The Raffles Hainan, a hot spot for luxury holiday in Clearwater Bay
Where is it? About 40 minutes drive up the Hainan coast from Sanya, the touristy boom town on the southern flank of China’s smallest province. The Raffles Hainan – a daughter of the iconic 1887 grande dame in Singapore – hugs a gorgeous arc of white sand along Clearwater Bay.
What are the rooms like? The resort, which opened last September, has two massive wings, with decor in one inspired by the craft traditions of Hainan’s indigenous tribes and in the other drawing on Balinese design. Both, appropriately, are oriented towards the water – every room has a balcony with views of the bay and the South China Sea beyond.
Is there any of that storied Raffles heritage in evidence here? The service is enthusiastic and superb, even if the staff’s standard of English varies. And there’s the Long Bar, which honours the legendary watering hole of the same name in the Singapore Raffles. The obvious order: a Singapore Sling, developed at Raffles in the early part of the 20th century by head bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, who was, in a neat example of history come full circle, from Hainan.
Why Hainan? Government authorities and tourism honchos are audaciously trying to brand the island as the Hawaii of China. By 2020, they hope, it will be a regional resort hot spot along the lines of Bali and Phuket. That doesn’t sound like much of a draw.
Why now? Hainan isn’t overrun with visitors quite yet. Though condos, resorts and golf courses are proliferating along the palmshaded tropical coastline, the island is still unspoiled enough, and the pace of life gentle enough, that you’ll see farmers harvesting beans and peppers in roadside fields. The air remains the most pristine in China, with plenty of blue-sky days. And the gentle whoosh-whoosh of the surf means you’ll not need a noise machine to lull you to sleep.
What is there to do? Not a lot, which is part of the appeal. Golfers can take in a round or three at the nearby and familiar sounding (at least, to Hong Kong ears) Clearwater Bay Golf Club. The strong rip tides in the bay don’t necessarily make for the safest swimming, so aspiring mer-people can splash around the palm-shaded pool complex (top). And the beach (above) offers a beautiful stroll. Head down to the water’s edge in the mid-morning and you may be rewarded with the appearance of an impromptu fish market. Some days, local fishermen can be seen hauling their nets in and selling their catch right there on the sand.
What else can you do? Eat. The Desa restaurant’s massive breakfast buffet (above) sprawls from East (noodle bar, congee, dim sum) to West (smoked salmon, pastries, eggs). The croissants are unexpectedly impressive, achieving that perfect balance between flaky and chewy. Beyond the resort, the produce on Hainan is phenomenal – the island is justly famed for its fresh fruits, from magnificent mangoes to luscious papaya, and en route to the airport, you’ll pass a parade of stands selling fruit by the case for travellers to take home. The seafood’s splendid, too, and the Raffles concierge can direct you to a cluster of seaside eateries about 10 minutes drive away, down a shady country lane, where all the fish and shellfish are wild-caught.
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