Of all the newly developed tourist meccas in China, Sānyà is arguably the most complete of the lot – it exists solely for tourism. Having stumbled over a few economic hurdles during the past 20 years it is absolutely booming now. The recent arrival of several international resorts has only confirmed that the Sānyà area has become a fully paid-up member of the international resort world.
While the full 40km or so of coastline dedicated to tourism is usually referred to as Sānyà, the region is actually made up of three distinctly different tourist zones. Sanya Bay (SānyàWān) is the least impressive beach, home to the bustling city centre and a long stretch of soulless new resorts aimed at mainland holidaymakers. More attractive Dadonghai Bay (Dàdōnghāi Wān) is about 3km southeast, beyond the Luhuitou Peninsula, and is home to several budget and midrange hotels and two very good backpacker hostels. A further 15km east, exclusive Yalong Bay has the most stunning beach and – quite literally – wall-to-wall plush international resorts.
There is no denying that the Sānyà region is a modern construction in every way, with more than its fair share of cheesy attractions aimed at mainland tourists. Some would class the 2003, 2004 and 2005 Miss World pageants as pretty kitschy, too, but they certainly helped to put Sānyà on the map. Despite (or partly because of) all this, the region is quite a lot of fun. Sānyà is one of the few places where you can watch Chinese people (relatively) unselfconsciously having a good time, and it’s hard not to get caught up in it when the air is clear, the sun is shining and everyone’s enjoying themselves.
Of course, like any tourist haven, Sānyà does have its irritations. The stalking taxi drivers, relatively high prices and usual menu of low-level scams are the downsides.