1. Go to the Beach at Sunset
The single most important part of your holiday in Sanya should be getting a picture of the sunset on the ocean. For sunsets, you won’t be disappointed at Dadonghai, but Sanya Bay and Yazhou Bay offer the best views. And as a special note, any beach facing the west often also has a mellow sunset time that reflects the orange hues of the sun you can’t see.
2. Go to the Beach at Sunrise
No judgment if you’re not a morning person, but we’d suggest at least trying to wake up. Sunrises can be captured on Haitang Bay, Yalong Bay, Houhai and Xiaodonghai. During sunset hours they’ll only offer reflections of the sunset as they’re facing the east.
3. Try SUP and Explore a Cave
This is a popular sport in Sanya when the waves are calm. You can go with a vetted guide like Mike (WeChat ID: supholic) or rent your own board at FreeGen. Some instructors know where caves are and include a visit in their tours.
Surfboards are everywhere and surfers catch waves from Dadonghai to Wanning. Beginners should try out their balance on baby waves at Houhai and boards can be gotten for around RMB200-300 a day. More experienced surfers should travel to Riyue Bay or Shimei Bay.
5. Hike at a Park
Though there are many parks that come with a fee, free parks offer great views and experiences too. We always enjoy sunrise and sunsets at Linchunling.
This sport is growing in Sanya and more vendors are starting to offer this experience. If you grew up on a lake in the West, lower your expectations and plan to spend quite a bit.
7. Try a Coconut
Simple pleasures of Sanya come for cheap. You can find coconuts almost anywhere and for as little as RMB5 or as much as RMB40. If you’re brave and strong, we suppose you could just go find a tree and chop it down yourself. We’ve seen our neighbors do it.
8. Buy Chaobing 炒冰
This semi-authentic sorbet-style frozen dessert can be made any way you like. Aunts and uncles will mash up whichever fruit you like with a swirl of condensed milk and sugar. Add nuts and raisins or not, it’s up to you.
9. Head to Houhai
Some love it, some hate it, but this fast growing hot spot is the closest thing you’ll find in China to a bonafide hippie-surfer town. There are so many food stalls to try so plan on busting a gut or spending several days there to pack it all in.
10. Play at Atlantis
Most reading this can’t afford a night stay in this luxury resort, but definitely plan to go to the water park. Only the very smallest of non-walking children wouldn’t have fun at Atlantis. Adults have more fun with friends, so plan to go in a group. There’s also an aquarium, an underwater tunnel restaurant, Gordon Ramsey’s Breadstreet, live music at their Tiki Bar and more.
Image via Victoria/SinTon Yachts
Since we’re genuinely a nature-loving rag, we don’t have the best picture of scuba providers here. We’ve seen too many take guests to feed the fish and then watch them throw trash over the boat. But if you must, plenty of vendors are available.
We’d prefer you not pump money into the scuba industry, but instead get your own mask, snorkel and shoes or fins to do some light snorkeling. Find reefs and fish at Xiaodonghai, Dadonghai and Wuzhizhou Island.
13. Sit at a Sky Bar
Views and vibes go hand and hand at a few of the city’s best sky bars. We like Hyatt’s pool and cloud bar in the city center, Phoenix Island at this iconic man-made island, Oasis or 9.9 Lounge Bar as low key options, Edition for those in Haitang Bay and the Pod in Dadonghai. There are many more throughout Sanya.
15. Meet New Friends
It might not be the case that you easily meet a Sanya local expat, but check out one of Sanya’s events for fast friends from around China. Here at That’s we round up events and publish that list every Thursday.
17. Love On Live Animals
Book an unforgettable experience with dolphins or aquarium animals at Atlantis, play with penguins in Yazhou Bay, visit Pineapple Mall’s ‘zoo’ or try to coax out the capybara at this cafe. We have mixed feelings about the capybara cafe, but others have since reported that a second capybara has joined the first and sometimes it does come out of its pen.
18. Watch a Show
Atlantis has a well-prepared show at their stage and Sheraton in Haitang Bay has a live flame-throwing show every Friday and Saturday and most holidays at their open air restaurant. You’ll need to book ahead for these.
19. Experience Culture
The Li and Miao Culture Tourism Spot is full of authentic and created experiences for tourists wanting to experience Hainan’s ethnic minority culture.
20. Go to a Stunt Show
This stunt show in Sanya has European and Chinese drivers.
Image via Dianping
21. Listen to Live Music
There are so many musicians in Sanya, you just need to look in the right places to find them.
22. Play Local Team Sports
Cheap and healthy fun is available via football/soccer, basketball, rugby and more. Connect with the sports group (WeChat ID: vanessajencks) to find out when and where or look at the events listings on our weekly events post.
24. Go to “Santorini”
Oh and we forgot to mention the Greek restaurant in this development styled after Santorini.
Pick between jumping from a huge cliff, being thrown up by a cord over the beach or being pulled behind a boat. Either way we recommend it and personally went with Montega in Haitang Bay (WeChat ID:mtgjxyd or 15348834932). Prices are from RMB600 per person and up.
Significantly more expensive and dangerous than parasailing at RMB3,500 and up per person, this thrilling experience is offered by a handful of vendors with both Chinese and expat instructors (WeChat ID: wxid_8ev4yr5inmf322).
27. Party on a Yacht
Just keep in mind that yachting in Sanya and in other ocean locations are totally different. Most captains will sail out to one spot and drop anchor while you hang out, dance or fish. Water adventure vendors will come by to your boat to offer jet skiing, banana boats and flying dragons. So take friends and plan your own fun to avoid boredom.
28. River Rafting
Get in contact with Frank (WeChat ID: velochina-jiyang) at Velo China to sign up for river rafting experiences in the mountains north of Sanya.
29. Take a Helicopter Tour
At about RMB400 and up per person, you can fly around for a minute or so.
30. Rest in the Rainforest
Pick between Yanoda National Rainforest or Wuzhishan. Please note that at this time foreigners are not allowed to enter the main park of Wuzhishan, but areas around the park and resorts still have amazing wildlife and views.
Image via Solar
32. Wuzhizhou Island
One of the most beautiful places for coral in Sanya, this island can be reached by ferry from Houhai’s port.
34. Take a Photoshoot Underwater
Of course you can find a photographer for a normal shoot on the beach, but why not get really unexpected pictures with a professional underwater photographer (WeChat ID: facemo).
35. Ride an ATV
ATVs are available on the beach and in the mountains of Sanya.
There are kid and adult versions of go-karts scattered throughout Sanya.
37. Get a Tattoo
Just don’t do it drunk OK? (WeChat ID: ink9881)
38. Fry Fish
Head to one of Sanya’s many fresh fish markets for a seafood feast.
39. Visit Dinosaurs
Dino-loving children will want to pose with these replicas of their favorite reptiles.
40. Ride the Ferris Wheel in Fantasy Town
Tickets are often free to enter the park, and the Ferry fare isn’t much more of a cost.
Image by Vanessa Jencks/ That’s
41. Shop at the Night Market
Though we’ve reviewed the most well-known night market, Sanya has pop up night markets at most shopping centers.
42. Go to a Duty Free Mall
If you like shopping and you’ve got a ticket to leave the island, you can shop tax free and with discounts. There’s a duty free mall in Sanya’s city center and a massive one in Haitang Bay. Duty free shops are also scattered throughout the city.
43. Get a Legit Thai Massage
Up your spa experience with a real body-cracking massage from Thai expats in Sanya.
44. Visit A Prop Town
Sad that the borders aren’t open for travel? Go to the “European” town across from Serenity Marina to take lots of pictures and pretend you’re somewhere else.
45. Rent a Sports Car
Ferraris, McLarens, Porches and more are available for rent. Don’t try to fool others that it’s yours, as most locals know you could just afford the deposit and day fees. On the other hand, ladies wanting to spoil their man won’t disappoint with making a sports car reservation.
46. See the Statue at Nanshan
Many consider this a must-do for the activities in the park and picture opportunities while others don't want to bother since it’s a more modern development specifically for attracting tourism.
47. Step up to the Tee
Grassy lawns and caddies are a heartwarming sight for some, and Luhuitou, Haitang Bay and Yalong Bay each have their own range. We have yet to find a mini-golf place, though many have asked.
48. Lather up at a Foam Party
Bubbles will be splatter out at many pools and locations in Sanya. You don’t need to search far to find a place to have fun in the suds. Harman Hotel, Aurora in Houhai, Wingate by Wyndham and Mangrove in Yalong Bay are just a few places with foam we can think of right now.
49. Bounce Around at Mangrove Resort Sanya Bay
Mangrove World Resort Sanya Bay is a fun place to go during a rainy day since they have a prop town, movie theatre, children’s indoor playground and trampoline park. They’ve got a smaller water park that is hit or miss depending upon if it’s undergoing renovations or not.
50. Splash at a Waterpark
Speaking of waterparks, there are many in Sanya beyond Mangrove Resort and Atlantis. Renovations are sometimes an issue of opening so call ahead before actually getting a taxi to go to whichever you choose.
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[Cover image via Baidu]
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