SANYA is, sooner or later, the destination of every visitor to Hainan Island. What pulls in the crowds – an increasing number of whom are Russian and Korean – are Sanya's surrounding sights, especially Dadonghaibeach, one of the few places in China where you can unwind in public. Another popular spot is Yalong Bay, a cluster of insular resorts and nice beaches 20km east of town.
Despite the area's resort image, Sanya City itself is not a tourist attraction, its proximity to the beaches only made apparent by the presence of matching-short-and-shirt-wearing holidaying mainlanders. Recent investment has given the downtown area the appearance of any other mildly prosperous Chinese city, but it has atmosphere, and for seediness you can't beat the wharf area along Jiangang Lu, where dubious characters, scantily clad women and an air of lazy indifference fill the untidy teahouses and back alleys.
Just 150m from the main road, often crowded and seasonally blistering hot, three-kilometre-long Dadonghai has pretty well everything you could ask for in a tropical beach: palm trees, white sands, and warm, blue water. Beachside bars and kiosks renting out beach umbrellas, jet skis, catamarans and rubber rings complete the scene, but on the whole the Chinese appear strangely bemused by beach life, as if they know it should be fun but are unsure of how to go about enjoying themselves. While it's all very relaxed for China, don't mellow too much, as unattended valuables will vanish, and women going topless, or any nudity – other than at the far eastern end of the beach where there's a nudist colony, mainly consisting of Chinese men well past the first bloom of youth – could lead to arrests.