The exoticness and mystery surrounding the Borneo jungle has enchanted many people for centuries. As one of the largest tropical forests in the world, Borneo is renowned for its rich diversity of vegetation and animals, as well as its indigenous Dayak people who in the past were infamous for their notorious headhunting traditions. post millennium Borneo, however, offers us modernity and fine living making the term “going into the jungle” these days a little less scary then before.
Text by Erza S.T.
My curiosity about Kota Kinabalu in Borneo was stimulated because of the Gaya Island Resort, a five star luxury resort hidden just off the coast. Just recently opened in 2012, this stylish resort from YTL Hotels sits on Gaya Island, the largest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and it is also part of natural conservation area of Borneo. The resort offers a picture-perfect holiday with its idyllic, golden-sand beaches, spectacular underwater havens, and untouched tropical rainforests like you have never seen before.
It takes just a short 30-minute combined car and speedboat ride from the airport to get to the resort, whose surrounding crystal clear waters are filled with endless varieties of corals, fish and marine life. The resorts 121 villas and suites are set along the shore leaving the rainforest of the island intact and safe. The construction follows the hilly contours of the land and incorporates local Sabahan elements into each of the villas, where each has spacious bedrooms, a large open bathroom with an oversized bathtub and a separate rain shower, as well as an outdoor verandah with daybeds overlooking the sea and Mount Kinabalu directly across the waters…on a clear day.
As an exclusive resort that is extremely secluded, Gaya Island Resort has all the facilities necessary to fill an entire week. Whether you are an active person into all kinds of outdoor activities, or completely the opposite just wanting to sunbath without doing much, this resort is the place for you. It is peaceful and quiet with a calm beach for safe swimming. You can also take a boat to the hidden Tavajun Bay enclave at the other side of the island, where you can find a tranquil private beach that is perfect for picnics. In this hidden bay they also have the Marine Centre, where you can see rescued sea turtles and Timmy the wild pig and her piglets.Click to view slideshow.
An exclusive resort that is extremely secluded, Gaya Island Resort has all the facilities necessary to fill an entire week.
Snorkellers and divers will definitely love this island as a true diving heaven. The Tunku Abdul Rahman marine park is located in the famed Coral Triangle, also known as the “Amazon of The Sea”, with around 600 species of hard and soft corals, as well as 3,000 species of fish, ranging from whale sharks to the notorious lionfish. After years of only snorkelling, I decided to take my first ever-diving experience here. The sea life is just too beautiful not to enjoy it from the depths. With a PADI instructor, I did a discovery dive course going down to 10 metres deep. Though I admit to suffering from stress, panic and cramps, the fourth dive was a charm. I was finally able to master the knowledge of how to dive and actually had a great time under the water. Imagine watching TV without any sound, that is diving to me.
Nevertheless, if diving is too challenging for you, then go snorkelling instead, guided by the resort’s resident marine biologist, Scott Mayback. American Scott is one of the most expert and knowledgeable people I’ve met who knows the sea and the inhabitants like the back of his hand. It is a calm and relaxing activity to have an early morning snorkel, where you can see many beautiful and colorful fishes and corals.
The richness of Gaya Island is not only in the sea but also on the land. After having too much fun in the sea and by the beach, I decided to check out the jungle. Together with Justin, the resident naturalist, we took a stroll through the virgin rainforest for a couple of hours following a path made through the forest. Nobody is allowed to take anything from the forest as it is under government ptotection. Inside the jungle, you will find a totally different world that is ancient and fascinating. Magnificent trees soar to the sky and, if you are lucky, you might meet up with some inhabitants there too. One of my best finds was a couple of anglehead lizards in one tree. They are quite big in size with a spearhead shape, and are quite fascinating indeed.
In my five days at Gaya Island Resort, I was pampered and rejuvenated from their excellent spa treatment; fully fed with scrumptious local dishes from all their three restaurants and pool bar and even snuck out to Sabah Museum at Kota Kinabalu to learn about Dayak history.
The problem is that time flies too fast when you are enjoying yourself. A return plan to Gaya Island Resort is definitely already on my traveling book for 2014. Hopefully next time I can stay longer.