Hainan Island: teeing off by the South China Sea

by timfimac

After the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, head for Hainan Island. It's a 90-minute hop across the South China Sea, with tropical beaches, peerless seafood, a great hotel – and excellent golf

Our trip is celebratory in nature – our eldest son’s 21st birthday – and timed to coincide with the world famous Hong Kong Sevens. My mission (should I choose to accept), as mother to two sporty sons and wife to a golf-loving husband, is to find that special place to relax afterwards: an island close to Hong Kong, with golf courses. With a little help from my computer and search engine, I happen upon Hainan.

Only 67 miles from the southern China mainland, and 236 miles east of Vietnam, Hainan lies on virtually the same latitude as Hawaii. It is therefore often referred to as the Oriental or Chinese Hawaii. With turquoise seas, vast white sandy beaches along sweeping bays, an abundance of coconut trees, 2,563 hours of sunshine per year and no winter, Hainan is truly the eternal tropical paradise.

The Yalong Bay Resort is home to several international hotels, and is only a 35-minute transfer from Sanya’s Phoenix International Airport. We have chosen to stay at the Sanya Marriott Resort & Spa for our last week in the Far East, and are greeted by exceptionally gracious staff with tall glasses of iced lychee tea and ornate wooden beaded garlands. A vast outdoor panoramic lounge leads from the huge open-plan foyer, with breathtaking views straight across the South China Sea.

Whether you are holidaying alone, as a couple or as a family, the hotel facilities cater for all with swimming pools, tennis courts, spa facilities, and courtesy mini-buses to local golf courses. There are three types of room view – mountain, garden or ocean. Though they're slightly more expensive, I’d recommend a room with an ocean view.

The Marriott Café’s buffet breakfast sets you up for the day with a choice of continental, English or Asian food, freshly-baked patisserie, a fruit bar, and omlettes cooked to order from your chosen fresh ingredients. On the complex, there are another four restaurants to choose from, so your tastebuds will never be bored. For true Vietnamese cuisine, look no further than the Indochine restaurant which, due to its great reputation, is even frequented by guests from neighbouring hotels. Light and fragrant curries are their speciality, served steaming in bowls alongside sticky rice.

If eating the freshest catch of the day alongside the locals is more your scene, then head into Sanya and the Bin Hai Yu Cun restaurant on the coast road, with views out over the South China Sea. From the seafood shop on the ground level, with tanks of fresh produce awaiting their fate, wooden steps lead upstairs to the canopied but open-air restaurant, brimming with locals. The fish you choose is weighed, priced and taken away to be cooked, while you find a table in the shaded area upstairs. A feast of juicy red snapper, garlic shrimps, vegetable rice and the most amazing chilli mussels, washed down with a jugful of ice-cold local beer, sets us back the equivalent of £7 per head.

Hainan is home to the “No 1 Statue Project" in the world – the holy Guanyin statue, to be precise, which took six years to build. Standing at 108m tall, this incredible feat of engineering is to be found in the Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone, 40 miles west of the capital, Sanya. Nanshan translates as South Mountain, and has the most southerly mountain in China. Today, the holy Guanyin stands out to sea on reclaimed land and casts its eyes down on worshippers and tourists alike.

According to Bhuddist scriptures, Guanyin is said to have vowed 12 oaths to save all living beings. Chinese and others of the Bhuddist faith flock here from far and wide to pray to Guanyin in the hope that the saying “Good fortune as vast as East Sea… Long life as great as Nanshan mountain” will come true for  themselves and their families. The statue comprises three figures in one, representing peace, wisdom and mercy –  the last of which you need pray for, as there is very little protection from the sun here. Be warned and do as the locals do: take an umbrella or parasol, unless you wish to wilt. 

Suitably chilled-out from lying on the hotel’s comfortable, shaded sun loungers overlooking the South China Sea, we sip on freshly-squeezed mango juice. However, it is only a matter of time before Yalong Bay Championship Golf Course beckons the golfers in the family. Designed in the shape of a dragon’s claw, with stunning mountain backdrops and a snaking river that cuts through it, this 7,189-yard, par-72 golf course is an enjoyable experience for golfers of all abilities.

The five-star clubhouse includes a restaurant, pro shop and state-of-the-art driving range, offering golfers the very best in golf service – including  individual caddies, which I experience on my first game with my family. Kelly is the sweetest, most petite golf caddy I’ve ever met.  Her attempts to make me visualise a course with no water hazards are sadly wasted on me. “There is no water,” she keeps repeating softly like a mantra. Sadly, for inexperienced me, there is only water as I watch my Pro-V splash ceremoniously into the river. However, the pure enjoyment of playing in such beautiful, tropical surroundings, with my family and such supportive caddies, makes every bad shot fade into insignificance. 

For a two-centre break – Hong Kong, followed by some “r and r” – Hainan certainly fits the bill. The verdict from my eldest son, when asked how the trip went, sums it up completely: “I’ve had the best two weeks of my life”. As we catch the plane home, we couldn’t agree more.