How NOT to Travel to Sanya, Hainan in China

Before I left for China, I organized a list of 22 places I wanted to travel and Sanya, Hainan was on that list, but before I go there. My goal as a writer was to be a traveler. I wanted to travel, write and show people more about the beauty of our world accompanying each juicy article with photos that capture the place you needed to go right now to feel paradise. If I want to travel write, I have to be a good traveler. This being my first tour in a different part of the world, I am doing a bang up job. Sanya, Hainan was a good example.

I took a weekend trip to Hainan Island, a province of China, in December 2015. I was feeling a great need to get out of dodge and see something different from the inside of a classroom. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer in a high school classroom in China was difficult enough and I needed a break.

After talking with a colleague, she suggested I go to Sanya, a part of Hainan that people have come to refer to as the “Hawaii of China.” She told me about the beaches, the warm weather, the delicious seafood by the Oceanside and I was all in. She recommended I fly into Haikou, a city 2 hours south of Sanya by fast train, because the area was less touristy, and the flights were cheaper. As a volunteer, who doesn’t have a salary to begin with, I looked for the cheapest possible options that still allowed me to get away I booked my flight, booked a hotel, and that very weekend made my way to paradise. I was so excited about this trip because it was on my bucket list. I even called my parents and told them about it.

In December, you can get a flight from Chongqing to Haikou late Friday night around or after 10:30. The flight is about an average hour and a half, nothing special. By the time your flight arrives, you’ll walk into a heated darkness of a tropical island and listen to the sway of palm trees. You’ll be part of a crowd anxious to get a taxi and get to their destination and wind down for a good night of sleep.

This sounds like a great idea, but it’s the wrong one. What you should do is wait for the nearby train station to open and catch a train to Sanya at the earliest time available. You could’ve arrived in Sanya early that morning, went out to enjoy that delicious seafood by the Oceanside, dip your feet in the ocean on a hot day, enjoy that comfortable hostel near the ocean, and enjoy that two-day vacation in Sanya. But you didn’t and this is what might happen when you choose to stay in Haikou and not Sanya.

When you get out of the airport terminal, you’ll have to wait in line for as long as 20- 30 minutes for a taxi. It’ll be hot in the dark of the night, it will be late, and you might be tired because you just worked that day. You feel a sense of relief when it’s finally your turn to get a taxi. As you get into the cab, you tell the driver, in Chinese, the hotel you need to go to. You ask him how much it is. He tells you, 80 rmb ($12) for a 10-minute cab ride. You know that this is the same amount of money you would normally spend for a 30-minute cab ride from your house to Chongqing Airport. You argue with the driver, you tell him it’s ridiculous. He tells you that this is the way it goes because it’s late and you are in a tourist area.

What you should do is immediately tell that guy, ‘eff no,’ get out of the cab and find a new one. But you don’t.
The driver is scamming you, but you stay in the cab, arguing with him the entire ten-minute drive telling him that 80 RMB is it is ridiculous. Insisting he turns on the meter, but he says it’s too late and this is how it goes. You arrive at the hotel shortly. You say goodbye to the driver, with a mouthful of disdain, and then stroll into the empty lobby of the hotel, thankful that you have finally arrived and can get a moment of peace.

When you get to the front desk, you tell them you have a reservation, and you give them your passport only for them to tell you a few minutes later that you don’t have one, even though you booked one on the internet. You show them the email reservation confirmation. They tell you, you actually missed your check-in time. Even worse, they have no rooms at this time. By this time it is nearly 1 pm and you’re about to shoot someone.

You really should’ve gone to Sanya.

At this point, you set out on foot to find another hotel. It’s still dark, you’re in uncharted territory and everything is deserted. You stumble onto a hotel that looks ‘alright’ so you go in and inquire. The lady says it’s 88 RMB for a room, and you think, well that’s not so bad. You tell her you will check out on Sunday. She makes you fill out a paper, she gives you your key and you go up to your room. Once in your room, you realize you paid nearly the same price for your cab ride as you did for a shitty hotel room. You stand in the doorway debating going downstairs to get a refund and look for a better hotel. Instead, you walk into the room with a pair of shower shoes that aren’t the same size and bathroom with cups that haven’t be changed in months. But at least they have internet.

You definitely should’ve gone to Sanya.

You call your parents and start crying about your trip. They worry because you are in a shitty hotel and you just paid more than you planned. You’re crying and laughing at the same time for the ridiculousness of the situation. Your parents wonder if you are ok, and you know you are just fine but that you are frustrated that things aren’t going well.

You assure them that tomorrow you were going to go find the nearest beach and enjoy yourself. You tell them goodnight, get in the shower, clean yourself, and the nearby sink because it’s gross. Then you go to bed.

By this time, you are in too deep, but really, you should’ve gone to Sanya.

The next day, you get dressed, and even put on your swimsuit in hopes that you can swim somewhere. You go out into the light of day and discover the part of town you are in isn’t so bad when sunlight hits it. It’s rather beautiful, the skies are clearer than that of Chongqing’s and you feel a little hope in the day. You stop by a local vendor and get something to drink, and then ask the shopkeeper for directions to the beach. She tells you to take one of two buses. One rarely comes, and has less stops, the other comes often and has more. You opt for the less stop bus. 30 minutes later, you’re waiting for that damn bus and you’re like, ‘eff it’ so you get on the bus that takes longer. You’re on the bus, watching the city fly by, observing the traffic jams, the businesses stacked on top of one another, and trucks driving by full of live chickens. You’re watching your Baidu map to make sure the bus is taking you in the direction of the beach when suddenly the traffic jam gets worse. You realize, the town is under a massive construction. You watch your Baidu map anxiously hoping to get there soon and then realize the bus takes an unusual turn. You panic because, “What the hell China? Why are you always under construction?”

……You should’ve gone to Sanya……

You get off at the next stop after the unusual turn, which is in the middle of nowhere. Literally, because it’s just newly developed and no one is living there yet. It’s essentially deserted. From there you try and look for a different bus at the terminal that can take you to the beach. There isn’t one. You start walking. At this point, you don’t know where you are going and you hope to eventually encounter some humans. You’re only slightly panicked but only because you don’t know where you are.

You keep walking and a few cars drive by, turning their heads to wonder why a foreigner is walking, alone, in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, you run into a person, a sweet young girl. Fortunately, she is able to direct you in the proper direction of the beach. You walk together for a while. You tell her about where you are from and chat for a little longer about Hainan. Soon, she veers to her bus stop and tells you to stop and listen because you are near the ocean.

You walk one more block until you see a horizon where water and sky meet. You feel relieved, especially because it took the better part of 3 hours to find a place that should’ve taken 1 hour to get to. You walk alongside the ocean, where you see a slew of large industrial boats docked in the distance. Some people are windsurfing, the air is whistling through the palm trees and the pavement slowly turns to sand. Then you finally a tent with many people underneath sipping out of huge green coconuts.

You’re like f*** yes. At this point, you don’t care about Sanya.

You choose the biggest coconut, of course. The man cuts your coconut almost angrily with a large cleaver. He hacks a chunk of the hide from the coconut, which is shaped like a spoon. He takes the point of his cleaver and jabs into the top of the coconut. Juice squirts into his eye. You jump in surprise and try not to laugh. He sticks a straw in the coconut and hands you the homemade spoon, instructing you to come back once you have finished drinking.

You sit under the tent for a long while, watching the people in the nearby square. The ocean is just down the steps and there are children playing in the water. People hold conversations in Chinese around you, which are past your level of understanding. You finish your coconut, he fiercely hacks it open once again and you eat the inside with your spoon. For the next few hours, you walk alongside the beach, putting your feet in the water, feeling the push and pull of the waves. For the first time in a while you feel grounded and peaceful around nearly everything bothering you. Later, you hitch a ride on a motorcycle back to your hotel because you end up waiting at a bus stop, again, for the same bus that never came last time.

God damn it, Haikou.

It’s your last night in Hainan. Your plane leaves in the early evening tomorrow but you decide you are going to Sanya, to see the Goddess of Mercy at the edge of the world. You book train tickets on your phone and go to sleep hopeful.

Thank God you went to Sanya.

You get off the train in Sanya and get on the bus that says you are going to see the Goddess. A local assures you its only 45 minutes. This man is more concerned about you being by yourself than you are. Sure enough, you arrive 45 minutes later. You practically run to the front gate, buy your ticket and go inside. You walk through the trees until the Goddess becomes visible over the treetops. She is small at first, and with each step, the mass size her majestic figure astounds you.

You love Sanya.

The sun is high and bright over the ocean. You think you are in heaven because it literally looks like you are. Not a single boat is in view, just water and sky infinitely back up the Goddess of Mercy, the woman with three faces, in robes of white, standing on a mound of gold. You cry because you dreamed of coming here.

You are so glad you came to Sanya because the rest of the trip sucked, but you finally went to Sanya. You realize you must redo the trip and go directly to Sanya next time. You must stay in a hostel near the beach, go at an appropriate time of the day, spend more than an hour at the Goddess, really swim in the ocean, really eat delicious food, and for the love of God, do not stay in Haikou.