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Sanya!

From the series Cities of China


In January of 1991 a language school classmate and I decided we wanted a little beach vacation before heading to a conference in Hong Kong. We were living in Changchun and desperately needed somewhere to thaw out. Funds were in short supply so jetting off to Thailand wasn’t an option. As we pored over our trusty Lonely Planet China guidebook, it seemed that the best option was the town of Sanya, on the southern coast of the island province of Hainan.

We took the train down to Guangzhou (48 hours) and boarded an old turbo-prop for the two-hour flight to Sanya. That weekly flight was Sanya’s only connection to the rest of the country. The “airport” we landed at was really nothing more than an airstrip in the countryside; the terminal an old Quonset hut. Some enterprising three-wheeled-car drivers were hanging around to take the dozen or so passengers into the city.

We stayed at a guesthouse near the beach at Dadong Bay, just outside of town. In addition to this guesthouse, there was only one other hotel on the beach.  Today that beach is in the heart of the city, and has a Miami South Beach feel to it.

Two years later we went back, but stayed at a rundown place at Yalong Bay, a gorgeous beach about 10 miles east of town. At that time, there were signs all over heralding the development plans of the beach, and that it was destined to become “China’s Hawaii.” We laughed.

But as is often the case, China had the last laugh. Sanya, and the surrounding beaches, in fact become the Hawaii of China, complete with 5-star resorts and tourist attractions. Tourists can now fly there non-stop from cities all over China, as well as from Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Frankfurt, and Moscow.

I was reminded of that vacation recently when I saw this quirky timelapse video of Sanya. Using a technique called tilt-shift, which gives the feeling of glimpsing a miniature world, it provides a fun tour of the city.

Sanya is also driving the growth of a “snowbird culture” in China. In fact, I was talking with a Chinese friend here in Minnesota recently and she told me that her parents (retirees in Harbin) had purchased a condo in Sanya, and now they spend the winters there.

So if you’re in China, and looking for a beach getaway without leaving the country, get thee to Sanya!

Image credit: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1805622
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio


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