*SEE PHOTOS BELOW*
Waking up to an orange sunrise over the South China Sea is a sight that's hard to forget. In Sanya, it's a daily occurrence.
Known as the "Hawaii of the East," and thanks to the year-round tropical weather, Sanya is fast becoming a getaway for those who require a little exclusivity in their daily see-and-be-seen life. Located only an hour plane ride from Hong Kong and three hours from Beijing, Sanya is one of the world's best beach getaways relatively unknown to travelers outside of China.
The only thing I knew about Sanya before I arrived was its luxury hotels and endless stretch of white sand beaches. I knew there would be food (but I had no idea how good it would be) and I knew there would be plenty of time to rest and relax. What I didn't know was how quickly I'd fall in love with the little island that embraces traditional Chinese culture and forces all who arrive to take a deep breath and just be.
Where To Stay
There's no shortage of luxury resorts in Sanya. The Mandarin Oriental, Hilton, Banyan Tree, Sheraton, Marriott, and individual boutique hotels welcome guests year round.
The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya offers 450 guestrooms all with balconies that open to ocean, sea, or mountain views. The private villas on the beach are complete with a living room, master bedroom, two bathrooms, and a small kitchen. The sliding glass doors at the back of the villa open to your own private infinity pool and relaxation area, including plush lounge furniture and private gardens. You're steps away from the sand and sea, and millions of miles away from everything you were worried about at home.
The winding walkways of the resort lead guests from their rooms to one of the six restaurants on site, three pools, the beach, spa and fitness center. Once known as the "Louis Vuitton hotel", guests can spend a day shopping in the resort's luxury shopping plaza that includes a full Louis Vuitton store, as well as luxury retailers including TODS, Paul & Shark, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Zenga. While the accommodations speak for themselves, it's the hidden treasures of the luxury resort property that makes this getaway so special.
Sanya's "Something Special"
While you're walking around the resort, keep your eyes and ears open. Along the walkway of The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya are somewhat hidden, but not forgotten about, secret gardens filled with vegetable plants, blooming flowers and trees, hand-carved wooden chairs and perfectly placed hammocks, available for anyone who wants to enjoy a little private time. Don't be surprised if you meet a few friends long the way. Bunny rabbits and birds play alongside puppies and chickens in this mini-petting zoo. Catered to and cared for by the hotel's resident groundskeeper (known simply as "Uncle Marty"), the animals are friendly and eager to welcome new guests.
What To Do
Hainan Yalong Bay is where most of the activity takes place. From the duty free shops to luxury retailers, shopping in Yalong Bay is a haven for shoppers looking for any type of luxury item or souvenir to take home. In Yalong Bay Square, don't miss the famous totem on which the gods of sun, wind rain and thunder are engraved. Spend a day at a tropical rainforest on Mount Wuzhi, Mount Diaoluo or Mount Qianxianling, or hike to Wuzhi Mountain. Waterfalls and scenery make this trek worthwhile, so don't forget the camera.
What To Taste
Sanya is known for its fresh seafood so don't miss an opportunity to try something new. For the adventurous foodie, head into town and explore the fresh markets. Live seafood swims in aquariums and buckets, ready for the taking when you can identify what you want. At the back end of the market are cut meats ranging from white and black chicken to duck, pork and beef. Fresh vegetables lay next to intriguing spices and sauces, but beware: "hot sauce" in Sanya is "extreme hot sauce" by American standards.
Ritz-Carlton Executive Chef Chris Southwick and his team create everything from sweet and sour sea bass to steamed snails. The hotel's breakfast buffet is worth getting up for but if you choose to sleep in, there are eight restaurants at the hotel offering Italian, Thai, Cantonese and fusion cuisine throughout the day. The wine lists are bountiful and the cognac in the hotel's cigar bar makes for a fabulous after-dinner affair.
Sounds of Sanya
When the sun goes down on Sanya, Sanya turns sexy with beach parties, candle-lit dinners and fine dining. Taste your way through the 24-hour night markets or stop in to some of the beach pubs on Sanya Bay, Dadong Hai Bay and Yalong Bay.
For something a little more low-key, grab a table at The Ritz-Carlton's Sand restaurant, a beach-side dining environment where the ocean is your view and the stars are your backdrop. The hotel's two-man band, the Boxer Band, can churn out just about any song from any artist (just try to stump them). Our night included selections ranging from the Bee Gees to Barry Manilow to Green Day, Oasis and Eric Clapton. Sip your cocktails, kick off your shoes and dance in the sand.
Sights of Sanya
No matter how late your night goes on this idyllic island, don't miss the opportunity to watch the sunrise on Sanya. Fishing boats float in the water early morning for the catch of the day and the sky turns the perfect shade of orange before opening into a blue heaven over the South China Sea. From there, the day is yours to see, explore, taste and experience all that Sanya has to offer.