Story and photos by Sharon King Hoge
Destination: Hainan Island
Once you've conquered the Caribbean, Cancun and Capri, moved on from the Maldives and Martha's Vineyard, "done" the Dominican Republic, "had it" with Hawaii, where to go for a new beach destination?
Time to try one of the world's fastest emerging vacation spots: China's Hainan Island which has set its sights on becoming the "Hawaii of the East." Propelled by an ambitious government plan, the 100 mile x 100 mile southernmost point of the vast country is making the most of its tropical mountain interior, mile after mile of white sandy beaches -- and, extensive shopping malls!
From two international airports, a 120 mph high speed train whisks past fishing villages, surfing spots, and a series of South China Sea crescent bays lined with world glass global resorts. In the interior, manicured cocoa and coffee plantations line highways leading to mountain spas and resorts replete with hiking trails and hot springs. While up to 90 percent of the visitors are from the mainland and Far East, gradually Europeans are discovering the beauties, unique sites, and economies of this emerging destination.
Travelers will be pleased to discover luxury hotel rates in the $200-$400 range. Hotel staff tends to be bilingual, but visitors are advised to take along a Chinese phrase book or translation APP. Recently on a whirlwind visit, I toured the island, driving through the picturesque mountainous interior and sightseeing in the cities. I visited Haikou's central market but missed the giant malls, Sanya's CDF is said to be the world's largest duty-free mall. Pausing to relax, I sampled two unique resorts, one north; one south.
Haikou, on the north rim of the island is a charming capital city with a tropical ambience, historic sites, offices, and resorts. I was invited to drive west from the city center to the emerging district near the Hainan International Exhibition Center and the Haikou Municipal Government Office where the Shangri-La Haikou's marble halls and spacious seafront rooms present a wonderful mix of luxury business hotel and urban resort.
The drive out along the coast is beautiful in itself, past pristine beaches, generous plantings, and a monumental golf course. Approaching the Shangri-La past its refreshing fountain, I was greeted on arrival with a white shell "lei" necklace and escorted into the vast marble lobby -- almost a city block long -- with a Lobby Lounge overlooking the gardens and plantings, adjacent to a cove where fishing boats haul in each day's catch.
Shells, waves, wheat and other local motifs are evident throughout, notably in a giant panorama behind the reception desk. A charming staff person escorted me to my room and used an ipad to complete my registration before leaving me to luxuriate on comfortable rattan chairs on my balcony with the pool below and the sea beyond, every room has sea and garden views.
Soothingly decorated in a combination of traditional and modern, Asian and Western motifs, the room was large and attention had been paid to every detail. Shangri-La always takes care to provide plenty of "surfaces" for work and storage -- I had a long console and extra ledges for storing my suitcase. Beneath the bowl of complimentary fruit on the little table, a drawer pulled out revealing plates and utensils for service. Besides the separate tub and shower and generous sink console, the bathroom provided a full array of the usual soaps, shampoos, and shaving kit -- even including a handy elastic hair band.
Outlets concealed in the desk maximize the work surface. There was complimentary wi-fi, a DVD player, and printer and fax machine on request. Facing the king size bed, the wide screen television provided half a dozen English-language channels but there was little time to watch TV with all the resort's attractions.
The ten-story U-shaped main building wraps around a seafront garden with structures made of volcanic stone and a meandering outdoor swimming pool which incorporates three natural hot springs for no-fuss soaking in therapeutic 104 degrees Farenhei mineral water. Indoors there is a 100-foot pool for swimming laps and a Health Club with gymnasium, table tennis, aerobics room. Saunas, steam rooms and jacuzzs are located in the locker rooms. Bicycles can be rented and an available golf package enables guests to try the links at the Mayflower Club just down the road.
With its own separate entrance and private space for consultations, the Shangri-La's signature Chi Spa named for the universal life force that governs well being and personal vitality, provides four single treatment rooms and four suites -- Moon, Dawn, Star, Clouds and Sky, incorporating individual relaxation and shower space. Extensively trained therapists administer a range of procedures. In my "Dance of the Sea" massage the therapist used tiger cowrie shells collected locally to augment waves of long strokes along my muscles alternating with pressure points -- I drifted off into a feeling of relaxed harmony for over 90 minutes.
When it was time for dinner, back in the garden, near the charming Hall of Splendour pavilion, the setting for events and weddings, I was seated at Sirena, the city's only seaside restaurant, where chef Ezequiel Cardozo's takes on Mediterranean-Asian fusion are unique. Using herbs from the hotel's garden and fresh fish obtained from the nearby cove he created a memorable melange of local influences blended with flavors from Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and Italy. Spoiling me with samples from the menu, he served portions of avocado tuna tartar scooped with crisp sweet potato chips, creamless seafood soup, homemade spinach tortellini, crisp Spanish ham that had been cured for 36 months.
The Shangri-La's other dining options include the Shang Palace specializing in Cantonese and Hainan cuisine and locally popular dim sum and day Cafe Kool where light meals are served all day and the morning breakfast buffet features cornflower and egg tarts, oatmeal, individual quiche lorraine, Bread pudding, dragon fruit and honey melon, baked potato wedge, deep fried seafood and crispy bananas, watermelon and cucumber juice, coconut and peach Danish. Alternatively the 24-hour room service continental breakfast costs about $20. A number stick on each table can be taken up to the cooks who prepare whatever you order and deliver it back where you are seated.
Guests on the upper floors can dine on the breakfast buffet in the Horizon Club with spectacular views of the grounds and nearby fishing cove. Tea, coffee, and soft drinks are provided all day with complimentary cocktails in the evening. Capable staff members provide secretarial services, help with paper work and translating and assist with plane reservations and other details.
The hotel is popular with Fortune 500 executives, and one entire wing is devoted to Presidential Suites -- over the top full "apartments" which include ultra-elegant living, dining, and conference rooms, multiple bedrooms, twin massage treatment rooms, wine and cigar bars 3D screening rooms, and other lavish accommodations interspersed with museum quality porcelains and brass artifacts, all set out under towering crystal chandeliers.
From the Shangri-La a shuttle takes guests to the nearby public beach or to the malls for shopping. A 20-minute drive away, the Shishan Volcanic Cluster national Geopark displays exhibits on volcanoes and visitors can descend into the now lush green crater of extinct Mount Fengluling. But it's hard to want to venture out -- why leave paradise when you're staying in Shangri-La.
CONRAD SANYA HAITANG BAY
Major international resorts are concentrated in Hainan's southern end around Sanya -- on pristine beaches such as Yalong, Haitang, Dadonghai. Departing the high speed train at Yalong, it was a short inexpensive taxi ride to Haitang Bay. Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, another Shangri-La, Sheraton, Westin are among over a dozen international options. I was lucky to stay at the Conrad which is twinned with another Hilton property, the Doubletree, next door.
Facing me as I entered the hotel was a giant indoor reflecting pool and beyond it a story-book view of the water with Wuzhizhou island looming in the distance.
While the other resorts stare blankly to sea, the Conrad alone is blessed with the island embellished ocean view.
A lei of white and fuchsia orchids grown on the property was placed around my neck by the friendly staff member who greeted me and escorted me not to a reception desk, but to an elegantly furnished room to the left of the reflecting pool. After I was offered a cold washcloth and tea we proceeded with my private check-in.
I was assigned a second-floor room with an ocean view; ground floor rooms below are screened from the sea, but each has its own private plunge pool. The preponderance of guests stay in villas which are like full-fledged second-home vacation cottages with their own pools and gardens, cabanas, sun loungers and additional amenities such as breakfast, cocktails and tea, laundry, fresh daily fruit -- screened by the lush tropical foliage, it's like living in a secluded "gated community."
I was taken by buggy to a "room" almost as big as my entire NYC apartment, all done up in butterscotch marble with iridescent accents. The king-size canopy bed was fitted with romantic gauzy mosquito net curtains, and the pillow menu choices included Buckwheat and Shogun Pillow of Clgusa Grass of Japan. There was a full desk with plentiful but concealed outlets and a drawer offering post-its, scissors, stapler and other office essentials. A balcony allowed me to sit outdoors and listen to the roar of the sea. There were half a dozen English-language channels on the large screen TV in my room, so I could catch up on news and entertainment on CNN and HBO.
Half again as big as the bedroom, the dressing room and bathroom were a cool sanctuary -- more butterscotch marble equipped with ironing equipment, a safe, slippers and robe. Aroma Actives amenities included a shave kit, tooth brushes, comb, mouthwash. On the coffee table, an elegant box provided Hesina cosmetics for whitening and buffing.
Many guests choose to stay in their rooms and villas, ordering room service from the menus posted on the TV screen. But I wanted to explore. The light levels are kept low to complement the silence, so I called a complimentary buggy which arrived promptly to drive me back to the main building for dinner. Sharing food and beverage facilities with three restaurants in the Doubletree next door, the Conrad offers Le Chine an on-premises Chinese restaurant with Cantonese and local specialties and Teatro where I chose to dine seated on the patio overlooking the rectangular pool which is lined with water-spurting statues of the twelve signs of the Zodiac.
Among the somewhat pricey dishes I selected a Margarita pizza -- so large that they let me take home the extras, attractively packaged in little plastic boxes. The next morning in Teatro, the abundant breakfast buffet included sushi, bespoke omelets, homemade papaya and strawberry jam. Half of the other patrons were eating with chopsticks, and the only sound was the splash of the fountains.
Open from 2:30 to 10 pm, the resort's attractive I-Spa menu lists tempting beauty treatments, some offered in double rooms for couples. Guests are welcomed with cup of lemony tea and a chilled hand towel. A signature 90-minute Chakras Healing Massage is administered with Swedish and Thai pressure points and a special blend of oils. The Fitness Room is fitted out with PRECOR treadmills, stair walkers, bicycles, three-way machines, but the Conrad's helpful confided that few guests use it -- preferring swimming as exercise. The outdoor pool is down near the water's edge -- at the end of a promenade reminiscent of the perspectives in European palaces.
Guests who want to explore a little can visit two nearby ancient fishing village of Tenghai and or joining the locals on the ferry Wuzhizhou island. Sanya, Hainan's main southern city, formerly a conglomeration of fishing villages but now a metropolis of gleaming coral and beige skyscrapers, is a mere 17 miles away and it's a five minute drive to Asia's largest duty-free mall.
The Conrad has a fleet of Bentley's to service guests, and taxis are inexpensive. Looking for adventure, I paid less than a dollar for the hour trip into town on the public bus. A "stewardess" in uniform with a red sash collected the fares and managed the on-board television screen -- an excursion that was an additional amenity of my newly discovered island destination.
256 Binhai Road
Haikou, Hainan, China 570311
Conrad Sanya Haitang Bay
Sanya, Hainan 572000
© July 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.