IF there’s any more proof needed that Malaysia has its very own luxury island getaway on par with some of the world’s more exotic destinations, a visit to the Gaya Island Resort will convince even the most cynical of travellers.
Just 15 minutes by boat from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, the rainforest reserve island — the largest in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park — is situated amidst the warm waters of the South China Sea.
So if you’re heading for a trip to the Land Below the Wind to commune with nature, but don’t fancy the arduous task of hiking up the famous Mount Kinabalu, or maybe want to just unwind after a sojourn to the peak, the breathtaking vistas of a glorious sunrise or romantic sunset framed against the glistening beach will be enticing enough.
There are three resorts on the island and YTL Hotels’ Gaya Island Resort is the grandest of them all. It covers 21 acres (8.5ha) and is framed by a lush mangrove forest as well as the wider rainforest which forms the backdrop of the exclusive resort. A private beach on Tavajun Bay is a five-minute boat ride away from resort grounds. It is here that The Edge Financial Daily came ashore on our visit, heading straight to the beach-front Thai restaurant for lunch.
Left: Yoga sessions in the mornings are held on a perfectly manicured lawn that is neighbouring the pool and the Pool Bar.
Right: Gaya Island Resort is a quality-time luxury destination with loved ones.
Designed to co-exist in harmony with nature, lush greenery envelops the resort, as walks are taken seriously in line with the environment-friendly theme the resort tries to keep.
“We practise eco-friendly practices in our efforts to protect nature and marine ‘jewels’ for generations to come. Hence it is best to experience the rich and lush tropical jungle of Gaya by walking around the resort grounds,” Gaya Island Resort general manager Kirinjit Singh says.
It is no wonder that Kirinjit calls his charge the “fully walking tropical resort”.
Be it a stroll to the mangrove fronting Spa Village, or a slow walk through the grounds at night enveloped by the serenity and quiet, the resort certainly exploits the concept of going back to nature.
So don’t expect buggies to transport you to the best rooms in the resort — the Kinabalu Villas. Instead it may well be a hike uphill. The higher the villas are located, the more rewards await, especially when the clock hands reach 5.30am.
It is on the balcony of these villas that you may be lucky enough to witness the dawn of a new day. Kirinjit explains there are rooms that are closer to the main resort building or on the lower hill, but these only offer the jungle view, as opposed to the sea view that the large 47 sq m Kinabalu Villas offer.
The glorious colours of the sun rising above the peak of Mount Kinabalu make an awesome scene that early risers are treated to, accompanied by the sound of birds bursting into song, harmonising melodiously with the chirping of crickets.
And after that, you might want to head to the gym for a run on the treadmill with the sight of the majestic mountain looming over the horizon, or join the daily yoga session conducted by the resort’s trainers on a perfectly manicured lawn.
But then again, maybe you just might like to laze around instead in the villa’s daybed patio and soak in the view, or have a leisurely soak in the big bathtub for two.
In answer to the rumbling in your tummy, dig into the buffet spread at the resort’s Feast Village, with a fine view of the beach and Mount Kinabalu in the distance. Seated by the swimming pool, have your choice of eggs prepared on the spot, along with the accompanying western food spread. Of course, for the Asian palate, the Malaysian favourites of nasi lemak and noodles are also on offer. The highlight, it must be said, would be the fresh fruit juices and you can concoct your own combinations.
To indulge in a special evening, head to the resort’s rooftop for a sumptuous fine-dining experience at the Fisherman’s Cove. If you’re on a romantic getaway, this is your chance to dress to impress and enjoy that classic candlelight dinner with a starry sky above as you sample fresh seafood.
Truly taking advantage of what Sabah has to offer would be to dive into its underwater world, be it through snorkelling or diving (with certified instructors). Alternatively, the resort also offers guided nature walks, water sports, golf at the Sutera Harbour Resort, or a stir of creativity over the stove in the Borneo Culinary Journey and storytelling for the little ones.
Without a doubt, the ultimate luxury that the resort has to offer is YTL’s signature spa experience. The Spa Village Gaya Island offers the privilege of delving into the healing arts of the region, which draws from the rich elements of its mountain, forest and sea surroundings. Set in the mangroves, this unique spa hideaway has a rich tapestry of treatments and programmes rooted in the cultural healing traditions of Sabah’s indigenous community, including a specialty of rejuvenating rice scrubs and masques.
An especially interesting try-out is the Sabah Scent Adventure — a nose-led experience involving essential oils that is perfect for those interested in aromatherapy. Presented with a series of scented oils, you are encouraged to let your sensory instincts lead you, as scent artists are on hand to help you create your own perfume by picking and blending the oils you find most enchanting. The experts are trained to give insight into what your choice of oils may say about you, making it a very personal adventure indeed.
What good is it to be on an island resort and not explore its surroundings? For that, hop on the luxurious Sunset Cruise on one of the resort’s two yachts, one of which is called Lumba Lumba. Able to accommodate up to 12 guests at a time, “shipmates” are advised to kick off their footwear — for safety reasons — as the crew sails the yacht around Malohom Bay.
And as you may enjoy a drink while the majestic hues of magenta, orange, violet and red of the sunset play across the sky like a painted canvas, it is amazing to think that this beauty is just at our very own backyard.
All in all, Gaya Island Resort is another of YTL’s many perfect idyllic getaways, with a generous dollop of luxury. If you want some peace and quiet, and some quality time with those you love, rest assured you’ll find hospitality at its best in the hands of Kirinjit’s team.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 5, 2014.