced imperial officials. Its transformation really got underway from 1987, when the city morphed into a cosmopolitan getaway hosting thousands of sun-seekers every year.
Like most 'newly awakening' cities, Sanya offers a hefty,
if mixed, bag of offerings. Some may entice even the most jaded traveller while others are downright tacky and not worth the price of admission.
But one must-see is Bing Lang Gu, an ethnographic village and tropical garden occupying a 20-hectare site. It provides an insightful introduction to the Li and Miao ethnic groups of Guangxi province, who were part of the early population of Hainan Island.
If you prefer the outdoor scenery, then head for the Yanoda Rainforest, 35 km from the bustling town centre. Get in shape in this vast 45 sq km stretch of forest where you can camp or enjoy guided stream trekking.
The chic traveller, in contrast, can consider a marine escapade. Hire a yacht and tour round Phoenix Island, the latest enclave built on reclaimed land, housing some of the hottest properties built for the glitterati. Currently under development is a 7-star hotel featuring commercial outlets as well as luxury apartments priced from USD$7,000 per sqm.
The city's food scene is thriving. Sanya faces the South China Sea, so there's an abundance of fresh seafood. There's a lot of farm stock too. Apart from the famed Hainanese or Wenchang Chicken Rice, which is very different from Singapore's 'national' dish, the other three 'must-eats' are Dongshan mutton, Hele crab and Jiaji Duck.
Seafood lovers cannot miss No. 1 Market, the seafood mecca for locals as well as tourists. Prowling the narrow lanes between the live seafood stalls is an adventure. Located nearby are restaurants happy to cook your purchases for a small fee.
There are five major bays in the city, and among the hottest is Haitang Bay. The first mammoth building to greet you is the ultra-modern CDF shopping mall. Another talked-about destination that just opened is The Sanya Edition, a luxe 500-room hotel. Along the spectacular 42km stretch of coastline - much of it first-rate beach - sits premier international hotel chains such as Conrad, InterContinental, and Sheraton, as well as plush resorts still under construction. All lend unequivocal support to the city's claim to be the 'Hawaii of China.'
If you are new to the city, hitch a ride in a taxi. It's very affordable with average fares from RMB5 (S$1) to RMB15 being enough to get you around town. Most of the drivers are not native to the island, but they'll eagerly show you what's new and exciting. Given Sanya's rate of development, there's always more to look forward to.
The writer was a guest of The Sanya Edition.
The Sanya EDITION
Conceptualised by hotel guru Ian Schrager, The Sanya EDITION is the first hotel opened in China under the EDITION hotels brand.
Housing more than 500 rooms, suites and villas nestled into a terraced hillside, the architecture and interior design highlight a balance of tradition and contemporary culture - not to mention a panoramic view of the ocean.
It even has its own private, 20,000 sqm private ocean, which holds 10 million gallons of seawater pumped in from the South China Sea. Various water activities are offered for guests as well as a series of age-specific pools in a number of difference sizes dotted around the property.
What stands out in the hotel is the consideration given to families that travel together. The child-friendly resort is divided into zones for different age groups or interests, yet overlap to promote familial harmony. The same for its various F&B outlets which cater to every taste.
The Sanya EDITION
100 North Haitang Road
Sanya China PRC 572013