Kota Kinabalu is famous for orang-utans, it’s amazing mountain and incredible diving spots. Located in Sabah, Eastern Malaysia, “KK” as many call it is surprisingly close to HK, making it another perfect option for a cheeky weekend getaway. I had always wanted to visit this fascinating place, so when I was invited by The Luxe Nomad to stay at Gaya Island Resort, I was over the moon!
Gaya Island Resort is not actually situated on KK itself; in fact it’s a short, fifteen-minute ride away and is only accessible by boat. We headed to Sutera Harbour Marina, a very polished and swish country club, where Gaya Island Resort has a small office. From there, the very sweet staff already start to take care of you, offering you a cold flannel and a little spoonful of sorbet to cool down. We were then whisked off to the pier to begin our adventure…
Gaya Island is the biggest island off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, and the resort is tucked away on one side of it amongst the mangroves and forests. Situated within Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Gaya Island Resort also boasts beautiful, blue waters and a sheltered coral reef… as soon as we pulled up to the resort on the little boat, I could tell it was going to be special.
We enjoyed our fruity welcome drink as we check in at the open air reception and took in the view of the stunning grass lawn in front of us that looked out on to the beach and sea. We were then taken to our room, which was surprisingly far from the reception and main facilities of the resort. We walked through the mangroves and up a hill past the jungle… and we kept on walking! Although it was a fair walk from the resort, when we arrived at the villa with our room on the top floor, it was worth it.
The bed was huge and very comfortable, and I loved the little balcony-type terrace we had that looked out on to the trees and sea. For a higher price, you can even get rooms or suites with views of Mt. Kinabalu in the distance!
The bathroom was epic with an enormous bathtub that I couldn’t wait to soak in! There was also a large rain shower and two sinks… very spacious and a lovely surprise coming from our tiny HK bathrooms, which usually have a showerhead propped up over the toilet, wet room style (ahh the joys of HK living!). A high ceiling was also a surprise and I felt lucky that we’d got a top floor room.
The huge bonus of our room being quite far from the resort facilities was that it felt very secluded, like you truly were in the middle of the jungle, and I never felt like there were many other people around like there are in other hotels. You certainly couldn’t hear any neighbours trampling about (yes, another HK living complaint…).
As Gaya Island Resort is only accessible by boat, it does limit your freedom as to where you can go. Catching a quick boat back to the main land or to any other islands isn’t as easy as you might think, which initially put us off a bit. However, with the array of awesome activities available you really don’t need to leave! They have everything from water activities to arts and crafts on offer… and of course I can’t forget to mention the incredible spa.
The Spa Village was also a good walk away from the main resort area, but when we arrived I was shocked by how lovely it was. Think high ceilings, open seating areas and small pools of colourful coy carp. The treatment room was also extremely spacious, with its own bathroom, shower and gorgeous terrace, which were all scattered with purple orchids.
The welcome foot massage out on the little terrace overlooking the greenery was truly relaxing and made me feel so calm. All the massages and treatments are at least 50 minutes, with most being 80 minutes long. My therapist gave me an amazing massage that really got rid of some stressful knots, and I loved the smell of the ginger infused oil she used. I would definitely recommend a spa treatment if you stay at Gaya Island Resort… it really is special and I would even stretch to say I’d come back just for that! They also offer lots of couple’s treatments – ideal for honeymooners.
If you’re looking for more adventure, the daily morning nature trail walks with the resort’s nature expert are super fun and you get to really experience the Borneo jungle. The nature expert is full of knowledge about Gaya’s wildlife and plants, and we even got to see him release two wild snakes back into the jungle! If you’re not into the early morning wake up though, marine adventures await if you choose to go snorkelling in the resort’s bay with their in-house marine biologist… we saw cute clown fish, a huge garoupa, shimmery shoals of fish and even a tiny, baby puffer fish!
I can’t talk about Gaya’s activities without mentioning their own other private beach, Tavajun Bay. Hop on a little boat from the Gaya Island Resort pier and you’ll be there in five minutes. Although the beach at the resort is great, this one is on a whole other level. The sand was so soft and white, and the water was piercingly blue! They have a small Marine Centre here, where we had the chance to see the cutest baby turtles which were being kept there so that they could grow and improve their chances of survival. This is a great little centre to get a general overview about conservation efforts being made in the area and to learn more about the marine life.
Tavajun Bay also has a small Thai restaurant which serves up the most delicious Thai set lunch. I can honestly say this is one of the best Thai meals I’ve ever had… all the ingredients were so fresh and the dishes were all packed with flavour. We particularly loved the Pomelo Salad with Prawn that was sweet and delicately spiced, and the Deep Fried Fish with Three Flavour Sauce was an amazing mix of textures and flavours. Oh and I can’t forget the Mango Sticky Rice which, as always, was to-die-for!
Speaking of food, I have to mention Gaya Island Resort’s fine dining restaurant, Fisherman’s Cove. Set above their main restaurant, Feast Village, Fisherman’s Cove has a rooftop view of the ocean and has a much more sophisticated feel. The attentive service matched the stunning menu, which specialises in seafood. Of course the seafood is all fresh and the dishes were executed exquisitely. Whilst the food is good downstairs at Feast Village, which is where you can enjoy a buffet breakfast and half buffet dinner, it didn’t have the same care and finesse as Fisherman’s Cove and certainly wasn’t as spectacular!
With a beautiful pool that leads out on to the beach, snorkelling at your feet, great food and a fantastic spa, Gaya Island Resort really is a little slice of paradise. There’s everything you need right on the resort and there’s plenty to do if you can drag yourself away from lying on the beach! The staff are absolutely lovely – the kindest and most helpful staff I’ve come across so far. They’re organised, polite and always smiling. Gaya Island Resort is the perfect place to escape to – it’s an excluded area that makes you really feel far away from it all… just what we need when the city living gets too much! I’m already itching to go back, and it’s only a two and a half hour flight away!