Luxury Hotel in Borneo
We spent 3 days / 2 nights on a wildlife tour with Amazing Borneo spending time at Turtle Island, Bilit Rainforest and Sepliok Orangatun Sanctuary. It was incredible to be so close to all the amazing wildlife and you can read about our wildlife tour here. After a busy few days we stayed at the most wonderful luxury hotel in Borneo – Gaya Island Resort.
Booking Gaya Island Resort
You can fly to Kota Kinabulu from the UK via Kuala Lumpur or Brunei for around £500-600. We were already in Malaysia so flew from Penang to Kota Kinabulu with Air Asia which took just under 3 hours.
We were on our honeymoon so wanted a luxury hotel in Borneo for an extra special experience. A couple of people recommended Gaya Island Resort, situated on a private island (Gaya Island) only a 10 minute boat trip from Kota Kinabulu. The hotel offers various discounts and / or upgrades when you book directly. Although there were some good deals, we ended up booking through Hotels.com as we had a 8% discount code. As a result of not booking directly, we had to pay for the speedboat transfer (160 RM / £30pp) to the resort. I think that they should include the transfer in the price as there is no other way to reach the island!
We were recommended the Kinabulu Villa accommodation as it was slightly larger than the other villas with unobstructed views of the sea and Mount Kinabulu. A week’s stay with breakfast was just over £1,500 (around £215 per night). If you chose Bayu or Canopy Villa, it should cost (with a hotels.com discount) around £1,100-1,300 for a week.
Our Kinabulu Villa was a 47 square metres m2 room with a balcony and sea views. It was simply incredible. Gaya Island Resort is pretty expansive so the staff take your luggage up in a golf buggy as takes around 7 minutes to walk from reception to the villa (some of it rather steeply up hill). I had absolutely no issue with that – nice to get some exercise.
The balcony area has two cosy corners with cushions for curling up and reading a book and taking in the views. On arrival, we found such a cute monkey and elephant shaped towel on our large king size bed with a leaf saying ‘Welcome to Borneo’. It was absolutely adorable.
The whole villa was very spacious with plenty of wardrobe / storage space, a desk, separate rooms for toilet and shower, two sinks opposite one another a huge bath. It was pretty dreamy. Also, I wouldn’t normally call this out but the toiletries they provided were fantastic! Each day, fresh water is provided in glass bottles and they also gave us a complimentary rice wine.
The only issue we had was with the air conditioning. It just wasn’t cold enough! After reporting the issue, the staff fixed it twice but it still surprised me how weak it was and that it only operated in the bedroom. Luckily the bedroom fan provided us with some cooling air.
Luxury Hotel in Borneo: The Pool
The pool area was gorgeous and it was an absolute delight not to have a hint of a sunbed war! There are plenty of sunbeds directly around the pool area and plenty more a little further down on the beach. Or go all out and lie in a hammock!
There is a water station by the pool and the staff kindly deliver it to your sunbed on a pretty regularly basis. We bought reusable Gaya Island bottles for £2 and used those every day. It was also nice to keep them as a souvenir.
There is a small shallow pool for children and a larger long pool. There are also four double sunbeds in the pool for lounging in the sun in the morning or keeping in the shade in the afternoon.
Be warned that the sun in Borneo is fierce! On my BBC weather app it said the temperature was 34 degrees but it felt like 47 degrees. I ended up buying a SPF 50 cream from their small shop as I found myself burning easily.
The pool bar offers a selection of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks as well as a snack bar with a range of western and local dishes. At 3pm they offer pool snacks which change daily and include waffles, corn on the cob and shaved ice cream.
Between 5-8pm every night they offer the following on happy hour buy one get one free:
- Cocktails (2 for 45RM / £9) – Tequila sunrise, Peach Project, Purple Rain, White Sangria and the Bartender special
- Mocktail (2 for 20RM / £4) Shirley Temple
- Beer (2 for 35RM / £7) Carlsberg, Asahi, Apple Cider
- Wine (2 for 60RM / £12) White Pinot Grigio and Red Chianti
We often had a happy hour cocktail around the pool at 5pm or one before dinner. You can also order from the pool bar and take it to the restaurant. In the evenings the pool bar also had a duo of local singers.
Other cocktails which are not on happy hour include Mai Tai, Strawberry Daiquiri, Margarita and Singapore Sling.
Luxury Hotel in Borneo: The Restaurants
We loved that Gaya Island Resort had different culinary experiences. You can choose from:
- Feast Village (lunch and dinner)
- Fishermans Cove (dinner)
- Omakase (dinner)
- Tavajun Bay (lunch)
- Pool Bar and lounge
- The Singgah Singgarung Night Beach BBQ (dinner)
We were lucky enough to experience all of the above! Breakfast at the Feast Village (inclusive of room rate) is a huge spread of continental and cooked local and Western specialities. The only item that is not available is pork as it is not halal. We thoroughly enjoyed the homemade crepes made fresh with a choice of nutella, whipped cream, berry compote and banana.
The lunch at Feast Village is a semi buffet where you can choose your main meal and have a starter and dessert from the buffet. As mentioned below, we were kindly offered local specialities of Beef Assam Pedas, Chicken Masak Merah, Fish Seafood Masak Lemak, Beef Rendang and Chicken Curry which were AMAZING. Thank you to Chef Dolis and Deborah.
We were also impressed with the dinner at Feast Village which was literally a huge feast! Some of our favourite dishes included duck, roast beef and local fish in banana leaf.
The Singgah Singgarung Night Beach BBQ (every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) was a fantastic evening. For 270 RM / £52 your night includes handicraft making, free flowing beverage (beer, wine, sangria and soft drinks) freshly cooked bbq meat and fish and a cultural performance.
The selection of food included crab, lobster, whole fish, beef skewers, chicken and squid served with rice, potatoes, salad and more! Plus a small selection of starters and desserts. The food was incredible, the booze was free flowing and we enjoyed the cultural dance and even managed to join in!
Our extra special treat for our honeymoon was The Bajau Laut Beach Barbeque, which was a romantic private dining experience. It was pricey but worth it for a real treat.
We started off with a Mango Refresher salad followed by the most fantastic selection of fresh fish and meat served with local vegetables and rice. It included chicken with sarawak pineapple, beef with leek, prawns, borneo green lobster, grouper and more!
Fishermans Cove and Omasake
Fishermans Cove is an intimate restaurant on the first floor of the Feast Village overlooking the sea. As suggested by its name, this a la carte restaurant specialises in fresh fish and seafood! The Red Snapper fillet slow poached with dauchi and ginger pesto was fantastic. Make sure you save room for the Chocolate Fondant with passion ganache and vanilla ice cream.
Omasake is a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant offering slots at 7pm – 8.30 and 8.45 – 10.15pm. The experience is intimate with a maximum of 10 people circled around the dining area to watch the chef prepare and cook the dishes. The evening was split into appetiser, soup, main course and dessert. We loved the prawns, fish and sirloin beef all freshly cooked and seasoned by Chef Joey.
Luxury Hotel in Borneo: The Activities
One aspect that made this feel like a real luxury hotel in Borneo was the amount and breadth of optional activities available for guests. They give you a timetable as you arrive (or you can book some in advance like we did) and you just sign on with guest services. Activities include:
- Yoga (free)
- Guided Nature Walk (free)
- Coral Garden Snorkelling (chargeable)
- Tavajun Trek (chargeable)
- Coral Planting (chargeable)
- Marine Conservation Talk (free)
- Mangrove Kayaking (chargeable)
- Gaya Snorkelling (chargeable)
- Sunset Cruise (chargeable)
- Guided Meditation (free)
- Night Walk (chargeable)
- Movie Under the Stars (free)
While all activities were tempting, we wanted some relaxed time too! We managed to do around half of them in a week. Yoga was daily except Sundays between 8-9am. The studio was a little odd as it was tiered but the actual class was good with the teacher giving options for different experience levels.
The Tavujan Trek is Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 12.30pm and is a fairly easy trek through the jungle to the private Tavujan beach. You may even see some wildlife on your way (we saw a poisonous snake which wasn’t welcome!).
The private beach is absolutely gorgeous and you can get lunch from Tavujan Bay which serves local and western cuisine at 2pm. The best bit were the bearded pigs that were on the island – we saw a whole family just through the trees by the river. There were also many monkeys who aren’t afraid to come and seek food from you! You are then transported back to Gaya Island by speedboat.
The Mangrove Kayaking is daily where you kayak in the sea for 10 minutes before entering the wonderful mangroves. It gets narrow in the mangroves and can be a little shallow so can be a little difficult to navigate. It was a pretty cool experience!
Snorkelling and Sunset Cruise
Gaya Snorkelling Exploration was our favourite activity with the wonderful Slyvester. He led us to some amazing areas to see all the incredible fish. It was all in shallow waters but you must be horizontal so you don’t damage the coral. Lifejackets are also available (I wore one as I am not a strong summer). I have never been so close to so many different kinds of fishes! We were lucky to see a Barracuda (!), Kuhl’s Stingray, Many Spotted Sweetings, Clown Anemonefish, Sergeant Major, Indo Pacific Sergeant and Parrotfish!
Finally we had an evening on the Sunset Cruise (daily apart from Sunday). It was on a pretty glam boat with just 10 of us which made it feel really intimate. The cruise included a selection of canapes (a selection of spring rolls, prawns and fishcakes) which are served when you are stationary watching the sunset.
The alcohol is advertised as free flowing but we didn’t get a drink until we were stationary (20/25 minutes into the cruise). I would have liked a drink at the beginning and then served again when stationary. The sunset was absolutely stunning and felt very romantic and special. Plenty of time for taking photos, sipping on wine and beer and taking it all in. Although it was a lovely experience, I thought £80 was too steep.
If that wasn’t enough, there is also a library with a selection of books to borrow, a spa and a gym. Our 50 minute massage was pretty amazing! We also managed to use the gym twice in our stay (not bad!).
Luxury Hotel in Borneo: The Staff
The majority of the staff at Gaya Island go above and beyond to make your time special. They remember your name, your room, your favourite breakfast items and are always so helpful. A few particular staff highlights were:
- Chef Dolis and Deborah at Feast Village. We had read a lot of amazing compliments about Chef Dolis before we arrived and he truly is a wonderful sous chef. Between him and Deborah we were given huge glasses of fresh orange juice each morning at breakfast and special lunch and dinner orders of local curries. They were so willing and flexible to give guests the best experience.
- Chef Joey working at Omakase (the Japanese teppanyaki restaurant). We were lucky enough to be the only ones dining at Omakase and Chef Joey served us an AMAZING meal.
- Slyvester was a manager at Gaya Island and was always so friendly and helpful. He led the amazing snorkelling tour and found me some aloe vera when I was burnt!
- Pool Staff – again always smiling, brilliant at handing out waters and being helpful.
If you are looking for a luxury hotel in Borneo, Gaya Island Resort is pure perfection. Everything was so impressive – the rooms, pool, service, activities and food. You can spend a lot more honeymooning in the Maldives, Mauritius etc but why not spend some time in a beautiful country with wildlife and finish off with a week in paradise?
East London Girl: Luxury Hotel in Borneo