In Sanya, the ‘Hawaii of China’

Archana Singh | Updated on August 30, 2019

Show and tell: Sanya’s ancient history comes alive through an extravagant show held at the Sanya Qianguqing Grand Theatre - Archana Singh

The beach town on China’s southernmost tip lies on the same latitude as Hawaii and enjoys balmy tropical weather all year round. It is also the centre for dazzling cultural shows that highlight its history

For centuries, Sanya, the southernmost tip of China, was labelled as ‘the end of the Earth’ by Chinese mainlanders — perhaps because of its status of being the de facto expulsion ground for political and social dissenters. However, the island’s fortune changed in 1988, when it was declared a special economic zone, and huge investments were made to develop the infrastructure required for a world-class tourist destination. From a borderline island, it became a go-to place within a few years. Unlike most of China, Sanya lies on the same latitude as Hawaii and enjoys similar balmy tropical weather all year round. Fittingly, it earned itself the nickname “the Hawaii of China.”

Beaches and bays

With a sun-kissed coastline that spans 250 km, Sanya is studded with beaches and bays. It also has over 300 days of blue skies in a year. Out of the 36 bays on the island, I found Sanya Bay, Yalong Bay and Haitang Bay the most exquisite. Every morning I would take a stroll on the sandy-white beaches fringed with palm trees and clear azure waters, and wrap up my day by watching the tangerine sunsets on the bay.

Glitter glam: A moment from a Sanya Bay boat cruise - Archana Singh


With a 22-km stretch of pristine sand and sea, Sanya Bay is the largest on the island. I could have spent my entire trip here — hopping from a cultural zone to a cruise terminal to the 20-km long Coconut Dream Corridor but the FOMO (fear of missing out) prevented me from doing so.

After soaking the sun, sand and scenery at Sanya Bay, I moved to the crescent-shaped Yalong Bay, widely considered as the prettiest beach and the ultimate underwater playground in Sanya.

Further out, in the far east of Sanya lay the secluded Haitang Bay. While I am not a shopaholic, I couldn’t resist checking out the world’s largest duty-free store, the Haitang Bay International Shopping Center. Following retail therapy, I hopped on to a 10-minute ferry ride from downtown Sanya to visit the butterfly-shaped Wuzhizhou Island that lies in Haitang Bay itself. Known as the “Maldives of China”, Wuzhizhou is a prime spot for divers. The picturesque island with its wrinkled coastline, blue waters and quirky photo installations is also a preferred location for wedding photo and movie shoots.

Tropical treats

Just 45 minutes north of Haitang Bay, Sanya donned a different palette of colours — from balmy turquoise blues to lush greens. As I drove towards Sanya’s lungs — Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park — tour guide Henry Huang shared why this park is a great place for mountaineering, leisure and sightseeing. The protected park is said to have more than 1,500 varieties of tropical plants and over 190 kinds of wild animals. There’s a beautiful orchid valley, a giant rope-suspension bridge, a 400-m-long glass bridge and a sculpture of a fearsome dragon placed in the mountains to bring prosperity and good luck to the region.

Cultural fabric

Sanya’s cultural heritage is over 10,000 years old and can be found in the customs and ceremonies of the local minorities. My quest to know more brought me to the Binglanggu Hainan Li & Miao Cultural Heritage Park.

Acquainting me more with the tribes of Sanya, my local guide, Jin Kaijiang, said, “Sanya is among the few places in China where the Li tribe settled some 3,000 years ago. Over the centuries, they have enriched the cultural diversity of the island through their unique customs, clothing, and entertainment.”

I felt I had time travelled when I explored their tribal museum, local delicacies and ancient handicrafts. Everything was fascinating, especially the face tattoos of the Li people. The highlight of the tour was the high-octane 50-minute show performed by several hundred performers — from three-year-olds to septuagenarians.

While every moment of my trip was special, the best and the most surprising act was saved for the last. An ostentatious welcome awaited me at the Sanya Qianguqing Grand Theatre at the Romance Park.

The hour-long show on a three-dimensional stage began with a female voice-over grabbing the attention of 4,700 spectators. Three Spiderman-like stunt performers whizzed out of the water floor and, within a minute, the scene transformed into the Luobi Cave, where the seed of Sanya’s prehistoric civilisation was sown 10,000 years ago.

After an impressive preface, Sanya’s romantic, cultural and spiritual layers started peeling off one after the other through four different acts — Deer Legend, Lady Xian, Maritime Silk Road and Eastward Voyage of Jianzhen. Classic stories and traditional performances were judiciously blended with contemporary staging and ground-breaking 5D technologies. There were fight scenes, love scenes, frenzied dancing, larger-than-life screen projections, colourful lighting and aerial acrobatics so daring that I had my heart in the mouth the whole time.

The grand show had a grand finale too — when mermaids swam above us on a massive expanse of transparent plastic that covered the width of the theatre. Truly bewildering.

Archana Singh is a freelance writer based in Delhi

Travel log

Getting there

China Southern Airlines flies twice daily from New Delhi to Sanya via Guangzhou. Alternatively, you can fly via Beijing, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.

When to go

November to February


 Soak up the sun, sand and sea at the Sanya Bay, Dadonghai, Yalong Bay and Haitang Bay

- Experience the tribal life at Binglanggu Hainan Li & Miao Cultural Heritage Park

- Visit the Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park and walk on the glass bridge

- Invoke your spiritual side at the Nanshan Culture Tourism Zone

- Shop at the Sanya International Duty-Free Shopping Complex

BLink Tip

Try Hainanese dishes such as wenchang chicken and Hele crab.

Published on August 30, 2019

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