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April 6, 2017 / oneworld82

Haitang Bay – China Southern Business Class CAN-HAK, Bullet Train to Sanya, and the Conrad Sanya

Sanya, at last. The Hawaii of China. Or so they say. Opinions vary wildly among people who have visited the island, and I was very curious to check it out for myself. As part of our trip, we would spend the last five nights in Hainan, the first four at the Conrad Sanya Haitang Bay (villa with private pool) and the last one in the more renowned Yalong Bay, at the Ritz-Carlton. Let me tell you right away: Sanya is awesome! Miles of pristine beaches, top-notch hotels, good Chinese food, privacy, great shopping – you have it all. Sanya it’s not cheap – this is the rich and famous’ playground after all – but it’s not too expensive either by Western standards (and you get a lot more for the same $ amount). Let me tell you how it was.

Hilton lobby early in the morning

Hilton lobby early in the morning

First, our journey there started with a hiccup, as we missed our original flight (booked with only 7,500 DL miles o/w in business class) due to our taxi driver (he took the long way around to charge us more) and my negligence (I thought the flight would leave 30 minutes later than it did). That meant that once at the airport I had to look for alternatives – thankfully I was able to book still through DL SkyMiles two tickets in business class to Haikou, the capital city of Hainan Province and less than two hours away by train from Sanya. This would add significantly to our travel time, but at the same time I realize how lucky I am to have so many miles at my disposal – those extra 15,000 miles I had to use to rebook the flight literally saved me $600. Amen.

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We had to wait a couple of hours before our flight, so we went through security and proceeded to China Southern Airlines first class domestic lounge. Before I go on, let me say that Baiyun airport is truly stunning – state of the art facility with impressive architecture. We found the lounge after a five minutes walk post-security, and upon showing our boarding passes we were promptly admitted. The lounge was nice for being a domestic lounge (much better than other airlines’!), and it had a nice seating area overlooking the tarmac, another seating area against a wall with newspapers and magazines, and then a main sit-down dining area.

Shopping along the way

Shopping along the way

Lounge entrance

Lounge entrance

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Being morning we decided to have some breakfast. To my delight (and Thuy’s dismay) most selections were Chinese, and they included made-to-order noodle soups, eggs, assorted buns, and then a more Western selection of pastries, juices, and coffee beverages. Overall the food was decent, and it managed to fill us up until lunch for Thuy and dinner time for me.

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Dining area

Dining area

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Around 40 minutes before departure we left the lounge (which was quite cold) and started walking to our gate. Our plane started boarding shortly after.

Chinese love their cigarettes

Chinese love their cigarettes

Flight CZ6776, CAN-HAK

Wednesday, Nov 30th, 2016

Business Class, Seat 2D

10:35a – 11:55a

Airbus A320

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The first class in this flight was similar to first class on domestic US routes, and it only had one row or four seats. We were seated on the left side of the plane (facing forward). We were offered pre-departure beverages (water or juice) and newspapers. The flight attendant was very attentive, she took care of our jackets, and would check back on us every five minutes or so. Impressive.

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Eventually, 2 more people joined us in first class, and soon after boarding was completed and we were ready to leave.

The flight was completely uneventful. We were offered another soft drink together with some packaged snacks and a towel – but given how short the flight was nothing much was given us. I did appreciate that we were given a Samsung tablet with movies and tv shows pre-loaded in them – a nice touch for such a short flight but again quite unnecessary given that the overall flight was 45 minutes or so.

Upon landing in Haikou, a minibus for first class customers was awaiting us to take us to the main terminal – now, that’s great service! 😉

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Haikou airport is small, but to Thuy’s delight it had a Burger King…  I can’t help but LOL. The terminal is connected to the train station, which is served by bullet trains serving Sanya. The walk was probably around ten minutes, and when we arrived to the ticket office, we found chaos. There were automatic machines and one teller, but as using the machines was much less straightforward than you might think we ended up lining to talk to the agent for some good 15 minutes. The first two trains were unfortunately full, so we had to book ourselves on the 2.30pm train which meant we would have to wait about 2 hours in a bare terminal with only a couple of convenience stores. Great. Also, first class was full, which meant we got stuck in second class.

We took our seats in the waiting area, and then we had a good hour of people watching (helped by some packaged ice cream!). It looked like most of the people there were migrant workers with the odd vacationer here and there. Most people had packaged luncheons, and did not look nearly as thrilled as we were to be going to Sanya.

Fancy a snack?

Fancy a snack?

In any case, the train arrived right on time and we boarded our coach – the whole process was rather chaotic since Chinese still do not seem to have mastered the art of queuing up. I got a glimpse of the first class cabin – it looked really nice and comfortable with armchair-like seats. The second class through wasn’t half as bad, as it was similar to the first class on the train to Guangzhou. The train was very full, and it had rows with a 3-3 seats configuration.

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Food and beverages were offered for purchase throughout the trip, which lasted about 1h40m. The scenery along the way ranged from ugly townships to stunning forest, river, mountain, and village landscapes – I tried to take some pictures but they cannot do justice to the rural views we enjoyed.

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Tired wife

Tired wife

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After arriving in Sanya, a 20 minutes taxi ride took us to our hotel for these first four nights – the Conrad Sanya Haitang Bay.  We were greeted by the courteous staff (which would prove to be overall excellent throughout our stay) with flower garlands. The lobby of the property was beautiful, with a nice reflective pool by the entrance and an attractive bar overlooking the sea and the main gardens. There wasn’t a proper desk but rather a nice room with sofas and two desks. Check in took but a few minutes, and we were explained all the benefits that came with our stay and status. The property, although expansive, did not have many rooms – most of the hotel is made up by private villas or very large rooms with private pool – only a small number of proper hotel rooms are present. In fact, I would say this hotel is as secluded and as private as it possibly can get. To get to our room we were shuttled by golf cart – and each room has a special cart button on the phone to arrange pickup and drop off around the hotel and the sister property, the DoubleTree.

to our villa!

to our villa!

The villa we stayed in was impressive. It had a foyer with walk in closet in front; to the left, the bedroom with a nice king bed and a lounging area with sofa and armchair. In front, a sliding glass window with our large plunge pool.

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To the right of the entrance there was the bathroom, which featured a deep-soaking tub and a shower stall with rain shower. Sinks and mirrors were at opposite sides of the room, which made the bathroom easy to use for two people at once.

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The villa had marble flooring in the living area and heated tiles in the bathroom. There was a minibar, which was stocked with Oreos and soft drinks (complimentary and refreshed every day).

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Overall, the room was great, although the shower stall smelled like mold and there was cigarette ash in the toilet stall. Also, the last day our room was not cleaned and our complimentary laundry – two pieces a day per person – not collected – a real let down for such a property especially since we called to report that.

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The bed was comfortable, and the temperature controls worked well. The best part of the villa, hand down, was definitely the pool. While it was not heated, it was spectacular. It had a sheltered covered area with chairs and a table, and two sun chair with thick paddings (on a wooden deck). The pool was secluded and no one could really see inside. The water was rather cold, but during the day (with the sun shining) it was actually nice to jump into it.

The common areas of the resort were probably the most spectacular part of it. A central pathway led from the lobby and restaurants to the beach. The gardens were lush, perfectly manicured, and reminded us of a botanical garden. Unfortunately, the pools in the upper part of the resort were not clean and the beautiful fountains along the path were kept off during weekday – probably to save money during low occupancy periods. The same is true of the outdoor Jacuzzis near the main infinity pool (which in all truth was very nice). The Jacuzzis looked abandoned – like they had not been used in months or years. Sad. Overall, I got the impression that the hotel was struggling financially, because overall service and cleanliness were great.

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The beach was alright, although the chairs were not attended by anyone and overall looked in poor state. Haitang Bay, we found while visiting, is rather unspoiled and tends to be windy during wintertime, which makes the sea impractical to swim in. That’s not necessarily a problem, as the beach is long and has a sense a wilderness to it. We took a lot of pictures there – sunrise was especially beautiful witt the rugged beach and sea as background.

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Breakfast was served at the main Italian restaurant, and it was buffet. It featured a good selection of hot western dishes (eggs made to order, bacon, tomatoes) and Chinese dishes (including made-to-order noodles and steamed buns). The selection of pastries and bread was good as well. On top of that, a “special of the day” (usually salmon) was served at the table, and there was a small menu of a la carte dishes as well. Overall, breakfast was ok (good quality), but the spread could have been better in all fairness given this is a luxury hotel. The service, though, was excellent – every member of the staff was truly eager to help and, even though their English skills were limited, they really tried their best.

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While at the Conrad we dined once at the Polynesian restaurant at the nearby DoubleTree. The hotel was mostly outdoor, and while there we could enjoy live music which was nice. The food was very good as well – I had fish which was delicious.

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In another occasion we dined at the main restaurant at the Conrad – Thuy had pasta and I had Wanchang chicken. Thuy’s portion was huge and very good – a lot of good mozzarella together with tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes. My Wanchang chicken – better known in the West as Hainan chicken – was delicious – very well executed.

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Given that the hotel had only two restaurants, we ventured out the other two nights for dinner. Haitang Bay is home to an increasing number of luxury resorts, so finding decent restaurants around is not hard. Taxis among them are plentiful and cheap – a round trip journey between the hotels in the strip doesn’t cost more than $10.

One night we ended up at the Royal Begonia, a SPG Luxury Collection property and home to Cantonese restaurant Yue. The restaurant was very attractive, and the food excellent. We had fried rice, broccoli, and Wanchang chicken – everything was delicious. There also was a local musician playing a local instrument – an added bonus. I must commend Thuy who was a great sport. Although she is not a fan of Chinese food, she came along every time without complaining too much just to make me happy. Such a lucky husband I am!

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The last night we decided to skip Chinese food, and to check the pub at the Renaissance Hotel. While the hotel is technically in Haitang Bay, it’s not on the main strip, which meant a long taxi ride was necessary to get there. In hindsight, we should just have gone to Yalong Bay – it would likely have been a better choice. The pub at the Renaissance was smoky and a little dodgy. We decided to sit outside, and we order some burgers and wings which were overall alright but expensive.

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Every meal we seemed to spend around $50 – bear in mind this is a resort city for the rich so nothing is cheap (Yalong Bay is slightly different, while local tourists from the Chinese middle class mostly stay in downtown Sanya or the less fancy Dadong Bay).

One of the day we also went to the biggest duty free mall in the World, conveniently located in Haitang Bay. They did not joke when they said biggest in the World – this duty free mall was spectacular. Lots of international brands could be bought here at prices comparable to the Western ones. The best shop of all, though, was one at the top floor that sold slightly defective items from the main shops at deeply discounted prices. Thuy bought a Max & Co dress and a jacket at 90% and 40% discount respectively – the items were in excellent conditions and a great bargain!

Free pickup

Free pickup

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So, what do I make of Haitang Bay overall? It’s still a work in progress, I would say – as the many hotels under construction (including an Atlantis resort) demonstrate. Still, the Conrad was overall a very nice hotel (albeit with some limitations) and the beach – so rugged and unspoiled – was very nice. Most of all, the place is relaxing. At our hotel in particular, we never noticed too many guests and we always felt we had a lot of privacy – a very welcome change from our everyday lives.

I will speak about Yalong Bay in detail later, but overall the Ritz-Carlton there offered us a better overall (albeit shorter) experience and I would recommend travelers and vacationers to stay in Yalong Bay instead of Haitang Bay – at least for the time being.

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