I went to Sanya for a project.
Sanya – is humid, scorching hot, tropical, and everywhere you go, they serve you coconut water. I absolutely loved it. I wish I could have stayed longer, but unfortunately I uploaded a picture like the one above to my Instagram, and it immediately raised jealous eyebrows among my partners back at home as to the nature of my activities.
Here are some basic facts:
- Sanya is the southernmost city of China. It’s located at the southern tip of the jewel-shaped island of Hainan. The city is located across a series of bays that looks out over a blue, warm ocean straight into Vietnam.
- Approximately 20 million visitors fly into the island a year. Compare this to 7 million to Hawaii, 10 million to Jeju, ~3 million to Bali, >2 million to Boracay, or 40 million to Las Vegas.
- Occupancy levels of hotels average 55%.
Speaking of occupancy levels, I prepared the handy chart below of the major areas in Sanya. This is a bubble map of the hotels in Sanya, using data purchased from STR Global (most of the addresses had to be corrected in order to yield decent lat/long coordinates, by the way).
I stayed mostly in Yalong Bay and Sanya Bay. Yalong Bay was master-developed starting in 1996, and is a cluster of 4- and 5-star resorts along white sandy beaches. Haitang Bay is the ‘new’ area, as I’ll demonstrate later. Sanya Bay is where the downtown area is. Dadonghai has good surf, I was told, to my dismay.
Here’s a gratuitous picture of jasmine rice cooked into a coconut, and sliced as if it were fruit.
The island operates on an ‘island’ model. And lest that seem mind-numbingly obvious, let me explain. Even in Yalong Bay, which is master-planned, every resort is so large, so self-contained and an island unto itself, with no connection to the others, it requires inconvenient taxi access to get anywhere. Each resort is designed to keep you there. This is in contrast to other master-developed destinations like Laguna Phuket. The scale of the island was a little staggering. It takes 30 minutes to get from the downtown area to Yalong Bay, and another 20 or more to get to Haitang Bay.
So in Yalong Bay, what do you do when you’re bored at night? There are two retail and dining plazas like the one below. One is called Bai Hua Gu, and the other the Ya Tai center. Both are located at the T-intersection that divides Yalong Bay into an east and west, right where you would want to be. As a real estate consultant, my straw hat went off to the person(s) who got the option on those land parcels.
And what else is there to do? First of all, people come here for the beach! It’s a white-sand beach, with water at tropical temperatures – the kind of water temperature that always feels to me like I’m jumping into a warm pool of blood. Is that just me?
But a word of warning. The beach in Sanya is not the kind of beach, that in all probability if you’re reading this, that you’re used to. Beach access is controlled, in that only those affiliated with a resort can use the square meterage dedicated to that particular resort. Also, the lifeguards are a little officious in that they’ll blow their whistles at anything.
Although after narrowly ducking under a speedboat aimed at my head, with no warning to be heard, I wonder if the whistles meant anything at all.
Yalong Bay was a magnificent place. I stayed at the Universal Resort, on the less-upscale eastern end (bordered at the extreme eastern end by a naval base, and a view of warships), but got to tour the others. Here is the view from the Universal Resort across the lake.
Here is the MGM, looking out onto the beach. So eye-blindingly beautiful even my camera couldn’t handle it.
Here was the Ritz, I believe.
Here was the St. Regis(?). I don’t remember. What I do remember was when I was taking this picture, that woman walked down from the lobby stairs where I was, and the sea breeze kicked up, fluttering her dress in a brilliant liquefaction of red. It was a nice moment that the picture doesn’t do justice to.
There are about 17 resorts in Yalong Bay like the above. But say you want to go out into town, what else can you do?
Sanya proper is just like another southern Chinese city. Crowded, and full of hustlers, restaurants, nightlife, and cars aimed at pedestrians. There are a lot of things to do, most of which I skipped. But in my capacity as an attractions consultant, here are the few I did go to.
Let’s get the sad one out of the way. There are a number of old attractions in Sanya, built before tourism really hit an inflection point, which for attraction product is right about…right now. After all, it’s been through the cycle: residential -> villas -> retail -> hotel -> theme parks (climbing ever higher on the risk curve).
Anyway, the below is a penguin refrigerator. As in, you don those overcoats and go into the air-conditioned shed and see four penguins. I sent my analyst to go see it.
There’s also this one, a car stunt show. This ‘Bizzaro Show’ opened this year, but I noticed that the cafe was already in disrepair and unused. No matter, they’re selling out every night.
You can also go to Phoenix Island to watch a burlesque show/beauty pageant. It’s located in another one of those self-proclaimed ‘7-star hotels’. I’ve been in this industry for about a decade and there’s no authority that decides star ratings, so my question to you, Phoenix Island hotel, is why aim so low? If the Burj Al Arab hit 7 stars in 1999, why only go for 7? Why not 8? Wouldn’t that be a luckier number in China, anyway?
But finally, the best ‘attraction’ in Sanya right now is the Songcheng Group-developed Qianguqing ‘Romance Park’. This is a typical Songcheng production, of themed grounds built around a show extravaganza. I’ve commented on this before, but Chinese theme parks definitely do not short themselves on ‘theme’. The rockwork and theming at Chinese theme parks is among the best in the world. The continuity, consistency, attention to sightlines, though, are a different matter..
The show itself is an assemblage of different elements. This one started off with girls in bikinis slithering on a transparent tarp that unfolded over our heads. Yes.
Songcheng shows are a collection of set pieces, featuring acrobatics, singing, dancing, lasers, and visual effects. Usually there’s some type of incorporation of local myths and stories.
The last few days I worked and stayed at the Pullman Sanya. This was a very pleasant stay, from the scents in the arrival lobby to the nice network of varied pools, all embedded in tropical jungle foliage. The combination of those colors below – deep green and tropical blue – must stimulate some atavistic part of the brain, towards happiness.
And lastly, there was no place to put this before, but here’s a Haitang Bay resort under construction. I found this sight to be hauntingly beautiful, in a post-apocalyptic manga-kind of way; you can’t tell if it’s being built or abandoned..but it’s very China.