As the speedboat zoomed towards Gaya Island Resort, I was already devising ways to never return to reality.
A few minutes off the coast of Kota Kinabalu on the Malaysian state of Sabah lies a refuge away from life as most of us know it. Located on the island of Pulau Gaya within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Malohom Bay sweeps majestically at the Gaya Island Resort’s feet.
1. Lay down and weep
On the approach in it’s impossible to tell that 120 villas nuzzle into the hillside of an ancient rainforest. Built with local materials blending seamlessly into the natural escarpment, each contemporary villa has a unique outlook of either the South China Sea, lush rainforest, the mangroves or the beach. With oversized baths, flat screen TVs, and outdoor living rooms with day beds, you’ll be in rapture to call this home, if only temporarily.
2. Glorious food
The menu offers some of the best cuisine in Sabah with a mix of local dishes, western favourites and seafood plucked straight from the sea. Most guests flock to the casual Feast Village for its diverse dishes while others step it up a notch at the fine-dining Fisherman’s Cove perched on a rooftop and making the most of those views of the sea and Mt Kinabalu hovering in the distance. Some get all primal and tear some seafood apart at a beach BBQ while others learn how to whip up a curry themselves at one of the cooking classes.
3. Be lead astray
There aren’t many resorts that come with their own botanist personally guiding guests on nature walks through an ancient rainforest. Here you could meet some of the island’s inhabitants including the proboscis and macaque monkeys, hornbills, mouse deers, bearded pigs, lizards or any of the 622 bird species recorded on the island. If paradise is just too much to handle there are off-island excursions like a tour to Kinabalu Park, a visit to local villages, or cycling through the countryside.
4. Below the sea
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park comprises of several islands off Kota Kinabalu and local marine biologists invite guests to a wonder-world of coral, colourful sea sponges, giant clams, sea anemones, clown fish and lobsters. The conditions are usually so clear it’s a popular spot for underwater photography and specialty photography courses are offered. The more experienced may take a night dive or novices can take a PADI course and learn from the experts where all the best viewing spots are.
5. Above the sea
Motorised and non-motorised water sports equipment like kayaks and stand-up paddle surfs are available for hire. Holiday snaps will impress, especially if you’re holding up a giant tuna caught on a day out at sea on a chartered fishing trip.
6. Get deserted
If sharing your island with other guests becomes tiresome then escape to a deserted beach with your beloved with little more than a snorkel and a picnic basket. A favourite past-time for loved-up honeymooners and the only way on or off the beach is by boat.
7. Feeling good
Don’t feel guilty if you missed the group of early morning power walkers or one of the yoga classes (although it’s highly recommended even if you’re just slightly flexible) or don’t hit the fully-equipped gym, because there are no vehicles on the hilly island. It’s probably best to forgo the high heels because chances are you’re going to be walking off all that lovely food. The mini trek to the day spa needn’t overwhelm because by the time you’ve been tenderised and cocooned in an assortment of essentials oils you’ll float back to your villa.
8. Cultural delights
By now you’ve probably sampled the flavoursome cuisine of Borneo and may be keen to recreate a slice of island life back home. The resort’s chefs will invite you into their kitchen so you’re whipping up curries in no time. Also on offer are craftwork, dance classes and tribal games.
9. Family friendly
Parents will rejoice because Gaya Island Resort not only accepts children, but they also cater well for them too with storytelling sessions, a kid’s club, a kid’s pool as well as a babysitting service so you can enjoy all of the above as adults.
10. Sail off into the sunset
At some point thoughts of your real home may have crept into your head. Postpone the inevitable by orchestrating a romantically fitting finale to your escape from reality by jumping aboard a 64-foot yacht while sipping champagne and sailing off into the sunset.
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