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A Beach Trip (With Turtles!) At Gaya Island Resort – Malaysia

For anyone familiar with Kota Kinabalu in Sabah (East Malaysia), you’ll often hear people wax lyrical about the two Shangri-La Hotels there, the Tanjung Aru and the Rasa Ria.  However, hop on a short boat ride across the water and you’ll find yourself at the Gaya Island Resort... read on for the review from a reader!

Gaya Island Resort Panorama

Who went (ages of kids)
Mom, dad, 2 y/o son

Where did you go?
Gaya Island Resort, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia 

When did you go?
26 April to 1 May, 2014

How was the weather?
Hot and humid, mostly sunny with some rain overnight and one daytime thunderstorm

How did you book the trip?
I booked the flight on airasia.com and the accommodation on the resort’s website (they had a stay 3 pay 2 special).

What did the price include?
Price included breakfast and wifi only.  Transport to the resort was extra (car and boat) and should be booked at the time of reservation (including the boat departure time, although this can be amended).  Apparently, it’s cheaper to book your own at the dock, but the resort charges a docking fee which may negate any savings.  Meal plans were also available, but we didn’t think we would eat enough to get our money’s worth.  It might be worth it for others.  Try to make sure everything is done during the online booking process as I found it difficult communicating with reservations staff via telephone (always a poor connection) and email (not a timely response).

How was the flight?
My son and I flew Air Asia from Hong Kong to Kota Kinabalu as the flight times were better than Dragonair (which my husband flew and they were very delayed and lost our luggage for a day!).

It departs from Hong Kong’s Terminal 2, which has shorter immigration and security lines (which even those who technically depart from Terminal 1 can use if you’re ever in a hurry).  It did take longer to get to the gate though – you have to take both a train and a bus.  The flight was fine for a budget airline and not too long.  They don’t do pre-boarding for kids, but you can pre-board if you pay extra for one of the premium seats.  Meals are cheaper (and menu more varied) if you book online ahead of time.  I enjoyed the meals, but I have low expectations for airline food.

How far was the hotel from the airport?
To get to the hotel you need to go to Sutera Harbour, which is around 15 minutes from the airport.  The resort offers transport, but it is cheaper to book a prepaid taxi at the airport (MYR 30).  At the Harbour they have their own office at the Sutera Harbour Marina Club (in the back, near the restaurant).  You can check-in at the office if there’s enough time before the next boat.  They’ll take your bags onto the boat and to your room for you as well.

The boat ride was around 15 minutes long, and life jackets were provided.  Upon arrival, they gave us a wonderfully refreshing cold towel and welcome drink.  We had our own staff member to do check-in and ask about any special needs, give an overview of the resort, and escort us to our room.

What did you think of Gaya Island?
The resort was lovely and accurately represented by their website.  The villas and facilities were a bit spread out though, so keep that in mind when choosing your category of villa as the only way to get around is to walk.

Gaya Island - Resort Map - Shrink

The Bayu villas are closest, followed by some of the Kinabalu villas.  The Canopy villas are farthest in general.  The best views are from the Canopy villas – but you pay for it with a longer uphill walk.

All of the villas have the same layout, except for one suite (which has its own small pool and other additional amenities described on the website).  There are either two or four villas attached in each free-standing structure (one or two levels).  The Canopy and Kinabalu villas can be interconnected if you need more than one bedroom.  There are some stairs to be dealt with, but for the most part it is stroller friendly.   According to the staff, the clientele are mostly Malaysian or mainland Chinese (it’s very busy at Chinese New Year), although we saw a fair number of Westerners as well.

How was your room?  What baby/kid amenities had been provided?
There were large sunbeds on each private verandah.  The room was spacious and elegantly designed with an open plan (i.e. no doors between the areas except for the closet, toilet, and shower).  There was a welcome note on the built-in desk with some fruit and sunflower seeds that I later found out are grown and harvested on the island. 

Gaya Island Bedroom 3 - shrink

The bed had a seating area at the foot of it that could also double as a child’s bed. 

Gaya Island Bedroom

There was a walk in closet with tons of space to hang things or put away in drawers.  You could fit a travel cot in there, but the light automatically goes on if the closet door is opened which may not be ideal. 

DSCN5236

A cot could also easily fit in the bathroom, but we had it by the bed.

The bathroom featured two vanity areas, both a shower and huge bathtub (enough to fit all three of us), and a separate toilet.  They can provide a travel cot, sterilizer, bottle warmer, and stroller if needed (numbers are limited, so be sure to request at time of booking and it may not be guaranteed).  Other amenities included strong air-conditioning and ceiling fans, TV, IDD, minibar with fridge, hairdryer, room safe, etc.  However, if you need a clock, cd/DVD player or iPod dock – bring your own.  You may be able to leave your adapters at home though, as the sockets are configured to take HK and U.S. plugs, but not Australian.

How were the facilities?

Gaya Island - Pool View - Shrink

The facilities were excellent, although we mainly used the restaurants and the two pools.  The larger pool featured big “floating” lounges, a bar, and a lap pool – although actually swimming laps was sometimes a challenge depending on the other guests.  Next to it was a small wading pool.

Gaya Island Pool - shrink

Gaya Island - Wading Pool - Shrink

Gaya Island - Spa 2 - Shrink

The Spa

Gaya Island - Spa - Shrink

I had a massage at the Spa Village and highly recommend it.  They use local herbs and spices and can do a variety of treatments (including pre natal massage).  The mangrove setting is absolutely gorgeous, and the experience is one of true luxury.  They also have a conference room, gift shop, 24/7 library with wifi, 24/7 gym, and kids club. 

Library

Library

 

Gym

Gym

Kids Club

Kids Club

Kids Club

Kids Club

The latter has a play room with blocks and other toys, as well as a game room with both Xbox and Wii.  There’s a small wading pool, too.  It’s open 9am to 5pm, costs 20MYR per hour, and children 4 y/o and over can attend unaccompanied.  However, there are so many things to do at the resort that it really doesn’t see much action.  You have to let the staff know ahead of time if you want to book it as otherwise there might not be anyone onsite.  Babysitting is also available as well as other services as listed on their website.

Was there a beach?
The beach is right in front of the main restaurant and pool and had a long low tide.  They provide loungers and towels, as well as beach toys for the kids.  It’s not a powdery white sand beach, but it was pleasant enough, kid friendly, and there were no sand flies.  There wasn’t much trash on the beach, but I read online that depending on the time of year/tide, there can be more.  Visibility also varied depending on the rain (worse after a heavy rain). 

Tavajun Beach

Tavajun Beach

They have kayaks, snorkeling equipment and stand up paddle boards available for rent.  The snorkeling is ok with a fair amount of fish, but the corals are nothing to write home about.  The resort also has a private beach (Tavajun) with a marine conservation centre that’s a short boat ride away.  You can have lunch there (book ahead of time) and rent water equipment as well or just relax in a hammock or on a lounger.  This beach had more trash on it, but also more shells.  Be sure to check the daily schedule at the activities center to see what time the turtle feeding session is (if there’s a rescue turtle in residence).

Gaya Island - Sea Turtle - Shrink

Did you do any trips/excursions?  
The resort offers many on and off-site activities that you can book ahead of time or upon arrival.  A schedule of activities was given during check-in with a mix of free and pay activities offered every day.  They included:  guided snorkeling (both on and off-site), nature walk (both guided and unguided), cooking class, arts and crafts, sunset cruise, outdoor movies, yoga and meditation sessions, and more.  They can also custom tailor activities (i.e. bird watching tour) if you have specific interests, but this is best arranged in advance.  We went on a mangrove kayaking tour which was both educational and fun for our two year-old.  My husband did a guided forest hike to the private beach which he enjoyed.  You can also arrange to go diving off-site with their selected dive company.   I saw some interesting sea life and corals.  The equipment was well maintained, and I could not fault the crew’s professionalism nor safety consciousness.  Other off-site activities like golf and tours of Kota Kinabalu and the surrounding areas can also be arranged by the resort. 

How was the food?
The food was consistently good, but not outstanding.  The main restaurant (Feast Village) has an open kitchen and is not entirely enclosed, which meant it was rather hot at times.  High chairs are available.  Breakfast was buffet style with plenty of options from which to chose.  Lunch was a la carte, and dinner was a la carte with a semi-buffet (that came with the mains or could be purchased on it’s own).  The food was a mix of Western and Chinese, with actually little local food offered.  Fresh seafood was on offer, and there were nightly specials which I would recommend trying out.  Do inform the staff ahead of time if you have any dietary requirements.  They were able to provide gluten free bread for my husband at breakfast (and there were plenty of other things for him to eat).  Make sure the staff also repeats your order as the one time they didn’t – a server we hadn’t had before – we received the wrong meal. 

Feast Village

Feast Village

Above the main restaurant is Fisherman’s Cove, which does not allow children under 16.  We didn’t eat there, but I took a peek and it looked quite romantic with wonderful views.  There’s also a lounge by the pool that serves lighter fare (e.g. tapas, sushi, burgers, pizza, etc) and drinks throughout the day – a good option when the main restaurants are closed.  Twice a week they have a tribal dinner on the beach that features music and dancing.  They can also arrange private dining experiences at your villa or in other areas of the resort.  There’s no room service menu, but they can bring food to your room if you’re physically unable to get to the restaurants.  I was told they plan on offering room service with bento type meals (Chinese, Western, vegetarian) and pizza in the near future.

How was the staff?
The staff was excellent overall.  Always greeting you with a smile, and accommodating you when they could to make your stay enjoyable.  Janet and Marneh were particular standouts and made us really feel welcome and at home.  Everyone seemed to love kids, and many remembered our son’s name after meeting him just once.  However, not all staff were trained to the same standard, and sometimes we found that what could be accommodated by one staff member, could not with a different one.

How was the trip overall?  What tips would you give to someone booking this holiday?
Overall, the trip was wonderfully relaxing and fun, and we felt very pampered.  Kota Kinabalu is an easy flight away (from Hong Kong), and the resort is easy to get to.  I would suggest sitting down with the weekly activities menu after check-in to decide what you want to do so that you can plan your stay accordingly.  If we hadn’t spent our first day wondering if our luggage would arrive, we might have been able to take advantage of more of the resort’s offerings. 

Check the websites for promotions – there was discount offered if you booked a spa treatment in advance and scheduled it before noon.  The onsite gardens are gorgeous, but the water features do mean there are a lot of mozzies, so bring your repellent.  They do provide those plug-in repellents in the room as well.  We didn’t use it after the first night, and didn’t have a problem with mozzies in the room. 

This wasn’t a concern for us, but check out Malaysia’s import rules on alcohol and bring your own wine/beer/spirits as they are expensive due to import taxes.

We would definitely go back as we wish we could’ve stayed longer and done more!

Gaya Island Resort - shrink

1 comment

  1. Christine

    Looks gorgeous. I guess it’s only a short hop on the plane from HK but looks fantastically tropical to me – in the (very) non tropical UK!

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