Paradise Found (Kota Kinabalu)

By on March 6, 2008

The most popular excursion in Borneo is a visit to see the orphaned baby orangutans located in their nature reserve. A 10-minute walk up a dirt path through dense tropical forest will take you to a feeding area. You are asked to watch in silence as the orangutans are fed, and then as they climb and swing in the trees above, positioning themselves in photogenic positions a few meters up, and then as they, well, pee all over you. Yes, half our group was treated to the added bonus of a urine shower from one of the youngsters, who positioned himself directly above us…and let it flow! We quickly learned that the bladder of a young orangutan can hold an awful lot. But hey, isn’t it memories like this that make vacations special!?

Another popular activity is a walk in the rainforest, where you can explore mangroves and peer at unique flora and fauna, including medicinal plants. For families desiring more rigorous activity, you can go on a real jungle trek, deep into the rainforest.

KK, as Kota Kinabalu is known to those familiar with the place, attributes much of its popularity to the fact that it affords easy access to two excellent resorts in the Shangri-la chain. The Rasa Ria Resort is the more luxurious of the two. The Malaysian-inspired Garden Wing rooms provide westward views over a large well-manicured grassy courtyard, while a lengthy sandy white beach beyond leads to Borneo’s stunning sunsets.

The two resort pools—one shaded with netting and intended for toddlers—are accented with large “boulders” that add to the tropical surroundings. The beach is extensive, stretching far and wide, but the sea here is not the crystal-clear water you may desire.

From enticing Malaysian meals to more familiar Chinese and Western cuisine, this is an island no one goes hungry on. Our family eagerly anticipated the Borneo seafood, especially the giant boiled prawns, every evening.

On the bus ride from Rasa Ria to Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, you will pass a few distinctive sites. One is the very ornate Kota Kinabalu City Mosque, and another being the homes of Bajau, sea gypsies who build their very crude shanties above the sea on stilts in great clusters near the shore.

Tanjung Aru’s grand open-air lobby featuring a soaring timbered roof, characteristic of local longhouse architecture, transports you to a refuge of comfort befitting royalty. The warmly decorated Tanjung seaview rooms face the ocean and offer a private balcony from which to enjoy more of Borneo’s famous sunsets.

For meals, Café Tutu has a very large serving area, and they really take advantage of it by offering a fantastic spread of delights. All types of Asian fruit were available—among them mangosteens, rambutan, lychee, dragon fruit, star fruit, and jackfruit—and the tandoori chicken at dinner was “to die for!”

Outside, the resort offers a shaded wading pool for small children and two large, free-form swimming pools that wind their way through a lush expanse of landscaped gardens next to the South China Sea. An adjoining playground is equipped with swings, seesaws, slides, sand pit, and a selection of toy cars and bikes. There’s even a nine-hole pitch and putt course for you and the children to “tame like Tiger.”

Then we come to the beach—frown. There is not much of a resort beach. It is about 100 meters long, if that, and the water clarity is about the same as that at Rasa Ria. However, right next door is a long public beach, which during low tide can offer some very educational explorations through moist sand that spends much of the time under saltwater.

And for those interested in snorkeling in clearer waters, the islands off KK can be easily accessed through the resort’s marina. The Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, with five superb tropical islands, offers family snorkeling around the coral reefs with tropical fish in rainbow colors.

Getting There:
Malaysia Airlines and ANA offer direct flights from Narita to KK. Cathay Pacific has flights via Hong Kong. Singapore Airlines has flights via Singapore.

Useful websites:

About Michael Hassett