An informal poll of hotel concierges, pearl vendors, fruit sellers, and restaurateurs revealed that the entire town of Sanya is committed to supporting Monkey Island through sheer word-of-mouth. One reason for this phenomenon is that almost everyone has a relative in the taxi industry, and Monkey Island rewards drivers who convince their fares to buy a ticket on the island's air tram. Running on soaring steel wires, the tram lifts tourist groups over the bay and a stubby mountain and deposits them at the junior Jurassic Park-style gate that marks Monkey Island's entrance.
Our driver told us there were no ferries to the island.
"This book says there are," I said, brandishing my Lonely Planet guide.
"Well, it's wrong. The ferries closed last year."
At the air tram headquarters in the town of Xincun, the cabbie tried to hustle us toward the ticket booth, but Casey and I snuck off between the tourist buses and found people offering ferry rides left and right, at prices about half that of the 40 yuan air tram ticket. Ever the opportunist, our cabbie tracked us down and began negotiating with the ferrymen in the singsong Hainan dialect. A strange argument ensued, and soon the cabbie was jabbing a finger at an old ferryman's bare chest while the ferryman's wife "sang" at him like a banshee.
We explored the wharf on the other side of the air tram parking lot, where hundreds of watercraft bobbed on the clear green bay. Water sloshed among the hulls of the big fishing boats and colorful dinghies, but there were no obvious ferries save the one operated by the air-tram company, also a 40 yuan ride.
The ferryman and the cabbie came around the corner smiling, having apparently agreed on a deal to split the spoils. Fortunately, I spied some teenagers lounging in front of a convenience store at the head of the wharf.
"You guys have a boat?
"How much for a ride across the bay?"
Ten yuan got us a roundtrip ride, with a brief cruise out to the pearl cultivation fields, where hundreds of buoys spread in a grid across the dimpled bay. Xincun smiled in rainbow above the water. At the Monkey Island ferry landing, people lay sleeping in converted tractor cabs. We strolled along a road that circles the base of a mountain, dodging through broad-leafed banana and coconut trees.
At the gate of Monkey Island Park, the attendant demanded our bags. "The monkeys steal those and bite people carrying them," he said, "They think you have food." There are purportedly over a thousand (apparently hungry) monkeys dwelling inside the claustrophobic bounds of Monkey Island Park. I hope that, in this claim as well as many others, Monkey Island does not live up to its hype. From the paunchy, chain-smoking, whip-toting "monkey trainers" to the half-hourly simian vaudeville performances, Monkey Island is a disappointment (although you won't want to miss the tightrope-walking goat). Don't believe those who say the monkeys are in a natural habitat. Apparently, there were once free monkeys on Monkey Island, but they have since been enslaved. When the trainers make any sudden movements, whole packs of little humanlike visages cringe in utter terror.
"Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer": The club remix
The best part about the individual tourist attractions around Sanya is traveling between them. Flying along a newly paved highway that surfs the cliffs above the light blue ocean while the sun darts in and out of the clouds. Cruising in a dingy across one or another crystal clear harbor. Hiking through a tropical postcard, a farm landscape, or even a gaudy monkey spectacle.
We returned to Xincun and took the cheap way back to Sanya: A motorcycle taxi to the highway and a conversion van-bus from there. On the bus a DVD of a techno club, complete with strippers, played for the entirety of the bumpy, motion sickness inducing way. As young ladies gyrated to club remixes of western favorites like "Old McDonald" and "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer," the Hainan sun crouched down beneath the mountains, and the ocean through a trick of visual alchemy turned into a plain of pure gold.
After sunset, Da Dong Hai becomes an eclectic holiday. American folk hits like "She'll be Comin' 'Round the Mountain" are the soundtrack, blaring from huge speakers at the inflatable amusement park in the large square by the beach. Young Russians break away from their parents and strut in packs of boys and girls (but no coed groups). Sit in an open-front restaurant, selecting seafood delicacies off a long table, to be grilled with sweet chili sauce. Try the fetal sharks (no little bones). Call the fruit sellers in as they pass by and negotiate a cheap price for some succulent mangoes and then, at the last second, use the restaurant's scale to weigh out your picks, ensuring you don't lose half your dessert to a rigged weighing contraption. After dinner, it's a walk along the beach with some baijiu, fresh coconut juice, fireworks, and those funky betel nuts.
Soak it up in Sanya
Sanya has great weather all year, though summers can be very hot and humid. It's the hottest in July when it can reach 28∶, during winter it's still a warm 21∶. Be aware that Hainan is prone to typhoons from May to November.
Sanya is a tropical paradise so much sure you're prepared for it. Bring your sunglasses, use plenty of sun block and remember the sun is a lot stronger than it feels when lazing by the beach. The Coconut Festival is on from early April. The festival is a traditional ethnic Li and Miao holiday that's celebrated with dragon boat races dances around a bon fire.
Unlike the rest of China, which requires visas for entry, visas can be applied for upon arrival in Hainan.
Airport - Sanya's Fenghuang Airport is 18km from downtown Sanya. Shuttle buses cost 15 yuan. Taxi's cost around 40 yuan from airport to downtown.
Bicycle - Bikes can be rented from most hotels, rentals are from 20 yuan to 50 yuan per hour. Bikes for two or three people are also available.
Taxi - Taxi's cost around 5 yuan to 10 yuan within the city.
The Best of Sanya
Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone
Address: Nanshan 南山
Phone: (0898) 8883 7888
Opening hours: 7:30am to 6pm
Admission: 65 yuan
Address: Yalong Bay
Phone: (0898) 8856 8899
Opening hours: 7:30am to 6:30pm
Admission: 53 yuan
Tianya-Haijiao Scenic Area
Address: 23km southwest of downtown Sanya 位于三亚西南海滨
Phone: (0898) 8891 0131
Opening hours: 7am to 7pm
Admission: 60 yuan
Gloria Resort Sanya
Address: inside the Yalong Bay National Resort District 亚龙湾国家旅游度假区内
Phone: (0898) 8856 8855
838 yuan - double room
Sanya Shanhaitian Hotel
Address: Luling Lu, Dadonghai Beach 大东海旅游风景区鹿领路
Phone: (0898) 8821 1688
1,298 yuan - double room
Sheraton Sanya Hotel
Address: inside the Yalong Bay National Resort District 亚龙湾国家旅游度假区内
Phone: (0898) 8855 8855
1,370 yuan - double room
Landscape Beach Hotel Sanya
Address: Dadonghai Beach
Phone: (0898) 8822 8666/8556
388 yuan - double room
458 yuan - double room (sea view)
Sanya Guoxi Hotel
Address: 13 Jiefang Si Lu
Phone: (0898) 8825 4888
298 yuan - double room, peak-season
268 yuan - double room, off-season
From that's China