Away From it All

Written by Nov 10, 2006 01:11
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I went to Sanya in the middle of February. I took a bus across the island from Haikou, the capitol of the province, where I'd spent my first couple days on the island. And let me tell you, Sanya is a nice place for a vacation. My three days in Sanya actually marked the middle of a several-week-long trek I was making across China, but after a short time, my friend and I decided it felt like Sanya had been our real destination all along, and that everywhere else was just on our way there or on our way back.

The weather during my three days there wasn't hot, but it was warm. People told us we'd just missed some much warmer weather, and that it was supposed to be warmer again after we left, which was disappointing, but it was nice to be able to walk around without long underwear or sweaters anyway. I personally found it not quite warm enough to swim, but there were still some people out swimming when we were there. But I get ahead of myself.

The Chinese Hawaii

We arrived in Sanya without a pre-booked hotel. My friend, always the optimist, was sure that even at the height of tourist season, we wouldn't have trouble finding a hotel. Suprisingly, he was right. We walked until we recognized a storefront as a hotel and went in to ask what the room rate was. It was only maybe 200 yuan for two, which sounded great to us, so we booked right in. After just a minute to put down our bags and rest our feet, we asked at the front desk which direction the shore was. Then we were off to explore this place advertised as the "Chinese Hawaii".

Half of Sanya is actually on a separate little island from mainland Hainan. Most of the touristy activities, as far as we could tell, took place on the smaller island bit, which was where our hotel was and where we spent all of our time. Most of the big-city skyline was on mainland and we avoided it as we were coming from big northern cities with nothing but skyline. The main beach area in our part of the city was the part of the beach facing south, away from mainland, which was unsuprising. And it was an impressive site, at least to me. It didn't look quite the way Hawaii looks in pictures, but there was a white beach, light blue water, and a lot of palm trees. That was certainly enough for me.

We walked up and down the coast for a while, not on the beach, but on the road. We looked around at some of the many other differences between Sanya and up north. There were lots of vendors wandering around, balancing their wares on either side of a stick which they balanced on their shoulders. A number of street vendors wore the triangular hats often associated with China, but which we never ever saw up north. The fruit being sold was largely unfamiliar to me--exotic tropical fruit that I would try before leaving and, for the most part, really enjoy. We saw, at one point, a big film crew, filming a woman in a sundress it was too chilly for, standing in front of a beautiful red car. Modern-day bicycle rickshaws patrolled the coastline, driven by darkly-tanned men anxious to take you on whichever short trip you wanted to take.

Local Jobs

Because it was an island, my friend and I didn't have to think hard to decide on seafood for dinner. We picked a place with seating on a balcony and a nice view of the water. I don't remember much about what we actually ate, but I remember there were buskers. There was a man with a portable mic, speakers, and a guitar, carrying around a chair and a book of songs he knew, looking for money to sing for you. When he came over to us, we looked through his book and requested "Tears in Heaven," as it was one of the few English songs there. He sang it, got most of the words right, and we paid him for the entertainment.

Out of the restaurant, we decided it'd be nice to have a rickshaw ride down the coast at night, since we were still fairly new to the layout of the place. The rickshaw was ridiculously cheap, the driver had six fingers on one hand, and he kept stopping at restaurants insisting we must be hungry and should eat there. We told him many times, in Chinese, that we'd just eatten, but he kept trying. Eventually we decided the one or two yuan he was charging us would stop being worth it soon if we didn't get out, so we paid and walked to the beach.

Fireworks on the Beach

Because it was February, it was still technically Spring Festival. By then, we'd grown used to constant firecrackers and fireworks at all times of the day. It had stopped seeming like an event to be excited about and more like an annoyance. However, in Sanya, there was a small group of people, presumably employed by the city, walking down the whole length of the beach, spending maybe 15 or 20 minutes every hundred feet or so setting off beautiful fireworks over the sea. My friend and I sat there in the sand and watched the Chinese tourists in Hawaiian shirts walk in the water, the red and gren and white sizzling streaks of fireworks fizzle into the water, and the big white moon hang in the sky. It was maybe the most peaceful moment I felt during my whole year in China.

A Beach Less Peaceful

The next day, we decided to go for the cheaper and often tastier street food for lunch. street food is easy to find in China if you know where to look. Just find and alley where you see lots of people walking. We were proud of ourselves for finding the street food we did, as the other people eating there looked like that might not even be tourists, but people who actually lived in the area, people dressed in suits for a day of office work, not flip flops and baggy shorts.

From there, my friend wanted to go to a beach that was meant for swimming. The beach from the night before wasn't a main swimming beach. A lot of the swimming beaches around there charge an admission fee. We took a taxi (which have some of the cheapest starting rates I've seen, but always tried to overcharge us anyway) to a local beach that was supposed to be nice and paid our fee. Despite the cool breeze that kept me in long sleeves, there were a number of people there. Some of them swam, but just as many flew kites or just sat in the sand. There were stalls all over, selling little sculptures made of shells or pearl jewelery or any number of other tropically themed tourist items. We ended up buying some drinks so we could sit in chairs at a restaurant as all the other seats were rented out, not free. My friend bought a coconut and drank the milk out of a straw. We stayed until we felt like we'd gotten our money's worth, and then we left.


We had the taxi drop us in a different area from there so we could walk around and explore someplace new. We soon came upon a kind of small amusement park. Not one that charged admittance, either. Most of the people there were kids and their parents, but we certainly found it fun. There was an aracde where we played Dance Revolution while a number of kids watched. There were paddle boats you could rent out and take up and down a canal, so we did that. There was a pretty garden we walked around. We saw some rides, but didn't go on any.

For dinner that night, we had, unsuprisingly, seafood again. The outdoor restaurant was, as before, filled with buskers, some more bothersome than others. Again, we spent the evening enjoying the sea breezes and feeling like we really were on a vacation. We knew that everywhere we went from there on out, the weather would keep getting colder, and work would keep getting closer.

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Comments (1)


Mar 5, 2007 20:00 Reply


Dear Helen,

I love your description of Sanya.

I am currently living and working in Shanghai. But I come from Hainan and I used to live not far from Sanya.

I haven't been to Sanya since March 2006.

After reading your column I feel an urge to go back and have another good look around Sanya.

Well Done!

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