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The Sanya EDITION Hotel

Ian Schrager's latest luxury resort, on a tropical island off the south of China

by David Graver
on 14 December 2016

After allowing the magnitude of its open-air lobby to set in, one's first takeaway from the brand new Sanya EDITION Hotel is its scent profile. Even in the sea breeze, guests will notice something familiar. For anyone who has been to an EDITION Hotel in Miami, London or New York, it's a variation on the exact same fragrance one finds there—though mixed with the local flora. Here, in the town of Sanya at the southernmost point on Hainan island off the south coast of mainland China, that subtle touch by Ian Schrager's luxury hotel brand announces what can be found within: a resort both resonant and entirely distinct. This is an uncommon destination for a specific type of traveler (not including the Chinese tourists who will be its predominant guests). And days after our return, it left us with much to think about.

Before addressing the beauty of the facility and its broad swath of amenities, it's worth looking into Sanya as a destination first. Sanya sits upon the South China Sea (where one cannot legally swim because of strong ocean currents), draped in a tropical climate, basically along the same latitude as Hawaii. While its been inhabited since the Qin Dynasty (back in 221 BC), it's only become a tourist destination in the last 15 years—seeking to accommodate a growing group of Chinese tourists. An hour-and-a-half flight from Hong Kong, three hours from Shanghai or four from Beijing make it within reach for mainlanders, or those passing through China for work and looking to explore something different but nearby. When landing in Hainan, one feels very far away, regardless of where the departure point was. During its brief tourist season, from December through the end of February, Sanya is a sun-soaked sanctuary that appeals to everyone from four-generation families to singles seeking a luxuriant escape.

The EDITION sits oceanfront in Haitang Bay, the newer of two bay developments sprouting up over the last 15 years. Here, one will find Asia's largest mall and basically every other luxury hotel brand imaginable (including the largest, a five star Howard Johnson). Touring the other hotels, something becomes evident: they're already outdated and stagnant. Schrager, however, didn't construct a hotel for today; his resort seems to be for the future and the next generation of travelers. The EDITION comprises over 50 acres of land and includes 512 residential-style guest rooms (of which 46 are suites) and 17 private hotel villas. Every guest room has a view of the sea and employs EDITION signatures: warm, stone or off-white walls; large, comfortable beds; standalone bathtubs; plenty of light; and Le Labo collaborative products. There's a true breathability to each room and relaxation is kept tantamount to nothing. Because of the several blocked sites in China (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and more), visitors take a tech vacation in many ways too.

Regarding design and how they struck the balance between EDITION elements and invoking the surrounding area with accuracy, Schrager explains to CH, "I don't do a lot of traditional market research. It's a very instinctive process. I spent some time in Shanghai and Beijing. I visited [Sanya] last year and a second time this year. It doesn't take me very long to get the feel of a place." From there he partnered with a designer from Singapore and brought in everyone from food experts to retail partners. "It's really a social science process," he adds, noting that being loyal to the desires of Chinese tourists was a necessity. Schrager, along with partner Marriott, have made a name for the EDITION that's synonymous with intuition. That's evident here, as well.

As this is a resort designed to keep all types of people entertained for an extended stay, the social amenities run the gamut of cultural fun. There is everything from a climbing wall to bumper-car track, and an entire "Playland" space for children (that certainly appeals to adults as well) with an electric race car room and two music production games. An array of water sports are available, including stand-up paddle boards and more. Teak cabanas line the water on the grounds, and feature flat screen TVs.

Foregoing standard luxury stores, The EDITION's lifestyle shop and accompanying library contains delectable art and design item—and with the curation skills of UCCA (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art) Beijing there are plenty of works by Chinese artists and original merchandise. Done in collaboration with Steven Giles, the shop is an extension of his BASE superstore, also found at the Miami EDITION. Surrounding the shop, numerous gallery spaces sport odd exhibitions.

The resort features five different restaurants. Market makes for the most frequent destination—with a strong burger and other selections of western food, as well as a breakfast buffet. As an alternative, Egret is a quieter spot but offers cocktails—and a specialty of Peking duck pancakes. Barbacoa offers sandy floors and more cocktails, with Indonesian cuisine on the menu. The forthcoming Xian Hai By The Sea will be a luxe restaurant with an emphasis on Cantonese dishes, including seafood. With a view of it all, Sky Bar transitions from a sunny lounge to nightlife destination, and private booths terraced into the structure make for good group entertaining. All of the restaurants serve EDITION Ping, a lager brewed specifically for the hotel with package design done by Eric Chase Anderson (brother of director Wes). Further, the design of each location invokes that which is served within.

As mentioned, it is illegal to swim in the South China Sea. To offset this, The EDITION has a very unique feature, one that they refer to as the world's largest private ocean. It is, in essence, really a 20,000 square meter salt water pool but there are a few distinct features. Some 10 million gallons of sea water is pumped in from the South China Sea throughout the day, recycling once every 32 hours. (Small fish do make their way in, as do turtles.) There is a white sand beach on the north shore and an electric boat within. It's beautiful, truly—but without the waves and an actual connection to the sea, it does come across as more of a well-designed pool. If that weren't enough, the resort features a handful of other age-specific pools tucked in corners and placed on the roof. Again, this is a destination for everyone.

One doesn't need to stay on the compound for an entire stay in Sanya. Beyond the exorbitant mall, there is local culture to be found. One can head to downtown Sanya and tour the fish or fruit markets. A night market makes for a more exciting excursion. It's a bit aggressive, but refreshingly so. An hour's drive away, a large Nashan Temple monument rises from the ocean. It was built only five years ago, from airplane grade titanium, and it's a rare site in a religion-free communist nation, but there's an undeniable beauty and the surrounding area is filled with respect and reverence. Sanya is genuinely distinct and it can be a truly stunning, unusual adventure.

Sanya EDITION Hotel is located at 100 North Haitang Road, Sanya, Hainan. It's now taking bookings, which start at 1,321 CNY ($192 USD) a night.

Images by David Graver

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