Gaya Island in Malaysia offers world-class marine conservation efforts, a fabulous spa, and warm hospitality to go with luxury accommodation.
I wish we could use “vote buttons” in our articles because I’d like to ask: Have you ever heard of Gaya Island Resort?
I discovered Gaya Island purely by accident myself. I didn’t even know the island existed. We had initially booked a hotel on Lombok Island for our honeymoon but because of the volcano eruption on Bali, and the high risks that the wind blowing ashes over Lombok might result in cancelled flights, we made frantic calls to Singapore Airlines to help us out. They had very few options for destinations they could reroute us to. When they proposed Kota Kinabalu, at first we were disappointed. Kota Kinabalu is a fun destination but we didn’t think it was anywhere near as “honeymoon-ish” as Lombok…. Until our wonderful friends at The Luxe Nomad told us about Gaya Island!
Gaya Island is a little island, just 10 minutes off Kota Kinabalu in Sabah (Borneo) and forms part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. It’s covered with dense virgin, tropical forest and has been a forest reserve since 1923. The island has 20 km of hiking trails and two 5-star resorts, one of which being Gaya Island Resort, home to the Marine Ecology Research Centre.
A small island that has the air of well-kept secret (I did a quick check with my friends to verify this!) — our honeymoon was saved!
Getting to Gaya Island is pretty easy. Among other airlines, SIA flies directly to Kota Kinabalu, after which a short taxi ride took us to a jetty where another short boat ride brought us to the shores of the island. As we approached the island, the resort seemed to beckon us, and it looked just like the “barefoot luxury” experience we were looking for.
WHAT WE LOVED MOST AT GAYA ISLAND RESORT
Number ONE on my list of what I loved about this place has got to be their marine conservation efforts. The hotel fully funds their Marine Ecology Research Centre, headed by Marine Biologist Scott Mayback. Scott met us during one of our amazing barbecue lunches on the beach and afterwards took us on a tour of the Research Centre, where we learnt all about turtle conservation efforts.
We learnt so much about the hazards that we humans introduced into the lives of these beautiful creatures; the horror that struck me the most was the fact that turtles are unable to dive if they accidentally consume plastic (which we litter the oceans with), and when they can’t dive in search for food, it’s a slow and horrible death for them as they are left to die by starvation. Being reptiles, this can take months unless a boat happens to hit the poor turtle, ending its life more quickly! I felt like crying when I heard this. I wanted to stop listening but I know that it was part of my job to tell other people about this so that they, too can support the efforts of Research Centres like this one and all others to help marine animals like these turtles and to educate us about polluting the oceans.
On the boat trips between Kota Kinabalu and the island, we could see rubbish EVERYWHERE in the sea. The sight really broke my heart, particularly after what we learned at the marine conservation center. Until the Malaysian government itself makes a massive effort to clean it up, the marine creatures will have to suffer.
I must commend YTL Hotels for fully funding this Marine Ecology Research Centre for the good of the island, the seas around it, and all the creatures living in it. It’s this part of our vacation that we loved best, hands down! Well done Gaya Island Resort!
We also loved the fact that the island was built with as minimal impact to nature as possible. We could tell by the unidentifiable wet footsteps outside our villa and the frequent greetings from sweet little monkeys and wild boars (they were adorable!) during our meals that the animals felt the resort to be incorporating into their jungle home.
Another highlight: Gaya Island Resort takes its guests on amazing guided nature trail walks as well as kayaking trips through the mangroves and snorkelling trips where their guides happily and very passionately share their knowledge about the flora & fauna.
WHAT ELSE WE LOVED
The Spa Village at Gaya Island! What a beautiful building, amazing service and fantastic treatments. We couldn’t get enough with just one and kept coming back for more. Truly a highlight of this resort – you can’t stay there without booking services at this spa for sure!
The island also spoilt us with no less than SIX dining options. Our favourites were:
- Fisherman’s Cove: Quiet, exclusive, and always with fresh catch of the day. The tables were well-spaced out so we could enjoy some privacy, and they even had private pavilion tables which we of course always opted for.
- Tavajun Bay: This beach is slightly away from the actual resort. You can opt to take a quick 5-minute boat right to this beach, or walk through a trail (we went with boat). The dining style is BBQ — again with fresh catch of the day, brilliantly prepared each time. Best part? Running right into the sea after a meal or resting on the lounge chairs on the beach with a book. There was almost no one else around. Perfect!
We also loved just how friendly everyone was! They made us feel so welcome and made our stay feel so warm.
SOME THINGS WE LIKED LESS
With everything that’s wonderful, there will always be improvements that could be made.
Firstly, while we thoroughly enjoyed dining at Fisherman’s Cove and Tavajun Bay, we felt that the other four dining options had a lot of room to improve in terms of menu options, service levels, and quality of food.
The swimming pool also looked rather small compared to the number of villas available on the island, so I can imagine that the pool would be quite crowded during peak season.
While the staff was amazingly friendly and accommodating, there was sometimes some carelessness we noted, like our minibar not being refilled for two days in a row, the Wi-Fi device was given to us had no battery power, etc.
While the villa we stayed in was gorgeous, we did experience some small discomforts like the not being able to get enough hot water for the bathtub (we had to boil a few flasks of water to get it warm enough!).
On balance, however, we had a wonderful stay that made for a serene and memorable honeymoon. I would absolutely go back again with my daughter to show her their wondrous surroundings and help spread their important message of conservation.
Check out www.gayaislandresort.com to book a stay with them and contribute to the efforts to save marine life around the island!