Last month, I can legitimately state that I was indeed in paradise… White beaches, palm trees, ocean breeze and cocktails. 2012 was such a busy year and I needed to slow down for a bit, regenerate and really think about things. I was lucky enough to squeeze a quick break in Malaysia before really getting into 2013.
So why Malaysia? Well I have travelled to Thailand and Bali frequently and wanted to try a new country that wasn’t too far away (given the time constraint – I had 10 days max!). Malaysia is approximately an 8 hour flight, but because I was going to Sabah, an extra 2 and half hour flight from Malaysia’s main hub Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is a beautiful country, made up of bustling cities, jungles and gorgeous beaches. With a rich history, stunning scenery, exotic wildlife and kind natured people, it’s the perfect place to holiday.
I definitely needed to relax, so I booked myself into Sabah’s newest island accommodation, The Gaya Island Resort. Less than a year old, the latest hotel from YTL, is a short 15 min speed boat ride from the mainland of Kota Kinabalu. With a limited number of villas available, your stay is intimate, personable and definitely relaxing.
After being whisked away from the hustle and bustle by your James Bond style speed boat, you’re greeted by your personal concierge who offers a delicious drink and cool towel whilst explaining the running of the hotel, activities on offer, how meal times run. Once booked in, they eventually accompany you to your room. The hotel itself is very green and environmentally conscious, which is so great to see. You’re required to walk to your rooms, which for me, was very pleasant, however anyone who is elderly, pregnant, disabled should really request a room closer to the hotel as the walk is quite strenuous.
I figured the best way to share my experience at The Gaya Island Resort, is to split the hotel into categories – Accommodation, Activities & Leisure and Food & Drink. So let us begin!
Outstanding – in fact, the room was possibly one of the most beautiful I have ever stayed in. The villa was one of the last, perched high, looking over the resort. The room itself, was spacious, clean and modern, but still offered a touch of Borneo through certain design features. With wifi, flat screen television and a huge open plan bathroom, it felt very luxurious. However, the selling point for me was the breath taking view that I woke to every morning. 180 degree views of the South China Sea. Every morning was perfect and I thoroughly enjoyed having my morning tea watching the sun come up.
Activities & Leisure
The Gaya Island Resort offers a range of activities, however for a number of them you do have to pay. There are many complimentary activities though. The best by far was the snorkelling that happened twice a day every day. The Gaya Island Resort is surrounded by beautiful coral and some amazing tropical species of fish. It was a wonderful way to wake up every morning – swimming with the fishes! Bush walks, nature walks, non motorised water sports, an inside/outside library and traditional Borneo games were also on offer. On an afternoon, if you just wanted to relax, there was a regular boat that took you over to a stunning private beach, owned by the resort. The chefs organised a beautiful picnic lunch with a bottle of wine. This was delivered to us within half an hour of arriving at the private beach. Surprisingly the cost was quite reasonable and it made our day just a little bit more special. Alongside the private beach, the resort has an outstanding spa, built within the mangroves of the island. The spa is a peaceful place, incredibly quiet apart from the odd chirp of a bird, or cry of a monkey. The spa rooms were beautiful, built on stilts in the traditional Bornean way. I enjoyed a Cocoa, Chocolate and Vanilla Spa experience – the products are made from natural products including cocoa beans, fresh yoghurt and chilli! It was a wonderful way to relax.
Food & Drink
Since you are on an island, you are limited to the restaurants at the hotel (of which there are 2!) however, you can at any time catch a boat back to the mainland if you fancy a different scenery. For me personally, I didn’t want to leave the island, and managed to try all the different ways of enjoying lunch and dinner. The executive sous chef Len, is a local of Kota Kinabalu, but has worked all over the world including the Middle East and Southeast Asia. This can be seen in the menus which offer a range of international dishes, Malaysian dishes and a fusion of both. Breakfast (included in your rate) is served in the main eatery called Feast Village – this is also where you can enjoy lunch and dinner too. There is also the option to enjoy your lunch and dinner at the Pool Bar and finally if you want to take it up a notch, you can enjoy your dinner at the roof top al la carte restaurant Fisherman’s Cove. All the meals I experienced were amazing. The food was so tasty and incredibly fresh. I must note how perfect the seafood was (obviously locally caught) and the fruit in the morning was always divine. There are plenty of drink options as well – complimentary water is always in your room, an extensive wine list and beautiful cocktails. I must note that the drinks were very expensive, but I can understand that Malaysia has very strict tax on alcohol AND I was on an island.
- Privacy and quietness – there was barely anyone around and you weren’t fighting for pool beds, tables at restaurants or activities.
- The staff are so friendly and beautifully natured. I want to note a lovely gentleman called Azlan, who looked after me at the Fisherman’s Cove restaurant. He went above and beyond and made our last night superb.
- The location – views, private beaches, wildlife… Keep a watch out for Mimi the warthog on the Private Beach! She is very friendly, but is really only after your food.
- Being so new – parts of the hotel were still getting renovated and this was sometimes a little off putting.
- The staff although very friendly, lacked a sense of urgency when it came to the restraurant. Perhaps nervous or lacking in training, they seemed a little slow with service.
- The hills to the room – this wasn’t an issue for me personally, but as I previously mentioned it doesn’t cater for those disabled, elderly or pregnant.
Overall, my stay at The Gaya Island Resort was wonderful. I went there to relax and take in a little bit of the Malaysian culture, and I left feeling refreshed and a little more knowledgeable. If you’re after a little bit of luxury, privacy or perhaps want to try somewhere new, then I thoroughly recommend The Gaya Island Resort.
Go on guys, book a holiday to Malaysia and live a little!