Words by Kit Tng

Living in Singapore means we are surrounded by rich biodiversity in the region. Whether we are looking for a “rough-it-out” adventure or the most luxurious spa escape, we get it all within a short flight away.

Recently, I was invited for a 4-day short trip to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. When I first received the invitation, I thought it would be a trip about adventure as Sabah surrounds a paradigm of mountain climbing and rainforest adventuring. It turned out to be a new found ‘adventure’  that I can’t stop sharing about the experience. I am still overwhelmed.

Journey to Kota Kinabalu on SilkAir

Although I love to travel, taking a flight poses the greatest ‘challenge’ for me. I’m 1.9-metre tall and heavy built, leg room and accessibility become an issue onboard many aircrafts. It just spoils the entire trip if the flight experience is below expectation. I’d like to arrive comfortably at the destination feeling fresh and ready for my adventure. Fortunately for this trip, one of my favourite carriers, SilkAir, provided the ferrying service for the expedition.

The regional wing of Singapore Airlines, SilkAir operates flight connections from Singapore to 42 destinations in the region with a young fleet of A319 and A320 aircrafts. The airline has long been the leader in providing diverse secondary destinations in Asia and constantly breaks its boundaries by seeding and developing new flights to exciting new destinations in Asia.

The full suite of services that SilkAir provides before and during flight enhances the overall experience. Firstly, they have really comfortable seats both in Economy and Business Class; the leg room is adequate even for someone as tall as me. Also, I love the choice of Asian meals on board – they are very appetizing. When I get an occasional chance to fly on Business Class, the meals are freshly served in courses, like dining at a restaurant. The wide selection of drinks available complement the food well. Last but not least, the warm and friendly cabin crew makes the journey impeccable. I wish the flight to Kota Kinabalu could be longer so that I could fully immerse myself in the comfort of the seat and enjoy the service.

Shortly, we arrived in Sabah within 1.5 hours from takeoff.

Gayana Eco Resort

Gayana Eco Resort is perched along the edges of a tropical rainforest forest on a coral reef island off the coast of Borneo. It takes a 15-min car ride from Kota Kinabalu International Airport to reach Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal and another 15-min boat ride to reach this beautiful resort. In all, it takes less than 3 hours to travel from the concrete jungle of Singapore to this pristine paradise in Sabah.

Gayana Eco Resort has 52 tropical villas that are built over the surface of water. These villas are built based on traditional Borneo architecture and there are a total of 5 different types of luxurious villas to choose from. The Lagoon Villa is built with a comfortable terrace overlooking the entire resort and when night falls, the view is spectacular.

The Mangrove Villa gives unison of both the nature of land and sea where the deck opens to the humble mangroves while a flight of steps leads you to the sea. The Rainforest Villa comes with a large outdoor patio with plush setting to allow nature lovers a chance to reacquaint themselves to the natural environment. The Ocean Villa, as the name implies, offers magnificent view of the vast South China Sea while fresh sea breeze blows through the room.

Rainforest Villa

Last but not least, the Palms Villa is the pinnacle of luxury indulgence with lush master bedroom that gives a splendid view of the ocean with Mount KK in the background, a private pool on your own private deck and even a glass bottom flooring to discover the sea below from the comfort of the lavish interior.

All villas come with complimentary amenities such as a mini bar, bottled water, coffee and tea maker and complimentary use of various water sport activities. Also, rest assured that you will not be severed from the outside world in such an idyllic environment as every villa is equipped with satellite TV and wireless internet connection.

The resort has two excellent restaurants to choose from. Alu Alu is a seafood restaurant that dishes out fantastic seafood; the fish and vegetables are sourced from the resort’s own organic farm. Macac is a poolside restaurant serving a fair mix of local and western delights. When evening falls, nothing’s better to end the day sipping a cool beverage accompanied with an unforgettable view at “Latitude Lounge”.

Alu Alu seafood restaurant

Macac restaurant

Gayana Eco Resort is truly unique because the guiding philosophy of the resort is to provide luxury indulgence while giving back to nature by protecting and regenerating the precious marine environment through the establishment of MERC (Marine Ecology Research Center) within the resort. The center objective is to educate the importance of the marine environment to humans and how the marine ecology is facing increased threats due to irresponsible fishermen using destructive fishing methods, indiscriminate dumping of rubbish and toxic waste and global warming.

MERC regeneration program also includes cultivating giant clams through artificial insemination, increasing coral growth through coral gardening and protecting fish species through farming practices. The center provides an education tour for guests who are interested to understand the importance of the marine environment.

Bunga Raya Island Resort Spa

Bunga Raya Island Resort Spa is a 30-min boat ride away from Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal. Upon arrival, you may not be able to locate the 48 timbered villas easily as they are specially built to blend into natural landscape of the rich primary forest. Each of the 7 types of villas is amply spaced to provide the guests an environment of tranquility and serenity.

For beach lovers, there is the Plunge Pool Villas that offers a private sea facing plunge pool and an open deck balcony to enjoy the sun, sand and sea. For guests who like to get closer to nature, the Superior Villas and Deluxe Villas are perched on stilts at the forest hillside, overlooking the beach and ocean while the sound of nature pipes gracefully into the rooms.

Another option will be the Treehouse Villas, which is privately situated among the tree tops with a private Jacuzzi or plunge pool for an unforgettable intimate experience. For families, there are Deluxe Suites with two or three bedrooms featuring lush outdoor balcony and even giant whirl pools for the kids to enjoy.

The Royal Villa is the most luxurious villa exclusively located in a ‘remote’ part of the resort. Surrounded by dense forest together with an exceptional ocean view, the 2-bedroom villa comprises of a comfortable living area and a designer kitchen serviced by a butler, a chef and a housekeeper.

Just like Gayana Eco Resort, all villas are well-appointed with satellite TV and wireless internet connection, complimentary amenities such as mini bar, bottled water, coffee and tea maker and complimentary use of various water sport activities.

Personally, the most enjoyable activity at Bunga Raya Island Resort Spa was jungle trekking. It is a moderately easy trek of 45-min to the ‘treetop walk’ and within that short period, we had a number of close encounters with the residents of the richly diverse primary forest such as vipers, lizards and even wild boars.

The beauty of having a beachfront resort is you get to cool down from the trek by jumping straight into the pristine water. For those who are a little less adventurous, there is always the Solace Spa where you can get a range of services to calm the mind and soul.

Dining at Pantai Grill is not only about good food but the ambience. It was a memorable experience to enjoy delectable dishes in the cool breeze at the seaside backdropped by the jungle terrain.

To unwind, there is always the Wine Cave that we can chill out. As the name implies, it is an underground wine cellar that stores over 4,500 bottles of wines, which can be appreciated at an adjoining outdoor patio. Its collection is so vast that it is recognized by Wine Spectacular as the restaurant with one of the most outstanding wine lists in the world for 2012.

Kota Kinabalu Attractions

Staying on island resorts does not mean that you get isolated from the main city of Kota Kinabalu. The resorts provide ferrying services between the mainland and the islands; if you want to visit some local attractions, you have the option to do it.

Mari Mari Cultural village is one such attraction that should not be missed when visiting Kota Kinabalu. The village consists of different houses built by different ethnic tribes in Sabah. As you walk through the village, you get teleported back in time with demonstration of daily activities in olden days. From wine making to fire starting to blowpipe hunting, it truly reflects the intelligence and the creativity of how villagers have evolved through the years. The cultural performance and the traditional lunch at the end of the tour sealed the eventful experience.

Another attraction worth mentioning is the Klias River cruise. The cruise takes you out along the Klias Mangrove Forest Reserve where you can spot large population of proboscis monkeys. When night falls, fireflies can be seen lighting up trees.

Sabah is a haven for a short getaway due to its proximity to Singapore and the extensive list of activities available. Whether you are in for a luxurious spa retreat or a rough-it-out adventure, Sabah has it all. Consider Sabah while planning for your next escapade.