Sun, sea and sand

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2012, 12:00am


Sanya is China's most popular holiday destination and a welcome escape from breakneck development. Some of the country's best beaches line the southern coast of Hainan Island, stretching west and east from the city. The sands are yellow and fine, making for relaxing late night walks and cosy daytime digs under a parasol.

The most famous beach rims Yalong Bay, China's Riviera, where luxury hotels perch along a placid stretch of golden sand made specifically for lounging and dipping toes in the warm South China Sea.

Yalong Bay is cut off from the outside world by a wall of luxury hotels, and is still the premier destination for families and couples seeking a break. Just behind the bay is the Yalong Bay Tropical Heaven Forest Park, a maze of lush jungle paths leading to a hill overlooking the bay - a perfect place to capture sunset over the ocean.

Dadonghai is also a beautiful beach, but has a little more in the way of nightlife and eating options than the secluded Yalong. Dadonghai is popular with foreign tourists - especially Russian families - and the beachside bars have music and drinks late into the night.

Dadonghai is just north of the Luhuitou Peninsula, another romantic destination, which spreads out into the ocean ending in the Ban Shan Ban Dao beach. Known as the Beverly Hills of Hainan, this beach has some of the island's most spectacular residential complexes and several luxury hotels.

Further west along the coastline is Tianya Haijiao, a fine beach studded with massive boulders and tiny fishing hamlets - known for centuries as the 'end of the known world' and a pilgrimage for couples determined to swear their undying love for each other. Lines of couples walk along the beach towards the massive rock dubbed 'the end of the world' almost every day, snapping pictures and smiling at each other in the bright Hainan sun.

The nearby Nanshan Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) atop the mountains of southwestern Hainan is one of the largest in the world and one of Sanya's more famous tourist attractions. The climb to the top demands several hours and buckets of perspiration, but the views from one of the island's highest points and the feel of the strong sea wind make the climb worthwhile.

If it is at all possible to tire of the ocean wind and golden sands, then head inland through the jungle and up into the Wuzishan mountain range, where the Li minority people live in simple villages, leading lives not far removed from their ancestors of centuries past.

Mock versions of Li minority villages are also on display in some of the beachside resorts, such as Yalong and Haitang Beach, which is still under development.