Sanya, China with Kids: 5 Reasons to Pick Sanya (as an Alternative to Phuket) for your Next Getaway

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Sanya China with Kids

If you’re anything like me, or like anyone else in Singapore, you’ve probably done Phuket to death by now. And Krabi. And Koh Samui. And Bali. You probably get the drift.

Having been lustily eyeing the 2017 October Deepawali holidays for a while, I wanted to break the everyday rut and go someplace that was off-beat, yet right for a family vacation. So, for our 4-day family break, Sanya, China it was!

Situated on the southernmost tip of China, in Hainan Province, Sanya is a noted tourist destination with mountains, rivers and the beautiful sea views. If you are into watching international beauty pageants, you might remember Sanya as the location of tens of pageants over the last decade or two, including the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants. Just recently, Miss World 2017 was held here.

Sanya offers a well-rounded experience with ample culture, vibrant nature, sea side lounging and much more, making it a famous tourist destination, especially among the Chinese and Russians. It is, in fact, so popular with the Russians that more people in Sanya speak Russian than English!

So, if you are not already looking up flights to Sanya, here are 5 cinching reasons why you should.

1. Short, Cheap Flights

Sanya, China

Jetstar offers a direct flight to Sanya, twice a week which operates only on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Hop on to the early-morning flight on Saturday and get 3 full days to relax and explore Sanya. To get a bonus day, choose the Tuesday flight like we did.

The flights was short and cheap, with under four hours of travel time (outbound flight – 4 hours & return flight – 3), which is comparable to that for Phuket or Krabi, and shorter than Bali from Singapore, and cost us less than S$200 per head.

2. Beach Fun (Pool Fun, Kids’ Club & Family Activities)

Beach Fun at Sanya, China
Beach Fun
Enjoying a gorgeous sunrise
Enjoying a gorgeous sunrise
Family Fun! Let's go for a ride.
Family Fun! Let’s go for a ride.

The “Hawaii of the East” doesn’t disappoint. And at Yalong Bay, you can see why. An extremely scenic coastal area of Sanya, Yalong Bay has beautiful beaches, upscale Hotels & Resorts and a relatively serene scene. Anywhere you choose to stay, it’s removed from the noise and crowds of Sanya Bay (another area for beach fun).  Although the hotels and restaurants are priced higher (perhaps overpriced) than other parts of Sanya, the less crowded, quieter beach with white sand and clean waters is just right for you and the kids as well.

Get your thrill-fill of water sports, scuba diving or surfing at Wuzhizhou Island that also has beautiful coral reefs.

Or just laze around your hotel’s beach, especially if you’re the “thank you, but I would rather  just lounge around” kind. Our hotel offered an awesome pool, a decent Kids’ Club and there were activities to keep kids busy all day long. The beach was good enough and the views from our room, at sunrise were gorgeous.

3. Nature 

Welcome to Yanoda Rainforest, Sanya, China

Welcome to Yanoda Rainforest – The entrance

Natural beauty galore at Yanoda Rainforest, Sanya, China
Natural beauty galore at Yanoda
(Natural) Beauty and the (Fake) Beast
(Natural) Beauty and the (Fake) Beast
My trio enjoying the views
My trio enjoying the views
Yanoda Rainforest
Hopping accross a bridge

At Yanoda Rainforest, nature lovers can go for half-a-day of trekking, rock-climbing a waterfall or zip lining (think several times bigger than Megazip in Sentosa). Pricey at CNY 165 (approx. S$34), the fee includes entry plus cost of a shuttle bus – the bus only takes you to the first point from where you have to walk, but with kids in tow, it makes sense to spend that extra bit. Once inside, be prepared to dish out another CNY 300 (approx. S$62) for the ‘battery car’. *Note for animal lovers: There is a bird show at Yanoda and animal photography with macaws and peacocks. I’m hoping that those birds were rehabilitated but I haven’t been able to find  appropriate information. So please do your research before you go.

Sweeping views of Sanya from Louhuitou Park
Sweeping views of Sanya from Louhuitou Park
View of Phoenix Island from Louhuitou Park, Sanya
View of Phoenix Island from Louhuitou Park

Luhuitou Park is another nice place to visit while you’re in Sanya. The entrance is not pricey and I would recommend Luhuitou over Yanoda any day, if you’re travelling with young kids. In Luhuitou, I recommend paying the extra CNY 15 (approx. S$3) for the shuttle ride up and down. The shuttle drops you at a mid-point from where you walk up and enjoy the views. Once at the top, you can either take the stairs down or slide down (CNY 15) all the way down to the shuttle point. My husband and the twins enjoyed sliding down while I had to climb down the stairs since our youngest wasn’t allowed on the slide. It is absolutely worth the nice views and pictures of Sanya that you get from the top.

4. Culture

Binlang Ethnic Village, Sanya
Binlang Ethnic Village

Binlang Ethnic Village (or Bing Lang Gu) is rich in history and culture of the Li ethnic minority. Unfortunately, we missed seeing this as we did not account enough time into our day-trip. Binglanggu is just 5 minutes away from the Yanoda Rainforest and we had planned to do both on our one day-trip. However, as we left the hotel a bit late in the morning and Yanoda took more time than we anticipated, we reached Binglangu just before closing time. That meant we had to return without visiting it.

If I had to do it again with kids, I would definitely pick Binglanggu over Yanoda or do both by planning better.

Inside the village are aboriginal themed museums, Miao Song and Cultural Performances. You can experience Li and Miao food and wine, and their lifestyle. If you’re in the mood for some light adventure, they’ve got a Zipline too.

The 108m-high Guan Yin bronze statue, Nanshan Temple, Sanya
The 108m-high Guan Yin bronze statue, viewed from the plane
Nanshan Temple, Sanya, China
Nanshan Temple, Sanya

Another place to visit is the Nanshan Temple complex where a 108m-high Guan Yin bronze statue rises on an artificial island. Once again, we missed this because of a poorly planned day (it was really far from where we stayed), but it is one of the main attractions in Sanya, so try not to. If you need help planning out your trip, email me.

5. Digital Detox

I’ve had friends tell me about the no-electronics rule in Telunas Resort. Sanya doesn’t have any such rule, but a lot of stuff doesn’t work – think Google, Google Maps, Facebook – so it’s a forced detox. We survived and spent a lot of family time together. So, I’m definitely counting this as a plus, at least, after the first day when you get a bit used to it.

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Hits & Misses and How to Convert Misses into Hits

Though Sanya is a great place to visit, there are things that you might not be prepared for and it would help to be informed. Here are a few things that stumped us till we found a way through (or around) –

Distances: Sanya is quite big. So, depending on where you are staying, some places might take upto an hour to get to. We had to choose between the Nanshan Temple and Yanoda Rainforest because both were an hour away from our resort, in opposite directions.

Beat the Stress: Check out TripAdvisor before you go. Decide beforehand what all you want to see and do, and plan an itinerary accordingly. I cannot stress this enough – check out Google Maps and plot locations before you go, because I still have no idea what replaces Google Maps in China. If you need help planning out your trip, email me.

Language: I’ve travelled to my fair share of non-English speaking countries and I’ve lived in Taiwan and in China (Shanghai, for 2 years). But nothing prepared me for this. No one, and I mean no one, speaks English (ok, maybe 3-4 people do). You can hope they do at the hotels in the Yalong Bay area, but they do not at the Anantara where we stayed.

Beat the Stress: Bing Translator comes to your rescue. It actually works great. We had entire conversations using the Bing translator. And, everyone in Sanya seemed to be prepped to whip out their phones and open the translator too.

Forced Digital Detox: Google doesn’t work in China. Yup, I was as shocked as you are! That means Google Maps doesn’t work either. Wanna get on Facebook and tell all your friends this? Don’t bother – Facebook doesn’t work either. I was told that WhatsApp should work, but it definitely didn’t work on my phone.

Beat the Stress: Not the end of the world guys! Acceptance is key. Acceptance and Bing. Use Bing search engine. Use Bing Translator. Accept that your friends will be okay even if they don’t see your picture on FB for 4 days. And as far as WhatsApp goes, it worked on hubby’s phone whenever he used Data Roaming – so, get a good data plan from Starhub and you’ll survive. Just.

Veg Food: Vegetarianism still seems to be rare in China (except for vegetarian restaurants catering to Buddhist vegetarians), so finding good vegetarian food won’t be easy.

Beat the Stress: If you’re the kind of vegetarian who doesn’t want fish sauce in their food, you might be better off eating non-local. You should be able to get vegetarian pizza and pasta in upscale hotels. Pizza Hut has a few veg options on the menu too. I had to practically go hungry the first day, but once we figured out Bing translator, we were able to get a few veg dishes at the hotel as well. They happily made the fried rice sans egg, and the pork was replaced by carrots in the fried noodles.

So, before your next long weekend passes away while you keep making plans, head to Sanya and leave all your worries behind. And don’t forget the Bing Translator though.


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