The brand new Oakwood Apartments Sanya has grand ambitions, but there’s some work to be done if they’re to be fulfilled, discovers Gayatri Bhaumik.
With its eighth China property, Oakwood has finally debuted on the tropical island of Sanya, bringing the first internationally-branded serviced apartments to Hainan island’s largest city. Masterminded by Thai designer Yutthana Chanpong of Cancu Studio, the Oakwood Apartments Sanya aims to give independent travellers a stylish stay with a good dose of local immersion. In a move away from the brand’s traditional ethos, this property aims to engage leisure and family travellers rather than just business travellers, who make up the majority of the company’s customer base.
Towering above Sanya’s Tianya district, the brand new property offers easy access to the city’s business district along with opportunities to experience Sanya Bay, the night markets, and other elements of local life. It’s not far from Sanya Phoenix International Airport, so travellers can be at their digs within 30 minutes of stepping off the plane.
Pulling up to the lobby of the Oakwood Apartments Sanya, you’re immediately struck by a sense of vastness and modernity. The property is made up of two buildings (the East and West Towers) that come together in a steel, glass and concrete behemoth that stretches 22 floors into the sky. To soften the impact – and remind you that you’re on an island often referred to as the “Hawaii of the East,” there are a few fledgeling palm trees scattered around.
Inside, guests step into a marble-clad lobby featuring a sweeping staircase. Just a few weeks after the property’s opening, the lobby is empty; it’s great to look at, but it feels a little cold and impersonal. To the side, two orange-shirted staff mill around check-in desks. After quickly handing over the apartment key, they also offer a single rose; apparently it’s Chinese Valentine’s Day.
This huge property houses 163 apartments ranging from spacious studios to sprawling three-bedroom formats; guests can opt for garden or ocean views – the former overlooks a large (but tranquil) park set between high-rises like a secret courtyard, while the latter looks out to Sanya Bay.
My one-bedroom apartment sits on the property’s topmost floor and offers sweeping views of the Sanya night market across the road and Sanya Bay in the distance. It’s spacious, well-appointed and sports a minimalist yet elegant design rendered in earthy shades.
To the left of the entryway, a fully-loaded kitchenette features cutting-edge equipment like DeLonghi appliances and an induction stovetop. There are QR codes on most of the appliances that, when scanned on your phone, pull up videos to show you how to use each machine – the only catch is they’re all in Chinese (I’m told English versions will be developed at a later date).
The living room features a four-person dining table that also doubles as a workspace, as well as an oversized couch and flatscreen TV – there’s plenty of room to host a casual meeting, if necessary. The uncluttered bedroom is dominated by an oversized king bed dressed in crisp white linens while the swish marble bathroom is stocked with Italian amenities and comes with a huge bathtub and separate walk-in shower.
Cafe O is the property’s all-day dining option – indeed, its only restaurant – and serves up extensive buffet spreads for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a la carte options at other times of the day. Interiors play up to Oakwood’s ambition to set itself apart with plenty of metal elements, dark colours and graffiti that pay homage to the local culture and traditions. There’s also an extensive outdoor terrace that’s a great spot for catching the sunset over an aperitif.
At the dinner buffet, there are a few Western offerings like pizzas and sliders, but the Chinese offerings are more extensive – think noodles, stir-fries and rice – and better executed. Diners are serenaded by a solo singer belting Chinese jazz standards. For breakfast, yoghurt, fruit and juices are offered in a “healthy” section, along with the usual array of noodles and dim sum (for the local selections) and eggs, bacon and cereal; in this case, eating local is the way to go as the eggs and bacon left something to be desired.
In its bid to appeal to leisure travellers, Oakwood Apartments Sanya has dedicated the entirety of its third floor to wellness and entertainment facilities. The “outdoor” pool is nice for a quick dip and though surrounded by loungers, you won’t get a tan since it’s ensconced under the rest of the building. The gym is kitted out with all the expected cardio and weight amenities; I even get a taste of the fitness classes that will be offered through a wellness program.
Unfortunately, service seems to be a stumbling point at Oakwood Apartments Sanya – though, in all fairness, it’s early days. Some staff seem to be personable and genuinely keen to help; others, somewhat less so. Perhaps this can largely be put down to the language barrier; if you don’t speak pretty fluent Mandarin, you’ll run into a few issues.
There were a few minor hiccups, though, which you wouldn’t expect in a property of this calibre. Housekeeping banged enthusiastically on the apartment door at 8 am, cheerily disregarding the do not disturb indicator; and when wine was served at meals, only a tiny portion – literally enough for two mouthfuls – was poured. While not terrible faux pas in and of themselves – and easily remedied – these instances are indicative of a service that doesn’t quite seem to live up to the Oakwood standard.
Part of the offerings at Oakwood Apartments Sanya gives guests the chance to experience local life. As part of this, my stay here included a trip to a noodle shop that’s popular with locals and a visit to the seafood market. While it was nice to see what daily life here is like, you’ll already be au fait with this type of cultural immersion if you’ve travelled in Asia.
Sanya seems an odd choice for Oakwood Apartments. After all, this is a leisure destination where most people come to relax, sit on a beach (or by a pool) and enjoy the sun. But certainly, if business travellers are passing through, then these serviced apartments are more appropriate than the beach resorts that are the usual accommodations here.
Oakwood Apartments Sanya is definitely geared for a mainland Chinese market and by their own admission, that’s who their target is; in which case, the property will suit them just fine. Foreigners, though, may struggle with the language barrier and service that isn’t quite what you’d expect from an international brand.
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