7 Hainan hotels for 7 types of travelers
Touted as the country’s only "international tourism destination," Hainan (海南岛) is at the forefront of China's hotel boom.
According to the Hainan Tourist Bureau, the 33,000-square-kilometer island houses more than 209 starred hotels.
At Haitang Bay alone, a 42.8-kilometer beach on the eastern coast, around 30 five-star resorts and 70 luxury hotels are planned to open over the next few years.
When guidebook author Andrew Dembina first visited Hainan in 1992, the closest beach to Sanya had a handful of hotels and Yalong Bay had just one resort set back from the long beach. Now, both beaches are jammed with resorts.
"The Sheraton at the man-made Holiday Beach, just outside Hainan's capital of Haikou further north, is the only foreign hotel brand to have survived a few years in this lesser visited vicinity," notes Dembina, who wrote the Hainan chapter for Insight Guides' "Southern China" guidebook.
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“Sanya Bay, Yalong Bay and the new Haitang Bay cater to luxury accommodations,” says Singaporean Chris Chiang, owner of Sanya Backpackers, a hostel in Dadonghai area. “I foresee more demand for middle and budget accommodations in the future.”
Here’s a snapshot of today’s accommodation options for visitors exploring China’s answer to Hawaii.
1. Power brokers: Sheraton Sanya Resort (三亚喜来登度假酒店)
One of the first developments on Yalong Bay (亚龙湾), the 7.5-kilometer beach with almost 20 five-star lodgings ranged side-by-side, the Sheraton is apparently the hotel of choice for Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao.
Far from trendy -- music by 1990s-era U.S. rock band Hootie & the Blowfish greets guests in the lobby -- the 511-room compound does boast the largest conference rooms in Sanya (the biggest covers 1,250 square meters) and offers the best chance of bumping into the leader of an emerging-market country.
Yalong Bay Golf Club right across the street may be the best course on the island.
Sheraton Sanya Resort, inside Yalong Bay National Resort, opposite to Yalong Bay Golf Club 亚龙湾国家旅游度假区内, 亚龙湾高尔夫俱乐部对面, room rate: from RMB 2,000, +86 898 8855 8855, www.starwoodhotels.com
2. Flush families: The Ritz-Carlton Sanya (三亚丽思卡尔顿酒店)
A 20-minute walk (or a five-minute Segway) along the beach from the Sheraton, the 450-room Ritz-Carlton was designed as a tropical homage to Beijing’s Summer Palace.
Perfectly manicured gardens and an endless river-style pool greet visitors along with a choice of several different types of English sea salt at the beachside bar and grill, indicating the Ritz-Carlton’s legendary attention to detail.
The dedicated Kids’ Concierge is probably what appeals most to families, with activities like chocolate-making sure to impress (and raise blood sugar levels).
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The Ritz-Carlton Sanya, inside Yalong Bay National Resort 亚龙湾国家旅游度假区内, room rate: from RMB 4,000 plus 15 percent service, +86 898 8898 8888, www.ritzcarlton.com/en
3. Vegas swinger: MGM Grand Sanya (三亚美高梅)
Just next door to the Sheraton, the vibe couldn’t be more different.
Eschewing the generic-Bali style design favored by most Yalong Bay resorts, MGM Grand brings a more modern look.
The 597-room hotel is set apart by its lipstick tube tower exterior and space-age interiors with MGM’s traditional lion motif throughout.
The painting of a lion's head hung in the lobby is the work of famed Belgian-American speed painter Jean Francois.
But the main draw at the MGM Grand is Wet Republic, a “day club” with poolside DJs and model waitresses from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
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MGM Grand Sanya, inside Yalong Bay National Resort, Sanya, near the Red Forest 三亚亚龙湾国家旅游度假区内, 红树林旁边, room rate: from RMB 2,070, +86 898 8869 1999, www.mgmgrandsanya.com
4. Karaoke tovarich: Sanya Pearl River Garden Hotel (三亚珠江花园酒店)
The Dadonghai (大东海) side of Hainan has received justifiable acclaim for cornering the “Speedo-clad heavyset Russian” market, and the Pearl River Garden Hotel is perhaps the best place to observe this firsthand.
According to the hotel staff, Russian tourists account for 80 percent of the four-star establishment's international clientele because "Russians love basking in the sun, and Sanya is a popular getaway for them around the year."
Non-stop beachside karaoke and a drained swimming pool -- temporarily pumped for maintenance when we visited -- just add to the resort’s charm.
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Sanya Pearl River Garden Hotel, Yula Lu, Dadonghai, Sanya 三亚市大东海区榆亚路, room rate: from RMB 658, +86 898 8821 1888, www.prgardenhotel.com.cn/index.php
5. Bed and board: Sanya Backpackers
Singaporean Chris Chiang and his wife Linda Qin, from Shaanxi, run the cleanest hostel in town.
It’s an open secret among foodie travelers that the best food in Hainan is not found in five-star hotels, but among the island’s myriad street food stalls, and the 12-room accommodation is a five-minute stroll from one of Sanya's best food streets, Haihua Lu.
Guests can relax on the chilled-out roof deck, and the friendly couple also operates a slate of activities, including scuba diving in season as well as surf outings and rain forest tours.
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Sanya Backpackers, No.1, Type 1 Villa, Lu Ming Community, Haihua Lu, Dadonghai, Sanya三亚市大东海海花路鹿鸣小区一型一号别墅, dorm rate: RMB 50/bed, room: from RMB 160, +86 898 8821 3963, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.sanyabackpackers.com
6. Flashpacker: Sanya Raintree Backpacker Hotel (雨树背包客青年旅舍)
Tian Le, aka Justin Tiller, is the coolest guy in Hainan and his hostel, Sanya Raintree, reflects this.
The born-and-bred Inner Mongolian picked a foreign surname as his business pseudonym because it’s easier for international travelers to remember. In addition, Tiller sounds similar to his real surname, Tian.
With a central location, hip art on the walls and a well-stocked bar for international cocktails, Raintree is a great jumping-off point for any trip to Sanya and is the preferred launch pad for many surfers at the annual Surfing Hainan Open.
Justin and his friendly staff are happy to arrange surf trips, bike tours or a night on the town.
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Sanya Raintree Backpacker Hotel, 4/F, 46 Hedong Lu, Shan Shui Yun Tian Building, Sanya City, near Jiaoyu Xiang 三亚河东路46号山水云天大厦4楼, 近教育巷, dorm rate: from RMB 40/bed, room rate: from RMB 160, +86 898 3889 8877, www.raintreehostel.com
7. Get away from it all: Le Méridien Shimei Bay Beach Resort & Spa (石梅湾艾美度假酒店)
About a 90-minute drive from Sanya is Shimei Bay, one of Hainan’s best surf spots (neighboring Riyuewan hosts international surf competitions).
The Le Méridien organizes activities ranging from mountain biking (free rentals), jetskiing, and scuba diving on nearby Jiajin Island (加井岛), as well as a full-size infinity lap pool and private villas with very private swimming pools.
Although the resort is currently blissfully isolated from the hustle and bustle of Sanya, construction in Shimei Bay continues apace, with fellow Starwood hotel The Westin due to open next door and a separate luxury apartment complex under development.
Ask for a beach-facing room to maintain peace and tranquility and enjoy the best getaway Hainan currently has to offer.
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Le Méridien Shimei Bay Beach Resort & Spa, Shimei Bay Wanning, Hainan 海南万宁石梅湾, room rate: from RMB 1,564, +86 898 6252 8888, www.starwoodhotels.com