The city of Sanya, Hainan Province, represents the southernmost point along the South China Sea coast of Hainan Island, itself located just off the coast of Guangdong Province. Hainan Island's western and northern coasts face the Gulf of Tonkin that lies between the island and Vietnam. Sanya's ancient name was Yazhou, meaning literally "cliff state", a reference to the fact that the city is ringed on three sides by mountains. The city of Sanya was also often referred to as Tianyahaijiao – meaning, literally, "the place where the sky and the ocean meet", or "the end of the earth", figuratively speaking. In somewhat less ancient, dynastic times, Sanya came to be known as China's "Southern Gate", thanks to its role as a seaport.
As indicated, Sanya is surrounded by mountains. There are mountains that lie farther recessed from the coast, though they do not exactly ring the city, while Yalong Bay itself, home to Sanya's perhaps best beach, is surrounded on three sides by mountains, some of which reach almost to the coastline. There are numerous streams that drain the mountain range that lies behind Sanya (looking landward, or northward), that is, for the most part, they drain the natural reservoirs that have formed high up in the mountains behind Sanya. Some of these streams empty into Sanya Bay itself, while others empty either into Dadong Bay or Yalong Bay. Water, both freshwater as well as saltwater, is therefore a central theme in the city of Sanya.
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