Finding paradise just a hop, skip and a jump away from all the chaos of the city is always a welcome respite, more so if that paradise has a private white sand beach. Welcome to our Kinabalu Villa at the Gaya Island Resort, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia!
We stayed in a Kinabalu Villa for 4 days, 3 nights. Kinabalu Villas are on the resort’s highest point, offering uninterrupted views of its namesake mountain, and the sea straddling Sabah and cradling Pulau Gaya. This was our second stay in the resort in the span of a year.
Location – 9
Kota Kinabalu is around 3 hours from both Hong Kong and Jakarta, 2.5 hours from both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and a bit more than 2 hours from Manila. To get to Pulau Gaya, you must take a speedboat from Jesselton Point in Kota Kinabalu’s City Center. From Terminal 1, Jesselton Point is a 20-minute cab ride. From the port, the island is just a 20-minute boat ride. 20 minutes will fly by in a jiffy; you’ll wish you have a longer time out on the sea.
The Arrival – 10
We arrived in Kota Kinabalu on a late flight. On top of that, the flight got slightly delayed, so we had to charter a boat to get to Pulau Gaya. If you’re arriving earlier, though, you’ll be able to catch the resort’s transfers. The Gaya Island Resort’s boarding staff at the port were kind enough to wait for us.
We sailed out on the ocean on a quiet, starry night. Appreciating how the stars reflect on the calm waters, backdropped only by the humming of the engine and the lapping of water as we cut through the strait, we don’t regret having the boat all to ourselves.
We were welcomed with soursop juice and a cold towel. Some of the front office staff even went out of their way just to give us a warm welcome!
The View – 9
The morning view was glorious. If you wake up early enough, you could watch the sun rising from behind the ridges of Mt. Kinabalu from the comfort of your bed; just open the wooden privacy shutters. If you opt to watch the sunrise by the balcony, though, you may be in for a surprise. Cheeky monkeys sometimes approach unsuspecting early risers to play.
Sunset was equally stunning. Be sure to catch it from Tavajun Bay, Gaya Island Resort’s private beach located a couple of minutes from the main resort.
At night, the city’s lights line the opposite shore with glimmering lights. Watch the night unfold across a multicolored horizon from the shore.
The Room – 7.5
The property prides itself in its open room design. The bedroom seamlessly connects with the spacious bathroom through a wide corridor, where you’ll find a simple work space and a dresser table bounded by sliding doors leading to the well-equipped walk-in closet.
We are not huge fans of the resort’s interpretation of an open design. Although it might work well with couples, it doesn’t offer privacy for families or friends on vacation, or workmates on a company outing. If you’re traveling with family, friends, or workmates, the Suria Suite might be a better option.
The Bed – 8
We have no complaints when it comes to the bed, but some of the pillows may have to be aired out to maintain fluffiness.
In-Room Technology – 5
Your room wouldn’t come equipped with surround sound speakers, a Nespresso machine, or a fully-equipped working area. When they say coffee and tea making facilities, they meant the room comes with free instant coffee and several tea bags. Although, if needed, the lobby staff would gladly print documents for you. The bar serves Illy coffee, but that means you have to go out of your room for decent coffee.
The Bathroom – 9
The bathroom comes with 2 vanity counters equipped with implements appropriate for whomever is using. Counters for women noticeably has more towels, compared with those of counters for men. The YTL Hotels use organic, locally-made toiletries. You’ll certainly miss their grapefruit shower gel, once you’re home.
We are suckers for huge bathtubs, especially if the resort is generous with bath salts. The entire bathroom doesn’t come with an enclosure, though, keeping with the room’s open design. To be honest, we think the hotel took the idea too literally. Just hope housekeeping won’t catch you enjoying yourself.
Tip: There’s a cute wooden signage by the villa walkway, just after the flight of stairs. Don’t forget to flip to Do Not Disturb.
The fully-equipped walk-in closet, which surprisingly has a sliding door, is a plus. They even provide you with a woven water hyacinth beach bag, and a huge, heavy umbrella to use within the resort.
Service – 9
The Kadazans and the Sabahans are such warm-hearted people. What sets Gaya Island Resort from the rest is its accommodating staff who almost always goes out of their way to make you feel at home. Rooms don’t come with personal butlers like rooms in their sister hotel in Kuala Lumpur do, but the front office staff can do anything for you, you feel like you don’t need a butler at all. Special mentions go to Juvera, Michelle, and Justin of the front office.
Food and Beverage
The breakfast buffet at the Feast Village had a wide selection of Malaysian food, and Western food, although all options were Halal. Bacon- and sausage-lovers may leave the table disappointed. The dessert spread was quite extensive – quite the treat for early risers.
It’s interesting that Malaysian, East Asian, and Western comfort food are all under one roof, but the Feast Village’s food selection for lunch and dinner needs to be extended and improved.
For dinner, course meal at the Fisherman’s Cove was good, but not spectacular. Although, all the ingredients were fresh (I swear I saw the Coral Trout I ate, while I was out on the water!), and then well-prepared. You get so much value for your money.
For those in need of an exquisite nightcap before bed, the bar may not offer much, as much as selection is concerned, but it’s always a delight trying Leila’s new concoctions. Try the Gaya Dream for a fruity treat.
For people who need to keep moving to keep calm, lying down in a sunbed all day surely isn’t the way to go. If you are this kind of traveler, you would never be bored in Gaya Island Resort.
A lush tropical forest surrounds the area. You could explore the forest in a guided nature walk with the in-house naturalist, Justin.
The resort’s preservation efforts are quite admirable. Just a few paddles away from the beach fronting the property is a mangrove sanctuary that Justin himself looks after. You could sign up for a mangrove-kayaking trip with him, too.
Pulau Gaya is part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, a group of 5 islands protected for their rich flora and fauna. The resort could arrange fishing and diving excursions. If you are not the type to go out on open water boat trips, though, you’d still see a handpicked selection of Sabah’s wonders in the resort’s very own Marine Center in Tavajun Bay.
You could sign up for all of these, plus yoga classes, through the PURE Activities Programme desk.
Departure – 6
The lobby was packed at check-out. Checking-out took longer than checking-in. Taking the welcome drinks and the cold towel served after arrival out of the picture, departure wasn’t very comfortable.
The staff were commendable for maintaining composure throughout the departure procedures, though. They even went as far as sending each and every one of the guests off with a goodbye wave, and a couple of niceties.
Overall – 8.05
Gaya Island Resort is not a place you go to just once. For the service that goes well above par, every penny spent is worth it, and trust us when we say we’ve never said the same thing with any other property before.