Readers' Submissions

Life in Sunny Sanya

  • Written by Sanya Tark
  • January 25th, 2014
  • 5 min read



There is small island off the coast of China called Hainan. If you blinked you would probably miss it. That's how small it is. On the south coast at the bottom of this island is a small city called Sanya, with a population of just under 500,000.

Tropical weather all year round with the exception of the typhoon season which only lasts around a month. It's pretty random. Last year it happened in November, the year before in September. You get the flash flooding and the strong winds, a typhoon might go past, but no real major damage. Then it's back to blue skies and sunshine again.

On average days the weather is nice and warm, around 30 degrees or so. You do get the occasional shocker of a day, let's say around 38 degrees but that hardly ever happens.

The population is a mix of people from all over China. Hainanese locals, ethnic Muslim minority groups and folks from the mainland. Everybody and their dog is coming here to make a go of it. This once small sleepy fishing town is rapidly developing into an international tourist destination (well that's what they tell us on the news anyway).

If the locals did not speak Mandarin Chinese, then you would not know you were living in China. It's a little bit bizarre like that. If you compare Sanya to a big mainland city such as Beijing or Shanghai, Sanya is worlds apart. Sure it's rapidly developing and more cars are on the roads then ever. But everything is more relaxed, slowed down to a more cruising pace. Most people are happy and friendly if you take the time to chat with them.

On the topic of expats and foreigners, we are pretty much non existent here. The bulk of the white people are from Russia, but they are just day trip short time holidaying. Expats from Australia, England and America round out the rest of the group. The majority of these are pilots or are connected with the airlines. A handful work in the large western hotel chain industry and the rest are either retired, English teachers or work in IT.

On the topic of food you are limited to either Chinese food or a handful of decent western styled Chinese food places (did that make sense?). What I mean is it's a western menu designed by Chinese people, guessing at what foreign food looks like. Sometimes it turns out tasty and eatable, other times not so good and you wish you had ordered the pigs ear soup instead.

On the subject of Chinese food though, it's plentiful, cheap and has all regions of the entire country covered. If you want spicy Szechuan chicken, so hot it will knock your socks off, you can get it. If you want streetside, handmade noodles with thin slices of beef, served up by an ethnic Muslim minority husband & wife team, you can. If it's Beijing Hot Pot you have a hankering for, they've got that too.

My favourite late night food snack is the street BBQ. Small work stations and a large built in BBQ grill are set up at random curb side locations with a large assortment of “mystery things on a stick”. Mushroom balls, dried tofu, fish, chicken legs, seafood, vegetables, they've got it all. Some times if you are lucky you also get some free entertainment thrown in. The local police do on occasion do crackdowns on these. The vendor will pick up his mobile workstation (which has wheels built into it) and start pushing it down the street, sometimes with police running after him (think keystone cops). Locals will cheer on either the vendor or the cops, it's a pretty even split of supporters. I tell my friends back in Australia about the things I see here and they never believe me.

On the topic of the local police you never have much interaction with them. They never stop you in the street, never ask for your passport or ID or visa stamp. They just don't care. Locals often joke that there is no police force and if you ever have a problem, work it out yourself.

On the other hand Immigration do care that you have a valid visa or resident permit in your passport. But not to worry, this is only checked on entry and exit of the country. Visas can be a little tricky, similar to Thailand I suppose. Tourists can get 30 to 60 days when applying in their home country and 1 additional 30 day extension once in China. Extending the visa once in China is a bit tricky, unless you are employed then your workplace would help out converting and applying for the work visa.

A lot of retired expats that do enjoy living in Sanya bounce around on tourist visas for a few months then end up getting married to a local. Once married they issue you once a year with a resident permit. Multi entry, come and go as you please, valid for 12 months.

The cost of living is not really that expensive. Food shopping is cheap, phone credit, monthly internet bill and so on. The biggest monthly expense would be renting an apartment.

I live in a gated complex. These are not aimed at expats like in other Asian countries. The Chinese just like the feeling of safety, and the majority of buildings in Sanya are like this.

I rent a two bedroom, one TV room, large kitchen, one bathroom & balcony, 10 minutes walk to the beach with views of the city and ocean. It comes out to around $400 US Dollars per month, or 2500 RMB. That also includes my internet, gas for cooking, electric & management fees (for the grounds workers, cleaners that empty rubbish bins, security guards, etc).

All in all, living in Sanya is not too bad. I've been here for 3 years now and still enjoy it. It's a fast changing city and quickly modernising. At the moment there's no where else I'd rather be.