Caroline and I headed to Borneo full of excitement but also uncertainty, not too sure what to expect… but we needn’t have wasted our time as it exceeded both our expectations.
We spent our first night at the Shangri La Tanjong Aru and being so close to the airport it’s a great option for people who are flying out the next morning, or those looking for a base for a couple of nights to explore the modern yet unique city of Kota Kinabulu. It is a large hotel, great for families who aren’t worried about not being on the beach but looking for great facilities. There is a private beach 10 minutes away and a taxi into town would only cost you around £3.
Learn more about the Shangri La Tanjong Aru
The bars on the sea front are local and low key but great to watch the sunset from and decide which of the restaurants to dine in. We took the local recommendation and went to the Point View Seafood Village. After being greeted with a cup of Chinese tea we tucked in to the most amazing prawns with garlic and chillies. Not only was the food excellent, the atmosphere really nice and good value there was also entertainment with traditional dancing. We declined sampling the sea cucumber and fish lip stew!
Kota Kinabulu is a city which really grabs you, it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of other cities like Hong Kong, but it is unique and exciting in its own way. Across the water you can see the floating village’s home to the Philippino immigrants who are in a world of their own…it makes you wonder what secrets they hold. By day they are out fishing and by night the market comes alive selling their catch. One of the nicest things is walking around you aren’t hassled; people are friendly and happy for you to just look.
On the other side of the city you can embrace the local communities and enjoy the local street food. It’s all cooked on homemade grills; smoke filters through the air and all the different smells all mix as one.
Anyone wanting to spend a bit longer in KK, I would recommend the Shangri La Rasa Ria. It’s on a lovely beach, just 40 minutes from the town centre. Recently renovated, the Ocean wing offers stylish accommodation for honeymooners, an exclusive feel and award winning restaurants.
Learn more about the Shangri La Rasa Ria
I never thought of Borneo as having beautiful beaches but there is so much more to it than its famed Orangutans. Gaya Island is around 15 minutes by boat from the KK, and due to building restrictions there are only 3 sights on the island that can be developed, maintaining its nature and cultural roots. It’s a haven for marine life thanks to the work of the Gayana Eco Resort and a must for anyone interesting in snorkelling or diving. All over water, the accommodation is authentic yet stylish, stay in the Sea Villas and you will get breakfast delivered to your deck by canoe!
The sister hotel, Bunga Raya which is just 10 minutes around the island, is a totally different vibe. Arriving to a beautiful picture perfect beach with the lush forest behind it you are instantly wowed. The villas make the hotel feel really intimate… head to the beach for some satay at lunch and then indulge at dinner with a choice of 4 restaurants. For the real romantics the pavilions on the jetty make the ideal setting for a couple. The Pool villas are the most popular, closest to the beach with your own direct access but all have amazing views of either the jungle or the bay and a gorgeous terrace for relaxing. Sun soaking is easy either on the beach or by their infinity pool; I must admit our couple of hours free time was spent enjoying the pool. The island is all about being close to nature, the jungle spa is accessed by a suspended wobbly bridge! Walks to the Gayana take around 4 hours through the jungle or you can do the canopy walk for the best views.
Learn more about the Bunga Raya
My only disappointment was we didn’t have more time to spend on the island and really be able to make the most of the experience. An island getaway with a difference is what you are getting and being Asia it’s fantastic value for money!! The destination is still relatively unknown, so they don’t have the visitor numbers of Bali or Thailand and that is a big part of the appeal. So much of the land is currently protected… hopefully it will stay that way and always be preserved as the little gem it deserves and strives to be.