Beach paradise: Why Sanya is the Hawaii of China

Sanya has China's premier beach resorts yet there are far more things to see and do for tourists than just sitting on a beach.

Beautiful sunny day on the tropical beach of Hainan island
  • Sasha Gonzales
  • August 2018

Sanya a tropical paradise on Hainan Island, China, is a heady mix of amazing beachfront attractions, natural hot springs, retail therapy and a vibrant traditional culture.

Here’s a lowdown of what to do in 24 hours in China’s premier beach suburb.


Happy asian family having fun on beach.
Sanya is a family-orientated beach paradise.

9am: Hit the Beach

Yalong Bay opens in new window is where you’ll find most of Sanya’s opens in new window high-end hotels and resorts, but it’s also the location of the island’s most beautiful stretch of beach. The sand along the 7.5km-long, crescent-shaped shoreline is soft and white, and the water, warm and clear. Find a quiet spot to relax and work on your tan, or try a water activity like surfing, snorkelling, diving, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, offered by various businesses along the beach.

Jetstar’s direct low-cost flights to Sanya opens in new window
Surfing in Sanya opens in new window
Sanya is Chjna like you’ve never seen before opens in new window

Sunset in a beautiful tropical beach with people enjoy outdoor life in Hainan Shenzhou Peninsula
A beautiful sunset at Sanya on Hainan island.

11am: Relax in a Hot Spring

Complete your morning with a soak in a rejuvenating hot spring pool. With its Balinese-style villas, tropical landscape and natural stone features, the Pearl River Nantian Hot Spring Resort in Haitang Bay will make you feel like you are in a never-ending tropical garden. It has pools of various sizes and you don’t have to be a guest at the resort to use the facilities. Entry cost RMB198 ($40) per adult.

Where: Tengqiao Expressway Entrance, Haitingwan Town, +86 898 8881 9888, nantianwenquan.com

Did you know?

Hainan is home to many natural hot spring resorts. Mineral-rich hot spring waters have been said to soothe tired muscles and relieve minor skin issues.


China Street scene asian food market Womans sells seafood.
Seafood is sold at one of the markets in Sanya.

12:30pm: Try Handmade Noodles

Ready for lunch? Check out the beachside noodle bar Mee & Mian at the Mandarin Oriental Sanya opens in new window. Watch the chef knead and ‘pull’ the noodle dough right before your eyes while you tuck into a bowl of handmade noodles (or la mian). The menu features a variety of traditional noodle dishes like niu nan mian, with slow-cooked beef brisket and boy choy, and mao er duo mian, noodles wok-fried with mushrooms, black fungus and tomatoes.

Where: 12 Yuhai Rd, +86 898 8820 9999

A woman in an electric scooter sell son the beach.
A woman on a scooter sells beads from a coral on the beach.

2pm: Experience Local Culture

Get a glimpse into the daily lives of Hainan’s Li and Miao tribes at the Hainan Binglanggu Li & Miao Cultural Heritage Park opens in new window, or Binglanggu Valley for short. The expansive park, a 30-minute drive from Sanya, is made up of traditional villages, where these indigenous groups live and work. In addition to observing the tribes’ daily rituals, such as weaving, betel-nut picking and rice husking, you can sample local delicacies, watch cultural shows and browse the museum, which displays Li and Miao artefacts, costumes and artwork. Admission costs RMB120 ($24.6) per person.

Where: Ganzaling Natural Reserve, Baoting Li and Miao Autonomous County, +86 898 3866 1116

Did you know?

Ju Huang Cha Yu, a 2012 movie starring Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok and Chinese actress Li Bingbing, was shot at Binglanggu Valley.


Panorama of tropical beach of Hainan island China
Sanya is one of the five major bays in Sanya City.

4:30pm: Get some retail therapy

Sanya is famous for its pearls, teas, dried seafood and carved coconut handicrafts, which are widely available at street market stalls. But if you want to buy more than just souvenirs, visit Summer Mall opens in new window, a modern shopping centre in Dadonghai. The six-storey building has more than 300 stores, selling everything from antiques and apparel to beauty products and home décor items.

Where: Haiyun Rd, +86 898 8822 3333

Hot tip: First Market on Hongqi Street sells tropical fruit, like jackfruit, carambola (also known as starfruit), guava, mangosteen and lychee, at reasonable prices. Why not buy some to take home?

7pm: Have supper in style

The night markets are full of street food carts selling cheap local treats like barbecued meats, seafood porridge, Hainan-style rice noodles, and cold desserts made with coconut milk, tropical fruit and cooked beans. But fi want an unforgettable dining experience on the water (well, almost!), book a table at Sea Pavilion at the Intercontinental Sanya Resort opens in new window. This restaurant is located just 100m from the shore and offers amazing views of the surrounding coral reef: This elegant venue serves seafood and Cantonese cuisine; if you’re dining with a group, indoor private rooms are available.

Where: 1 Zhouji Lu, +86 898 8861 8888