I counted 10 vacations in 2012, making it a pretty good year adventure-wise. It also explains why I only have $0.8 in my savings account and a not-so-smart Nokia phone from 2009. Despite this, I couldn't resist going on one more adventure over Christmas to take the edge off the Shanghai winter.
At the beginning of November we scoured the Internet for cheap deals to anyplace warm over Christmas and booked the Philippines). For those of you living or traveling in China who haven't been to Sanya yet, it's an easy, cheap and warm beach getaway. Here are some recommendations on how to make the most of it.
Make sure to check out our comprehensive Sanya travel guide as well.
Dadonghai: A Cheap & Convenient Getaway
The budget-conscious traveler should fly into Sanya mid-week to mid-week, take a taxi (about RMB 60) or local bus into town (easy to use) and stay in a hostel. I took our spirited intern Luis' advice on great budget hotels and stayed at the Dadonghai Beach where your private cabana awaits for about RMB 100 for the day. Flanked by hills, Dadonghai Beach is clean and lively and there are banana boat or jet-ski rides to be had (though you don't get to drive your own jet ski here, which is probably for the best!), visits from Mickey and Minnie Mouse and people wearing facekini's (this made my holiday). Along the boardwalk-like strip are plenty of restaurants and bars serving cocktails on the beach and to top it off, you have the choice between singing Russian or Chinese karaoke (or getting as far away from it as possible). Decisions, Decisions.
Eating and Drinking in Sanya
Since our last visit in 2010 (read about the mishaps of that trip here) prices have shot up, along with a bunch of new 25-story hotels, but there is a cheap food street in the first lane of Shangpin Road (Shāngpǐn Jiē Yī Xiàng, 商品街一巷) near Jiefang Road (Jiěfàng Lù, 解放路) which is sure to please pockets and taste buds alike. We dined on spicy noodle soup for RMB 13 and were very satisfied. A few western-style restaurants like the the Dolphin Bar serve up burgers, fried food and beer at reasonable prices and they have a lively cover band.
Things to Do in Sanya
Head to the beach, get naked and sunbathe (every inch of your body), if you're into that sort of thing. I was shocked, on my search for seashells, to stumble upon a nudist beach (just 5-minutes from where Mickey and Minnie are pictured above) full of hundreds of bronzed dudes just "hanging out" in strange positions (including squatting—a position that really shows EVERYTHING when naked). I refrained from taking pictures, but had fun sending my boyfriend on a walk to the north end of the beach to discover the magic. The People's Daily, renowned for seriously quoting The Onion parody announcing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Eun as the Sexiest Man Alive in 2012, provides more information about nude beaches in China. If you'd rather stay clothed, that's fine too. You can deal with tan lines, dare to be launched into the air on one of the wild amusement park rides or shop for souvenirs. For bonus points, track down the amazing iced fruit smoothie stand between the two big shopping malls. Such a treat!
Yalong Bay: Chillaxing at a 5-star Resort
We mixed and matched a combination of budget hostels with a one-night stay in a 5-star hotel; this year's Christmas present to ourselves. We hopped on Bus No. 25 (RMB 12) from Dadonghai to Yalong Bay which stops at all the major resorts along the strip. We cruised along until we reached ours: The Aegean Conifer Suites Resort Sanya, where we stayed in comfort for Christmas night. I highly recommend their spacious rooms that come with kitchenettes and a hot tub on the balcony overlooking the garden and the sea. I was definitely on Santa's "nice list" this year.
Eating and drinking in Yalong Bay
In order not to spend a fortune at the hotel bar and restaurant we came prepared with a bottle of gin, tonic and some snacks. We did end up spending too much on shāokǎo (烧烤; Chinese BBQ) across the street, but it was still cheaper than eating at the hotel for every meal. The all you-can-eat Christmas Eve dinner buffet for RMB 248, however, was well worth it.
Things to Do in Yalong Bay
Absolutely nothing. Enjoy lounging in your cabana by the beach or pool. Don't forget the gin and tonics.
Haitang Bay: Surfers' Paradise
Haitang Bay and nearby Houhai Bay are hip hideaways for surfer dudes and outdoorsy types about an hour away from Dadonghai (take Bus No. 29). It was our last night and we booked the See Inn because of its relaxed, fun, surfer vibe, bean bags, a reed-thatched roof and deck overlooking the bay. Along the same strip of sand, you can find more hostels and Nanuna Beach Club, which has a pool.
Eating and Drinking in Haitang Bay
As with many tourist destinations, especially in China, people are always going to try to "take the piss," as my English beau put it. One man tried to charge us RMB 100 for a fish. Our response? "No thank you. We are on the coast, people!" I wasn't falling for it. We found another place serving fish, (though it was frozen—go figure), for just RMB 38 and we enjoyed a beer or two on our hostel deck.
Things to Do in Haitang Bay
This is where to go if you want to ride the waves on a surfboard or have the wind whiz you along while you kitesurf, plus the town is still relatively untouched, which is very appealing.
Luhuitou Peninsula: Hanging with the Locals
Between Sanya Bay and Dadonghai Bay lies Luhuitou Peninsula, a strip of beach which is still undeveloped. It's also home to the Lover's Bay Beach Café Hostel (formerly known as the Oh Yeah Beach Hostel) and about RMB 50 gets you a nice room next to the sea (though a sea view will set you back RMB 230). This is where I stayed on my first trip to Sanya in 2010 and it has lost a little of its charm since changing name and ownership (exhibit A: the hammock pictured to the left is no longer there), but it's still enjoyable.
Eating and Drinking in Luhuitou Peninsula
More lively hostel options also exist a few beach chairs down, along with a number of cheap and cheerful beachfront restaurants selling local food for local prices. Or take a 2-minute walk into town for more choices.
Things to Do in Luhuitou Peninsula
The bay here is quite shallow even if you go out pretty far, perfect if you're learning how to swim. Because of its non-touristy location you don't get harassed by a million touts trying to sell you junk. Instead, the Bay comes complete with chickens, building rubble and a few stray dogs, which, in my opinion, are a fair trade off, so just kick back, relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. Our budget hostel/5-star hotel combo meant that we pulled off five nights and six days in Sanya for less than RMB 5,000 each (and it would have been under RMB 4,000 without the 5-star stay), and we accomplished our main goal: a relaxing break in the sunshine without breaking the bank. Have fun in Sanya. Try out a facekini or get naked—whatever makes you happy.