For many people, if asked about Sanya, they will describe a place of beach resorts, sun, sea and palm trees. That’s also good for a round or two of golf. The truth is that many visitors from overseas, and even those from other parts of China, do not really get the full Sanya experience – how could you if you don’t go beyond the resort and golf course?

The city is actually a fascinating melting pot of diffserent cultures and peoples: culturally distinct ethnic minorities, different religions, traditional fishermen and fruit farmers mix with retirees and holiday makers from the north of China, the private jet and yacht crowd and tourists from all over Asia.

Preserving cultural heritage amidst luxury resort city development

The government is now attaching importance to the integration of the culture of the local minoritiy peoples with the booming tourist industry, and tourism development should also include the 3000 year old indigenous cultures.

Xu Zhenling, Sanya’s vice-mayor sees the importance in mixing the luxury and comfort of Sanya’s world class tourism infrastructure with the city’s cultural heritage and attractions. 

To get an instant hit of this cultural mix simply head to the streets around the First Market, the bustling streets and colourful market stalls are full of produce from the surrounding farm lands and fresh seafood from the South China Sea. It’s a lively place with traders and shoppers striking deals and the odd tourist trying to take it all in. It’s a good place to spot some of Sanya’s minorities – Muslim ladies for instance seem to run the lamb / goat section.


Limiao people Limiao People

The Li and The Miao peoples are the major minorities in this area and it is easy to visit their villages on the outskirts of Sanya


Sanya’s minority people bring their own flavour to the city, giving it a very South East Asian feel. The Li and The Miao peoples are the major minorities in this area and it is easy to visit their villages on the outskirts of Sanya. Either spots that are set up for tourists such as Bing Lang Valley or more low key places such as Bing Lang River which is very close to Sanya city. In both places it is possible to get a feel for day to day lives of these indigenous peoples and learn a little of their cultures.


Less well known than the Li and the Miao are the Hainan Hui people. Given the Hui tag because of their Muslim religion these people are quite distinct from other Hui in China, both culturally and linguistically. These people actually arrived on the shores of Hainan as refugees from Vietnam hundreds of years ago.



Betel-nut street vendor in Sanya


Their community is now focused in the area of Phoenix Town, close to Sanya’s airport. Here you will see a number of mosques, some having been rebuilt numerous times over hundreds of years. Around Sanya the Hui women in particular are easy to spot with their colourful head scarves with many also sporting pretty straw sun hats. These ladies can often be seen on the city’s beaches selling Betel nut, pearls and other trinkets.


Balancing tourism with local heritage in paradise Sanya

In fact, it is the city’s two main beaches – Sanya Bay and Dadonghai that best illustrate the Sanya’s unique cultural mix, especially towards the end of the day when the temperatures drop with the setting sun. Unlike many other beach resorts in Asia local life still exists side by side with international tourism.

The beaches of Sanya are a meeting place for young people and retired couples, honeymooners, Muslim fishermen, pearl and fruit traders alike.


Fishermen in Sanya

Fishermen in Sanya

Stroll down the beach in Sanya Bay in the late afternoon and, aside from people relaxing on the sands, you may see couples having their wedding photographs taken, locals lads fishing in the shallows with hand thrown nets, a couple of fishermen building a new boat, beach volley ball, yachts and jet skiers out in the bay and in the distance the gleaming towers of the ultra modern Phoenix Island development.

Meanwhile the hotels and resorts along the bay are setting up their beach barbecues and their guests are ordering a round of cocktails to accompany the incredible sunsets over Sanya Bay.

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