Asia China
Destination: China's Seaside Escape
From white-sand beaches to world-class golf courses, the island of Hainan is just the place for a tropical getaway
BY JENNIFER CHEN
Lounge chairs on a beach near Sanya; the Meditation Pavilion at Mission Hills, surrounded by the Eastern Zen Garden.
Surfing, palm trees and powdery beaches aren’t usually the first things that come to mind when you think of China. But that’s exactly what you’ll find on the island of Hainan, the country’s southernmost and smallest province. Located in the South China Sea, the island—roughly the size of Maryland—was in ancient times a lonely backwater inhabited by banished dissidents and other undesirables. As China’s fortunes have soared in the past two decades, the newly wealthy have discovered Hainan, drawn by its sunny shores, clear waters and balmy climate.

Hainan is now home to China’s most luxurious beach resorts as well as pampering spas and internationally acclaimed golf courses. So far, development has focused on the provincial capital, Haikou, on the north shore, and Sanya, the resort enclave in the south. As a vacation destination, Hainan may not be to everyone’s taste: The crowds of Hawaiian-shirted local tourists are difficult to elude, especially during the winter high season, and beyond the resort areas there’s little to do. But if you’re traveling to Hong Kong and looking to squeeze in a relaxing beach escape, the 90-minute flight to Sanya may be just the ticket. Here, some of the best of what Hainan has to offer.

On Spa Time
Sprawling over 215,000 square feet and encompassing 61 treatment rooms, a library, a café and a garden, the spa at the Mission Hills Resort Haikou (1 Mission Hills Blvd., Haikou; 86-898-6868-3888; missionhillschina.com) is one of the world’s largest. Its circular design resembles that of the houses built by the area’s Hakka people, and Chinese traditions are incorporated in the treatments. (Nonguests may use the resort spas referred to here; prices are similar to those charged in U.S. luxury resorts.) The Pearl of the Orient facial uses locally harvested ground pearls, believed to help soothe and hydrate the skin. Some 200 hot and cold springs for bathing are on the grounds.

On Sanya’s scenic Yalong Bay, the Ritz-Carlton, Sanya offers the 30,000- square-foot ESPA, the hotel chain’s largest spa in Asia (Yalong Bay National Resort District; 86-898-8898-8888; ritzcarlton.com). Its 24 Balinese-inspired treatment rooms and suites surround a traditional courtyard; some have private Jacuzzis and tubs made of Italian stone. Treatments range from facials to the “Shen Harmonizer”—a soothing deep-tissue massage using warm volcanic stones that are meant to get your qi (life energy) flowing. Afterward, linger in the jade steam room or sign up for a gentle session of tai chi.

The spas run by the Banyan Tree hotel chain are known for their state-of-the-art facilities, experienced therapists and Asian-inspired therapies. At the 61-villa Banyan Tree Sanya (6 Luling Rd., Sanya; 86-898-8860-9988; banyantree.com), on the Luhuitou Peninsula, the spa has 16 suites and an area devoted to Thai massage. The highlight is the cutting-edge hydrothermal complex, where therapists guide guests through a series of cabins equipped with rain showers, jet pools, a hammam and even ice. (Alternating between hot and cold is believed to boost blood circulation.) The 21/2-hour Oriental Ritual combines Tibetan massage techniques with a body scrub that is followed by a soak in a lavender-scented bath.

At newcomer Anantara Sanya’s spa (6 Xiaodonghai Rd., Sanya; 86-898-8888-5088; anantara.com), the eight treatment rooms have traditional Chinese touches (daybeds, birdcages, live koi). There’s also a plunge pool, steam room, spa-jet pool and Swiss-shower room. Sign up for one of the tea-based treatments, such as the Green Tea Purification, a three-hour session that includes a bath, scrub, body wrap and massage—all using products that contain green tea leaves, which are thought to help detoxify, boost the immune system and ease aches and pains.

Best Beaches
Palm-fringed beaches are Hainan’s main lure and the reason for the island’s (somewhat hyperbolic) nickname, China’s Hawaii. Yalong Bay Beach (admission $8*) is Sanya’s star attraction: a nearly five-mile-long stretch of white sands framed by jungle-clad mountains and crystalline waters. Some of the area’s toniest resorts are located here, which means fewer beach vendors.  

A 90-minute drive northeast of Sanya, Riyuewan Beach is the island’s premier surfing spot. Amateurs and veterans travel here for the famous left-hand point break. It’s considered an excellent spot for first-timers to learn to ride the waves. Once sleepy, the area is now chockablock with surf shops and backpacker accommodations, but it’s still less hectic than Hainan’s better-known bathing spots.

On the east coast near the town of Bo’ao is Yudai Beach (admission $9), a narrow strip between the Wanquan River and the South China Sea (the name means “jade belt”). While its sand is not as fine as that of Yalong, it’s nowhere near as crowded.

Tee Time
Hainan already has more than 29 golf courses, and is fast becoming Asia’s golfing capital. Leading the way is the Mission Hills Resort Haikou, whose 10 courses lie on top of a chain of dormant volcanoes. Designed by the innovative Schmidt-Curley firm, the courses range from the player-friendly Preserve, which stretches to 6,535 yards, to the rugged, 350-acre Blackstone, built with international tournaments in mind.

If 10 courses sounds overwhelming, consider the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr.–designed course at the Yalong Bay Golf Club (yalongbaygolfclub.com), shaped like a dragon’s claw and covering 168 acres overlooking the sea. Near Haikou, the West Coast Golf Club (www.westgolf.com.cn/en) has an 18-hole course for all skill levels, also with sea views. Need to work on your swing? There’s a double-level driving range with 60 bays here.
 
Day-tripping
Long before large numbers of Han Chinese began migrating to Hainan during the Song Dynasty (960–1276), the island was populated by the Li, an ethnic minority from southern China known for their women’s intricate facial tattoos. Li, as well as members of the Miao tribe, still live on the island, and it’s worth arranging a trip to their villages to see another side of Hainan. (The touristy Li and Miao Village at Bing Lang Gu is not recommended.) Ask your resort’s concierge to set up a private tour. And during your visit, always request permission before taking photos.

Inland, Hainan is still covered with subtropical rainforests where black crested gibbons, clouded leopards and numerous bird species dwell. A two-hour drive from Sanya, the 172-square-mile Jianfengling National Forest Park (admission $13), in the island’s southwest, provides your best chance to spot these rare animals. Make sure to go with a guide; this can be arranged by a tour agency or through your hotel. A good day trip from Haikou is the Shishan Volcanic Cluster National Geopark (about nine miles away; admission $10), a collection of dramatic craters and caves formed by long-ago eruptions. But however you choose to spend your time on Hainan, you’re sure to leave refreshed.


DETAILS
Before You Go
North Americans need visas to enter China. For information on visas and other travel requirements, visit china-embassy.org/eng. Check with your physician or go to cdc.gov for required and recommended shots.


Getting There
The main airport is Haikou Meilan International Airport; you can also fly to Sanya Fenghuang International Airport. Travelers from the U.S. can connect through Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong.

STAY
RCI affiliated resorts On Hainan include:

Noble Yacht Club 7481
Just 15 minutes from downtown Haikou, this resort has peaceful gardens and rooms with sweeping sea views. 99 W. Binhai Rd., Haikou
Member Review: “Lovely morning beach walks. The staff were helpful and friendly.”

HNA @ Beach & Spa Resort 8585
A beachfront property in Haikou, set in a lush tropical garden and close to many major attractions. 111 W. Binhai Rd., Haikou
Member Review: “If you want to get away from it all, this is the place.”

HNA @ International Asia Pacific Convention Center Sanya 8587
The 473 rooms are comfortable and tastefully decorated. Sanya Bay Resort District, Sanya

HNA @ Kangle Garden 8586
This 42-acre resort has natural hot springs, tropical gardens, a golf course and tennis courts. Kang Le Garden, Wanning, Xinlong
Member Review: “Hot-springs water in the showers. Nice landscaping.”

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

Non-RCI affiliated resorts

Mission Hills Resort Haikou A sprawling resort with one of the world’s largest spas and 10 golf courses. 1 Mission Hills Blvd., Haikou; 86-898-6868-3888; missionhillschina.com; doubles from $200 per night

Mandarin Oriental Sanya A beautifully landscaped 30-acre resort. Some of the 296 rooms have private balconies. 12 Yuhai Rd., Sanya; 86-898-8820-9999; mandarinoriental.com; doubles from $245 per night

Sheraton Haikou Resort A family-friendly resort on a private beach. 199 Bin Hai Rd., Haikou; 86-898-6870-8888; starwoodhotels.com; doubles from $132 per night

Le Méridien Shimei Bay Beach Resort & Spa A 275-room resort on the east coast’s quiet Shimei Bay with a stunning pool, a private beach and an in-house tai chi master. Shimei Bay, Wanning; 86-898-6252-8888; starwoodhotels.com; doubles from $215 per night

*Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
Published: Summer 2013 
Photos: Getty Images; Mission Hills China
RCI® Subscribing
Members
Search Other Destinations to Suit Your Interests
play eat shop relax explore
See Also...
Landmarks: Asian Retreats
Spring 2013
Learn More
More Destinations
Popular
San Diego, CA Park City, UT Vancouver, B.C.
Washington, D.C. Cancún, Mexico
Browse
USA Northeast Southeast Florida
Midwest Southwest West Hawaii
Africa Asia Australia Canada
Mexico Caribbean Central/South America
Europe Cruise
Browse All Destinations
  • Advertisement
    By clicking on the ad below, you will be directed to a website not operated by RCI and you agree to be subject to the terms and conditions and privacy policy of that third party website.