Things to Do in Sanya
Built in 1988 to commemorate two thousand years of Buddhist history in China, Nanshan Temple (Nanshan Si)and the surrounding Buddhism Cultural Zone serve as a window into China’s rich Buddhist heritage. Nanshan is also the largest Buddhist temple established since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Situated at the foot of Nanshan Mountain, the temple architecture was heavily influenced by the Tang Dynasty. Visitors enter the grounds through The Mountain Gate, where two figures of the Buddha stand guard. Several more statues of the Buddha in his various forms live within the two main halls of the temple. A terrace in front of the temple looks out over the South China Sea, affording stunning views of the nearby 354-foot (108-meter) copper statue of the Buddhist goddess Guan Yin.
Come hungry, as the vegetarian food served at the temple restaurant is famously tasty.
Wuzhizhou Island, a former fisherfolk isle, is now one of Sanya’s most scenic beach destinations. The tiny butterfly-shaped island a few miles off the coast of Hainan gets its name from the colorful coral reefs just of the beach, where divers and snorkelers head to spot conches, sea urchins and a host of tropical fish.
Back on shore, the island is ringed with soft, white sand beaches, ideal for sunbathing. Other points of interest on the island include a temple dedicated to Matsu, the Buddhist goddess of the sea, and aptly named Sunrise Rock, where visitors come in the early hours to watch the sun peek up from the watery horizon. Several bars and restaurants cater to island visitors, and there’s a small guest house for those who prefer to stay the night.
Situated on a hill above the seashore just south of Sanya, Luhuitou Park is a favorite place on the island to watch the sunset, especially from the observation station atop Luhuitou Mountain. Several walking paths crisscross the park, shaded by red coconut trees where monkeys can sometimes be spotted. Kiosks throughout sell red coconut, a local specialty.
A statue of a deer looking back over its shoulder stands at the top of the park — a tribute to the local legend that gave the park its name. As the story goes, a tyrannical emperor asked a young man to bring him back a pair of deer antlers. While the young man was hunting, he spotted a deer being chased by a panther, but instead of taking aim at the deer, he shot the panther with his arrow. After chasing the deer for nine days and nine nights, they arrived at a cliff’s edge (the current location of the park), and as the boy took aim at the deer, it turned its head and transformed into a young woman. The pair fell in love and were married, and the young woman’s family helped defeat the tyrant.
The Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone, an eco-theme park for adventure enthusiasts, is set amid the lush greenery of Hainan Island, nicknamed the Hawaii of China. Park guests can hike along shaded paths through the dense forest, over bridges and past waterfalls, or for a thrill, zip line through the canopy or cool off with a waterfall climb.
A small village area has a cafe and some souvenir shops. While a guide through the park isn’t really necessary (and the official park guides speak limited English), it is possible to rent an audio guide inside with information on rainforest conservation and local Chinese legends about Hainan Island.
On the southern coast of Hainan Island just south of Sanya sits Sanya Bay (Sanya Wan), one of three major beaches on the island. The most convenient beach to the city, coconut palm-lined Sanya Bay also enjoys superb views across the water to Western, Eastern and Phoenix Islands, and since it’s not as heavily commercialized as Yalong and Haitang Bays, it’s often a much quieter option for enjoying a day of sun, sea and sand.
A paved road, known as the Coconut Dream Corridor, runs alongside the 14 miles (20 kilometers) beach — a popular place for a sunset stroll. Calm waters make the bay safe for swimming as well.
Covered by lush tropical evergreen rainforest, Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park protects a huge swath of coastal land, home to more than 130 plant and 190 animal species. A popular place to commune with Mother Nature for the day, the park is also home to one of the biggest trail networks in Hainan Province. A small pagoda at the top of the highest peak affords superb views of Hainan Island.
While hiking is a popular option, it’s not the only way to navigate the park. A tourist bus shuttles visitors between scenic spots (included in the entrance fee), and there’s also a rope bridge and a zip line where visitors can catch a glimpse of the forest from the canopy level. Between activities, it’s possible to lie down on a tranquil beach, dine at a mountaintop restaurant or even go for a swim in a clifftop pool.
Most commonly written "End of the Earth" in English, Tianya Haijiao translates to ‘edges of the heaven, corners of the sea'. When you’re sitting on the sun-warmed sand of this vast beach fronting the South China Sea, the name makes sense.
According to local legend, a young couple from two rival clans ran away and ended up at the beach. Believing it was the end of the earth, they swore their love for each other, jumped into the sea, and were transformed into two stones. Two large boulders poking out from the sand represent the star-crossed lovers’ eternal love, and newlyweds often come here during their honeymoons.
While Tianya Haijiao isn’t really the end of the earth, it is considered the southernmost point of China. On clear days, the sea seems to stretch on forever, with small islets visible in the distance.
Located in the heart of Hainan Island, about 40 minutes outside of Sanya, this former ethnic village has been transformed into a cultural park where visitors can learn about the traditional lifestyle of Hainan’s rural Li and Miao communities. Craftspeople demonstrate their skills in recreated old-style huts, while local villagers stage an outdoor dance production.
Two on-site museums display traditional Li and Miao clothing, arts and crafts. Should you see something you like, you’ll find numerous souvenir shops (bargaining accepted) with arts and crafts for sale. Electric cars ferry visitors to various points of interest within the village — a welcome amenity when feet start to feel tired.
A once remote area that’s now one of Hainan’s new hotspots, Haitang Bay stretches for 27 miles (43 kilometers) along the island’s southeastern shores. In recent years, Haitang Bay has earned its place on the tourist map as the home of several luxury hotels, including The Westin, Shangri-La and Kempinski, with more in the works. While ongoing development will likely draw bigger crowds to the area, it remains one of the quieter beaches on the island, perfect for watching a sunrise.
Aside from wide open sandy beach and numerous resort options, the area also features the 300-shot Haitang International Shopping Center, one of the biggest duty free malls of its kind in the world.
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