Island life: Sanya, one of the most popular tourist destinations in China, is clustered with five-star resorts.
The problem with popular tourist destinations is that they are full of other tourists. Xu Junqian braces the crowds at "China’s Hawaii" and finds an oasis of calm amongst the madness.
The plane from Shanghai to Sanya landed, as it took off, screeching and screaming. The three hour flight itself was fairly uneventful, aside from the hyper-active children, who made up almost half the passengers on board, tearing through the cabin more frequently than the air attendants.
"Mom, my ears hurt," one child screamed as the plane descended. "Quiet. You will get used to it after more flights," the mother hollered back, drowning out the loud roar of the engine.
Unsurprisingly, the mother’s request did not lead to quiet. If anything, it simply invited more hollering from other children and their impatient moms.
It’s a common scene on Chinese flights to a destination resort during summer and winter vacations, national holidays and even weekends. But for the flights to Sanya, Hainan province, the "Chinese Hawaii" where domestic travelers, young and old, often travel to for their first leisure trip, the flight can feel like you have trespassed onto a kindergarten tour, or found yourself at Disneyland.
I have visited Sanya once before, almost five years ago. It was not my first trip outside my hometown, but it somehow put pause to my desire to discover more of my home country, which, as our geography textbook taught us, boasts "vast and various landscapes and abundant resources".
My reluctance to return to Sanya was not because I had already seen "the corner of the country", Tianya Haijiao, which loosely translates to "the edge of the sea and the rim of the sky". It is the most famous spot in Sanya and perhaps the country. It was once featured on the Chinese two-yuan note.
My wariness about returning to the only tropical beach destination in China was born from the island’s more negative aspects, including overpricing — evident everywhere from the taxi ride from the airport to the seafood market, and the overwhelming crowds.
What attracted me back to the island for a weekend getaway, however, is one of the pearls dotted on the coast of Sanya. With over 50 five-star luxury hotels and another 40 on the way, the city is dubbed the "Chinese Miami full of shiny resorts" by the New York Times.
Resorts and hotels in Sanya are not only as swish as those in Miami, Bali, or Phuket, but also offer a better value-for-money experience for vacation, in spite of the ever-increasing tourist crowds. Official records show that the number of domestic tourists to Sanya is enjoying a close to 20-percent annual growth rate.
The services, facilities and entertainment at the hotel and resorts is so all-encompassing, that the price of accommodation almost feels like it includes a ticket to a new hamlet, tucked away but having nothing to do with Sanya, except taking advantage of its sun and sea.
I chose Mandarin Oriental for a two-night stay. About an hour or so southeast of Phoenix Airport, the resort is more like a helmet guarded by military officers because of the navy base in the vicinity. It boasts the most authentic sense of Sanya with lush greenery, a white sand beach and naturally, beautifully tanned staff.
It’s an otherworldly delight.
In this other world, Sangria can be ordered from the "floating bar" in the middle of the swimming pool and enjoyed while watching the sunset in the cool water. The treatment from the Spa room will leave you in utter tranquility. The giggling of children playing in the separate children’s pool might be as piercing as the hollering on plane. But never mind. As it travels on the gentle sea breeze from the other corner of the spacious compound, an area exclusively dedicated to kids, it already sounds like enchanting background music.
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