A Week in Sanya, Hainan, the “Hawaii of China”

Sanya is a city in the southern portion of China’s Hainan Island, known as the “Hawaii of China.” This was our eighth stop on our six-week honeymoon around the world. We were officially in the latter half of our trip and planned to spend a relaxing week in the south of China, soaking up the sun. Continue reading to learn about how we booked the trip, language, currency, transportation, our hotel, food, small town visits, downtown visits, and an excursion to a breathtaking park.

How We Booked

First, I’ll dive into a mini education for those couples reading this that are engaged…While you’re engaged, you have the opportunity to attend many events, such as wedding expos and venue expos. A wedding expo is a general expo probably hosted at a conference center in your town that will feature many different venues and vendors. A venue expo is hosted by a particular venue, and they usually showcase their preferred vendors. The latter is mostly for couples who are already booked or interested in booking that particular venue. These are free opportunities to learn more about venues and vendors. Often, there are door prizes that you can enter into just for attending the event or booth prizes that you can enter if you speak to the representative running that booth. My point in telling you about these events and prizes is that you should take advantage of all the wedding perks you can.

We happen to have won our week-long stay in Sanya as a door prize at a venue expo! Well, we particularly won a week-long hotel stay for a company that had properties all over the world. We knew we’d be in Asia, so we searched their website for an eligible Asia hotel during our dates and found our hotel in Sanya. You do still pay taxes and fees (and likely airfare) when you win trips like these, so it’s not totally free, but it’s significantly cheaper than if you paid the full price.

If you are looking into booking Sanya and aren’t limited by a prize trip (like we were), then you may consider booking closer to the downtown area. Although we were in a quiet resort-lined beach area, we did need to taxi about 23 minutes to get to the main hub on Jiefang Road.


Overall, the main languages in Sanya are Hainanese, Putonghua, Cantonese and, believe it or not, Russian. We learned that a lot of people who live in Russia also vacation to this island, being that it’s a tropical paradise pretty close to home. We even saw signs in Russian when in town.

The first challenge we had experienced in Sanya was that no one working in our hotel spoke a lick of English. It was extreme culture shock, because everywhere that we had been thus far in Asia did speak some English, and Hubby speaks Japanese. It took some patience, and both the front desk receptionist and us using a translating app, but we eventually successfully communicated.

Don’t let lack of speaking the language deter you from traveling to new places. With technology these days, you can communicate easily enough. However, we do always recommend you learn a few pleasantries in the foreign language such as “please,” “thank you,” “hello,” and “goodbye.” We also recommend you learn emergency words such as “help” and “police” just in case. But hopefully you’ll never use those.


We forgot to use an ATM at the airport to take out Chinese Yuan (the primary currency on the island). We still had some Yuan leftover from our visit to Beijing, but we were running low. So we took a taxi into the downtown area to find an ATM. We stopped into several small banks, and our cards wouldn’t work in the machines. We recognized the Agricultural Bank of China, and that bank allowed us to withdraw. But for a hot second, we thought we were stranded in China with no money or even enough cash to taxi back to the hotel. Very stressful. Long story short, definitely pull out cash in the airport ATM where there is bound to be some English speaker who can answer questions if you experience problems. Not all stores will accept credit cards in China, so it’s essential to carry enough cash on you for your stay. For reference, at the time of writing this post, $1 USD is around ¥7.15 Chinese Yuan—a great exchange rate!


The Sanya airport is very small. It’s actually two buildings: one for domestic and one for international flights. Arriving into Sanya was easy. We hopped into a taxi, and our hotel was only twelve minutes from the airport. Upon leaving Sanya a week later, however, we did have some confusion as to which building to be dropped off at. We figured that since we were heading to Japan we should go to the international terminal, so we got dropped off at the larger modern international building. But they made us change buildings, because our flight stopped briefly in Guangzhou, China, and they therefore treated our flight as domestic. Ensure extra time in case you too have to switch buildings. We had to schlep our luggages across the whole terminal, down a couple flights of steps, across a small street, and into the next building.

The domestic building seemed like it was the original airport building. Although smaller and older, it had a charming vibe with wood accents. Though small, it still had an airport lounge with some snacks and beverages, which we were grateful for. Beware that if flying domestic (or if you have a domestic layover like we had) through China, you will go back through a screening process when you land, and any foods and liquids (even purchased in the previous airport) must be discarded. We had packed a few snacks and waters from the Sanya airport lounge, and when we landed in Guangzhou they were confiscated.

Taxis were available easily at the airport. We recommend you print out all of your hotel/excursion paperwork so you can show the address to your drivers. Communication may not be easy, and having the printout will allow drivers to see the exact place you are trying to go. Once at the hotel, because it is located outside of downtown, taxis will need to be called by the front desk. Once you are in the downtown area, you can find taxis all over. Even at the park we visited, there was a taxi line at the exit.


We stayed at the HNA @ International Asia Pacific Convention Center Sanya, located in the Sanya Bay Resort District. This area was resort after resort lining just across the street from the beach. When we booked the hotel online through the prize company, the photos looked great! And although the hotel ended up being very nice, it looked absolutely NOTHING like the photos online. So that was a minor shock upon arrival.

Our hotel looked nothing like these two photos that were on our final booking paperwork

They originally gave us a great room, with the exception of the two twin beds. For our honeymoon, that just wasn’t going to fly. So we went back downstairs and used the translation app to say that we wanted the beds together (hand motions and all). They gave us a new room with a king size bed, but now it was a small room with a partial wall and street view instead of the spectacular view that we had before, overlooking the large pool area. This second room should have been a utility closet or something. So we defeatedly went back downstairs and said we would just take the original room. Hubby was awesome and did some rearranging of the furniture, and boom, a king size honeymoon bed!

Our room was very nice! I believe this was the largest room of our six-week honeymoon. It had a separate desk and sitting area, spacious bathroom, closet, mini fridge, newly created king size bed, a balcony with chairs, and a great view. Had we been on a higher floor than the second, we probably could have seen the ocean view over the tree line. But even without an ocean view, our room was perfect because we had a pool view. It also became convenient when one of us went upstairs to grab something and we could talk to the person below to see if they needed anything before heading back down.

The lobby was spacious. We took the stairs most days instead of waiting for the elevator, because we were only on the second floor. The downstairs had a bar, a small convenience store, and a restaurant. The back area included the largest hotel pool I’ve ever seen in my life. It was so large that even with everyone swimming, you were never too close to anyone else. There was plenty of space for kids in shallow waters, exercise laps, and waders like myself getting carried around by the wind on my float. Lounge chairs lined the pool area. I do feel they could have supplied more chairs as only some had optimal sun vs shade ratio. We had to get downstairs early to claim our chairs, but after learning that on our first day, we were fine. There was also an outdoor portion of the restaurant and fountains leading to the beach across the street.

Once across the street, you are literally in the sand. The beach was never too busy. As the whole area has resorts lining the beach, it was private. I am an avid seashell finder, and when I am at any beach I am scoping the sand for pretty shells. We started to find a bunch of shells and were picking them all up. Then we realized there were small creatures living in them and dropped them back into the water. We found very few shells without small crabs and snails inside. So, although the beach in this region has nice shells, you will be hard-pressed to find something you can bring home. After seven days, we probably only had a sandwich bag full. There was definitely a noticeably higher level of waste in the water than we had experienced at any other beach around the world. But we saw lots of jelly fish in the water at the time of year we visited (May), so we didn’t go in anyway. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying daily sunset walks on the beach.


On our first night at the hotel we ate dinner at the poolside restaurant. There was a talented singer who performed nightly, which created a nice ambiance. But we ordered a beef dish and literally got a plate full of small bones with no meat on it. We couldn’t even tell what part of the animal it was because it was in such small pieces. Beef at all? Questionable. We felt like we were being pranked. We tried to eat it, laughing the whole time at the scenario. Even in Beijing China, we hadn’t had difficulty ordering because all the menus had photos next to each dish. Here, too, there were photos, but nothing was in English so we weren’t even sure what we ordered! We left a bit hungry that night but with good laughs. Other nights that we ate dinner at our hotel, we took a cue from the Russian tourists and ordered meat kebabs. Those were great!

Super Skeptical about the kebabs after our first dining experience…but they ended up being great!

On the second night, we ventured to a neighboring hotel’s restaurant. Our goal in exploring the neighborhood had honestly been to find an ATM. The hotel was a Sheraton, so we figured maybe the American brand hotel would have an ATM that our cards would work in. It didn’t. However, we learned they had a buffet and decided to eat there for dinner. This buffet was about $30 USD per person. For China, that was expensive, but they had great food. Our favorite was the endless supply of grilled lamb chops. Nice ambiance again with live entertainment and outdoor seating under the moonlight. Ended up being our nicest and most romantic dinner.

The next day, we went to the front desk to ask about things to do in the area and grocery stores to buy snacks. We tried using the translating app again to communicate. Then a friendly pilot from an airline company came over and introduced himself. Apparently, his company puts the pilot and flight attendants up in the hotel overnight all the time, as it’s so close to the airport. He knew the area like the back of his hand. He explained that local small-town food shops and restaurants were in walking distance just a few blocks away. We were so excited to meet another English speaker and grateful that stores were so close we could just go out and explore.

We followed his directions exactly: walk out of the hotel to the main front road, turn right, walk down to the first stoplight, cross the street to the left, walk down a block, cross a small bridge, and then that upcoming strip of stores was our destination on Taoyuan Road. It was about a ten-minute walk and well worth it! We found many grocery stores. For beverages, we purchased large bottles of water and juice. For breakfast, we got fresh fruits like different varieties of mangoes and bananas, muffins, buns, and yogurt. For lunch, we got instant ramen bowls. There were so many flavors to choose from that each day it felt like we were eating something different. We also purchased a ton of snack foods like crazy flavored chips (the steak flavor was my ultimate favorite), cookies, candies, etc. All the food was extremely affordable, but the ramen was our best purchase. It was so hot outside in May that we also purchased ice creams and ate them as we continued our walk.

On our first trip to this strip of stores, we found a small family-owned local restaurant to stop in and eat lunch. They had pictures posted of all the food, so we felt confident when we ordered. We got a beef noodle dish and a chicken dish, and both were delicious! The gentleman who owned the shop literally hand-made the noodles in front of us, folding the dough over several times until it became many layers, stretching out the layers until they were thin strings, then cutting the long strings into delicious, fresh noodles. On another occasion, we ate at a Chinese fast food chicken and burger joint. We didn’t know the name, but they had a picture of a Ninja Burger as their logo. They sold fried chicken sandwiches that we really liked. We ended up visiting this restaurant a few times during our stay, as it was convenient, reliable (not a plate of bones!), and had a scene of young people our age eating there due to free Wi-Fi. We also saw on the map app on our cell phones that there was a dumpling joint nearby and tried to eat there, but it seemed to be closed permanently.

In the downtown area that was a taxi ride away, we found a bunch of stores, restaurants, and fast food options. The day we were walking around that area, we found Pizza Hut and decided to stop in to eat. Even though that chain is somewhere we could eat in America, it was totally different than America, because they had very unique flavors for pizza. Hubby’s pie was actually a square cheese-stuffed crust segmented into four flavors: pineapple ham, pepperoni, vegetable, and Korean BBQ pork with eel sauce. I got a personal pan pineapple ham (my favorite). On another trip to the downtown area, we also got McDonald’s. I know, we kept choosing American fast food in China, but honestly after the plate of bones on the first day, a real meal was more than welcome. On the taxi ride to the downtown area, you will also pass some really cool buildings with some creative architecture. Pleasant surprises everywhere you look in Sanya!

Day-Trip Excursion

This honeymoon stop was totally supposed to be about relaxing and no excursions, and although Hubby would have been pleased to spend a full seven days tanning poolside, I was going stir crazy only a few days in. We did some impromptu online searches for things to do in the area and found the Yalong Bay Tropic Paradise Forest Park. We got ready for the day, took a taxi into town (Jiefang Road) to a large grocery store for snacks and water bottles. Then we hailed another taxi and drove about 35 minutes to the park. On the way there, we kept researching and learned that by the time we arrived we would only have two and a half hours to explore before they closed. Oh well, we were already on our way!

Upon arrival, you purchase the ¥158 CNY ($22.10 USD) ticket and then get ushered onto a small open-air bus that takes you for a ride up the mountain. When we got off, we went on a great hike up steep rock steps until we finally came to a large canyon with a rope footbridge. It was a breathtaking view. A bit crowded, but if you have patience, you can get some less obstructed shots. After the bridge, we continued on our hike to some treehouse lookouts. Although we had a great day, we wished we had known about the hours of operation prior to visiting, because we would have made an earlier start and had a full day there. The park definitely has a lot more to offer than we experienced. Plan your day accordingly. Even writing this post, I looked up the park again and realized they have a transparent-floor illusion bridge. Can’t believe we missed that!!

My Biggest Regret

Whether lounging poolside, walking along the beach, taking a taxi into town, or at the park, everywhere we looked we saw couples with professional photographers doing photoshoots. This was a popular activity in Hainan because of the tropical lush greenery and blue water vistas. I wholeheartedly regret not going over and trying to communicate with them to see if we could set up a photo shoot. They had been at our resort daily, so it would have been convenient, and with the exchange rate it probably wouldn’t have been too expensive. The photographer at our resort brought a see-through kayak, a surf board that said “engaged” on it, and some other props. Often, the photographer placed the couple, stepped back to get himself ready for the shot, and then his assistant did the final touch before the photo was snapped. This could have been something like drifting the kayak out into the pool to make them look like they were in the middle of the water or splashing water at just the right spot. The photos were completely staged, but I’m sure they looked beautiful in the end and would have been a unique souvenir of our time in China.

Pro Tips

  • Hainan is a tropical place, and small creatures may find their way into your room. Therefore, avoid leaving any open food out. There was a time we went out for dinner and came back in to find a small animal (of an unknown variety still to this day) scurry out of the way when we flipped the lights on. I screamed, and it was gone. Maybe a large mouse or shudder very large spider. I couldn’t even sleep in the room that night until Hubby completed a full inspection of the place and confirmed he couldn’t find it. I guess however it got in, it got back out. We never saw it again, because from that point on we wrapped up everything and put it into the fridge when we were done with it.
  • We found a store that sold general items, and I picked up a large donut pool float. Our resort had floats for rent, which were such a waste of money because they rented per hour! So I was extremely happy when we found these floats. It came deflated and they filled it with a machine when we purchased. After we got back to the hotel, we realized it was beginning to deflate—just our luck! But we are in China, so there was no option of returns. A hole in my new donut float! I was devastated. Haha We took the float to the pool to see where the bubbles of air were coming out, and then get crafty and covered the tiny hole with a sprinkle size piece or duct tape. In the end you can hardly tell that we did a repair because it blended in so perfectly with the design. We already had duct tape on hand because our brand-new luggage broke earlier in the trip, and we had to buy duct tape to tape it back together until we got back home to return it. The float was a total splurge, because the price was about what I would have paid in America, but I will say that it significantly increased my poolside enjoyment, and over a year later I still have it. So well worth the money! Don’t waste money on renting from your resort.
  • You will find the most unique purple seashells in Sanya. Beware that even when no animal seems to be living inside, if you take it from the beach, it will smell like something died in it. Purple is my favorite color and I was taken aback by the beauty of these shells in varying shades from lilac to plum. I took two back up to our hotel room and ended up relocating them to the balcony until I finally ditched them back on the beach. Stinky little things! Pictures below show the snail type animal that would normally live in this shell.

The island of Hainan, in China, and the city of Sanya specifically, was a complete surprise to us. We booked it on a whim, having never heard of it before. We planned on sun and relaxation and got so much more. Everything since even before wedding day had been a whirlwind, and this week of lounging poolside allowed us to reset. Staying off the beaten path allowed us to explore and dine like locals. We also learned some valuable travel lessons that we’ll keep with us forever. We highly recommend Sanya!

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