Stranded in Sanya


Last night I arrived back in Hong Kong from Sanya, the Hainan Island beach destination; South China’s very own tropical Island. Blue seas, white sands and rows of sun baked wooden sun loungers stretched out in the heat. When I picture China I think of mist covered mountains and vast gorges, ancient temples and curling incense spirals, huge hive-like cities and mile upon mile of smog shrouded urban sprawl. Many, many different things, but not a beach paradise. Sanya, though, is still very much China. China on sea. It has that same feel of any Chinese city in a rush of development. Construction is happening everywhere, some is left unfinished, concrete skeletons exposed and decaying in the salty air. In contrast, in other areas the finish is immaculate, the biggest resort names draw in the wealthy with their opulent designs and rich promises of  oriental luxury. Perfect down to the delicate flowers floating in  a crystal clear bowl. Stay here though, and you won’t  see the character that Sanya has to offer.



You won’t see the river, lit up with neon lights like a constantly changing rainbow. Old women blasting out music by the riverside, moving slowly, gracefully together in perfect formation. You won’t see the man who stands on the beach every night dressed as a white rabbit, playing his ukelele. The ladies wandering down the beach, covered from head to toe, selling strings and string of irregular, iridescent pearls in white, pink, peach.  Grown men tiptoeing towards the sea, a rubber ring around their middle, another around their neck.  Big groups of people in matching Hawaiian shirts and shorts, some how all in exactly the same blue pattern. The guady underground karaoke bars, stretching deeper and deeper, down and down into the earth. The walls lit up and flashing, coloured lights bouncing off the faux gold seating, the life sized horse statue adorned with Christmas tinsel. You’ll miss the wonderful mis-translations, the incredible taste of spiky, unfamiliar vegetables steeped in garlic, and the locals phenomenal ability to reel off accent perfect Russian, learnt for their most regular visitors.


We landed into Sanya on a very wet Mid-Autumn night. Me and three friends, looking for a long weekend of sunshine. On the plane we were fed yet more mooncake, washed down with beer. We had a brilliant time, lying on the beach, drinking local Hainan Beer and learning about Chinese night life from a singer at a surreal nightclub.  Then, on Sunday as we were due to leave, typhoon Usagi hit Hong Kong. Hong Kong airport shut down, and we ended up stranded in Sanya. The next few days were spent battling for a way to get back to Hong Kong. We finally made it back last night, after flying into Guangzhou, a Chinese city north of Hong Kong, and crossing the border by train. In order to get that far, it seemed like we explored every other possible option, sleeper trains, flights on every airline. We made endless calls to booking agents and sat in help line hold queues. We spent our days waiting for news of the weather. A huge thanks must go to Chris, the wonderful owner of our hostel, Sanya Backpackers, who listened to all our girlish whines for help, offered us information on travel routes, trains and airlines, and kept us calm with his laid back approach. ‘God wants you to stay in Sanya’.

I’ll be back soon with some recipes for you, but for now, here’s just a few moments of Sanya captured on my Iphone.







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  1. Thinking of doing a twin holiday next year to Hong Kong and then fly to Sanya for a beach break.we like 4/5* hotels and preferably adult only.any suggestions?

    • Hi Glynis,
      Sorry for the slow response – somehow your comment slipped through the approval net!
      I stayed in a little cheap and cheerful when I was in Sanya. However I was hugely impressed with the Banyan Tree chain when I stayed in Macau, so i’d suggest looking into the Sanya branch.
      For Hong Kong, again I’ve not sampled many of the hotels here myself. You can find all the big hitter name hotels, although you can expect the rooms to be a lot smaller than you’d get for your money in sister hotels in other cities. One I have been impressed with is Lanson Place in Causeway Bay. It feels more like a small, well finished apartment, but it’s spacious and quiet and right in the middle of one of Hong Kong’s busiest areas.
      If you decide to take the trip I hope you have a great time!

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