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where are you now? Your Guide to > Sanya Municipality>Hainan Province;

Sanya Municipality, A prefecture-level city under Hainan Province, In Chinese [三亚市]

Sanya Overview

7/22/2011 10:18:00 AM    【Big Medium Small】 【Print】    Visitors:275

Overview

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.

As late as 2006, Hainan Island was touted in some travel circles as a wonderfully preserved, blue-collar vacation destination. It was also a place where many Chinese retirees living on a modest, fixed income would retire, similar to the urge among middle class northerners in the U.S. to move to the state of Florida to enjoy their retirement years. All that is rapidly changing now on Hainan Island, since the government of the PRC, in cooperation with the provincial government of Hainan, has decided to cash in on the South Sea Island tourism potential of the island.
As most Westerners have probably observed by now, when the Chinese state makes a decision to develop a region, the distance between the decision and the fait accompli is amazingly – and perhaps enviably – short in comparison to regional development or urban renewal in the West, where environmental impact studies first have to be conducted. Not so in China; once a development decision is taken, construction generally follows immediately, though where local resistance is significant, the authorities naturally proceed as diplomatically as possible, while never losing sight of the ultimate goal.
Thus the Chinese state, in conjunction with the provincial government, took the decision to develop Hainan Island as a first-class South Sea Island tourist destination. The upscale makeover of Hainan, including the makeover of Sanya, has begun, though it is only in its initial phase. Part of the upscale makeover of the island will be to build a series of casinos, augmented with Las Vegas or Monaco style hotels, replete with vast auditoriums for international class entertainment; if the Hainan Island of 2008 was backpacker friendly, the Hainan Island of 2013 will be private yacht friendly.
Currently, the island is in the first stages of its upscale makeover (the best of Sanya's star-rated hotels already incorporte upscale features such as indoor jacuzzi and swimming pools – some of them fed by naturally occuring hot springs – and first-class restaurants serving a Chinese and international menu), meaning that Sanya still has plenty of inexpensive and laid-back venues that appeal to the backpacker and others on a budget, but if you belong to this category and are thinking of visiting Hainan Island – and perhaps Sanya in particular – then you would be advised to make that journey soon, otherwise the island's upscale makeover will have been completed by the time you get there, and your budgeted week-long stay, for economic reasons, might have to be reduced to a weekend stay at best.
This is not to say that Hainan Island and its beautiful seaside resort cities, such as the city of Sanya, will become wall-to-wall asphalt and concrete; quite the opposite – there will always be plenty of natural, or undeveloped, shoreline to supplement the already developed parts of Hainan's coves and bays, though the upscale makeover of the existing developed parts of Hainan's shoreline will be somewhat expanded, so as to achieve the optimal mix between the natural and the developed that the high-end consumer of tropical island vacations has come to expect.
Sanya's inarguably most attractive feature is its sandy beaches that are distributed among the city's three bays: Sanya, Yalong and Dadong, though for the best swimming and sunbathing, Sanya Bay and Yalong Bay excel, yet Dadong Bay is closest to the downtown area and thus most trafficked. Wuzhizhou Island in Sanya Bay is the ideal venue for all manner of water sports, from windsurfing to scuba diving to kayaking. Sanya was a favorite haunt of the former Chinese leader, Mao Zedung, himself an avid swimmer. It was also very popular with the Russian elite during the Soviet era, which earned the city the title of the "Vladivostok of the East". Sanya is now increasingly popular with tourists from Japan and Korea.
In fact, to this day, one meets a myriad of signs round about the city that are written in Russian, and some of the service personnel also still speak the lingo, and for these reasons perhaps, plus Hainan's proximity to Russia's Pacific coast, numerous Russians still frequent Sanya.
Thanks to the city's deepened harbor, Sanya Harbor is now a major port of call for deluxe cruise ships that ply the waters between China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indochina – and in some cases cruise ships that commute between China, Malaysia and Australia – depositing hundreds of adventurous tourists from all over the world in Sanya on a regular basis, so one never knows who one might be sitting next to when sipping a martini in a bar in Sanya.
With its warm, tropical climate, its coconut tree lined avenues, its deep blue waters and its golden beaches, Sanya is often compared to tourist destinations such as Hawaii or Bali. For some reason (perhaps by design!), the state and local governments have decided to keep the international fast-food chains off of Hainan Island, where the island's own seafood rules (if one can speak of fast food in Sanya, then the seafood stalls along Sanya Harbor is the only category that qualifies), but where one can also enjoy all of the other highlights of Hainan Cuisine, which is inspired chiefly by the Min (Fujian) and Yue (Guangdong) Cuisine schools.
But being an all-encompassing tourist resort still, with over 80 star-rated hotels, Sanya also offers the dishes of Hunan, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou Cuisines, including traditional as well as modern dishes prepared on the basis of water fowl, beef, pork, and lamb. If you are Muslim you can find so-called halal food here as well (think: "kosher", but for Muslims instead of Jews), and most of the better restaurants also serve vegetarian dishes. Note that Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan and Sichuan Cuisines all belong to the Eight Great Cuisine Schools of China. Note also that the absence of international fast-food chains on Hainan has made it easier for the state and local governments to opt for the upscale tourism market here, but perhaps things were planned that way.
Just as with the U.S. resort state of Florida, the weather on Hainan Island is best when it is worst everywhere else. That is, the best time to visit Hainan Island is from au
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