A Tropical Utopia in China

By Stuart Lancaster 2019-04-04 15:39:25

In China family travel is evolving and none more so than in Sanya. By Stuart Lancaster

In ancient times, Sanya was known as “the end of the sky and ocean.” Nowadays it is seen as a convenient family-friendly travel destination equipped with crystalline beaches, and year-round tropical climate. The handiness is that Yalong Bay is only a 30-minute taxi from the airport, and the flight from Shanghai was a painless three hours. No boat rides or connecting flights and hence no headaches.

Sanya is a city in Hainan Province – that includes the capital Haikou in the north, Yalong Bay in the Southeast, Haitang Bay just north of this beach playground. Sanya is uncharacteristic to China in that it has a tropical climate throughout the year and palm trees line the road, similar to that of Thailand or the Philippines. Expat tourism on this island has begun recently, and it is evolving at a rapid pace, and their main focus appears to be accommodating families.

For small children, it is paradise as the resorts cater to everything they require and the service in the hotels is impeccable. Sanya because of its favourable climate is becoming immensely popular and I would not recommend visiting during any National Holidays. Ideally, the best time to visit would be offseason during May, but we chose late January which felt like the eye of the storm in that each day it became that little busier in the build-up to the New Year.

It has a tropical season throughout the year and has been labelled the “Florida of China” and also recently “China’s Hawaii”. It seems that it is trying to move away from these labels and forge its own identity. It certainly has a slower pace of life and has that island mentality which is a pleasing contrast to the Shanghai bustle. I was slightly put off previously to visit beaches in China and perhaps I suffered from a complex following my visits to Jinshan (Shanghai’s beach) during a hectic summer’s weekend. The water was inaccessible, and the smell of stinky tofu wafted in the air, although delicious it was not fragrant to my nostrils.

In Sanya the beaches are clean, the water is clear, and you can walk from the resort to the golden sand in five minutes,. All of the sun loungers have their separate rubbish bins, and they are becoming more environmentally conscious which is excellent for peace of mind when your son is gallivanting and digging in every nook and cranny you can rest assured that the beach is clean and safe. The great thing about having the beach at your doorstep is that you can even visit during the evening after dinner that you can take a pleasant stroll and jog which is an excellent way for children to tire and sleep better.

Sanya is a place where you can lose yourself in the resort. Throughout Sanya and particularly on Yalong bay there is a cluster of mega resorts that overlook the sandy private beaches. Nowhere is this more evident than in the purpose-built Yalong Bay playground in the south of Hainan Island, with its mega hotels and arching sandy bays. Here you’ll find the likes of Marriott, Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton, MGM and St Regis, all very creative confections.

We stayed at the Sanya Marriott Yalong Bay Resort & Spa which boasts 452 rooms (including 24 suites) with balconies offering sweeping views of Yalong Bay and the sea. The hotel has been designed to respect and showcase local traditions. Dotted among the extensive gardens, you’ll spot beautiful stone statues of fishermen and villagers. They welcomed us with our names personalised in flower petals and gave my son Peppa pig sandals and a toothbrush that we had forgotten. A good beginning.

There are four restaurants, and the service is impeccable. There is a beautiful Chinese restaurant called Wan Hao, or the Japanese flavours of Edogin. Alternatively, you can overlook the ocean during happy hour at Fish Bar which offers a wide range of barbecued seafood and hotpots. The staff have a good knowledge of English, and because the resort is full of families, they look after children and cater to their needs. Most of the restaurants have the option of al fresco dining options. From the moment you arrive, you are welcomed with flower garlands and children are given complimentary gifts and a children’s activity pack. Hospitality is evolving particularly at Yalong Bay; they prioritise family which is the first time I have seen this in China. Hotel staff are on the ball, exceedingly attentive, and responsive. You will be garlanded, thanked, and bowed to constantly. Smiles are ubiquitous. Sanya is not a place for cultural enlightenment. It is merely a tropical climate which provides the perfect juxtaposition to the late winter drizzle of Shanghai. It was nice being outside in the extensive gardens to get some grass underfoot when you are not leaving footprints in the sand.

There is a Kids’ Club for juniors – with treasure hunts, kite-flying, air hockey and PlayStation – as well as three golf courses within a 30-minute radius of the swinging set. It is a child-friendly resort but also fares well among the popular Sanya conference hotels with 1,250 square meters of function space. My son did miss kindergarten while we were away, but all of his educational needs were met in the Club, and he was able to be more active due to the weather. They have one to one teaching a wide range of activities for children to be creative. They have excursions to the beach to find shells to make necklaces and have a heated children’s pool with a host of water activities and slides. Their swimming pool rents inflatable boats and is a vast labyrinth for a small child with its two-tier system and web of channels and moreover, the beach is just a path away from you. The beach is delightful (the same unblemished stretch extends from the Sheraton past the Marriott and Hilton to the Ritz-Carlton). Hop onto a water scooter, paddle out in a kayak, windsurf, play volleyball, or cool down in one of the large freeform swimming pools. Indulge in some face painting, learn calligraphy or origami, or try kick-boxing.

There are plenty of options for teenagers outside of the Kid’s Club. There are two floodlit tennis courts and a golf course only a short bus journey away from the hotel. Then there is, of course, the activities that the beach offers whether it be swimming there is entertainment on offer. My son is four years old, so Sanya caters to him perfectly and we as doting parents are happy so long as he occupies himself. He had the opportunity to make friends with a lot of other children as these Kid’s Clubs are a good way for toddlers to network and move out of their comfort zone.

With the cost of education in Shanghai factored in you are saving money in some respects. Children are exercising in low AQI and interacting with nature whereas that is not the case during the winter in Shanghai. The resort is excellent, but we wanted to explore and proceeded to the centre and ate at a bustling seafood market. It was the complete antithesis to the resorts, and you do get a real sense of the island rather than the blinkered view the resorts provide. The seafood was excellent and was an enjoyable contrast. We recommend the Hainan chicken, which is cooked in a bag and is a recipe that dates back thousands of years.

Also, around 30 minutes up the highway heading north along the coast from Yalong Bay is the new luxury strip of Haitang Bay with players like Wanda, Conrad, Doubletree, Sheraton, EDITION, and the Luxury Collection Royal Begonia plonked down seemingly randomly along a beautiful beach. Big-name brands like Grand Hyatt and Rosewood have arrived, Atlantis and The Sanya EDITION.

Haitang Bay is not as quiet as the exclusivity of Yalong Bay, but Atlantis is spectacular and offers an underwater world. They have a hugely expansive Aquaventure Waterpark along with over 86,000 sea creatures and marine animals interaction programs. With your stay, you get a free family pass to the waterpark. Neighbouring Atlantis and inspired by the sea, The Sanya EDITION is an exceptional new destination and has a breathtaking design and over 330m (1000 ft) of the ocean and natural beach frontage on the South China Sea with outdoor pavilions in traditional Chinese gardens, surrounded by lush landscape combined with an impressive “Playland” with bumper cars.

I must admit that I find it hard to relax with a toddler. I have much fun but most of the time is spent trying to entertain my child. On this holiday I had a lot of my time which was quite a rarity. The Kid’s Club is an investment as the resorts do not come cheap, but it is justified by the sheer amount that children can take out of the holiday, and the hotels provide their kindergartens in effect while being surrounded by tropical paradise. With a family in China, there is no better beach destination; and better yet there are no aromas of stinky tofu.

Good to know

• Sanya has a tropical climate all year round.

• The best time to go to Sanya is during May with temperatures ranging from 25-30 degrees celsius.

• Yalong bay is thirty minutes away from the airport and Didi is available as is WeChat pay and Alipay.

• Must-try food in Sanya would of course be seafood, especially crab and lobster or alternatively the Hainan Chicken.

• We stayed at the Sanya Marriott Yalong Bay Resort & Spa. www.sanyamarriottresort.com

• +86 898-8856-8888. WeChat: MarriottYalongBay