Travelling at the crack of dawn is a magical time when the sun bursts into hues of gold on the horizon. It is even more magical when I am starring out of an aircraft window above a field of white fluffy cloud with streaks of gold and saffron orange splash across the sky like an artist’s dramatic brush strokes. I am catching the red eye express on MASwings at an ungodly hour from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. MASwings is the community airline of Malaysia Airlines serving the domestic routes within Sarawak and Sabah. I love travelling on this cute little ATR 72-500 aircraft with no formalities or fuss. Smiling flight attendants in their smart blue and green uniforms welcome passengers on board looking fresh as the morning dew. Once we are seated and belted, safety drilled dispensed, the attendants serve hot and cold drinks and light snacks for refreshment. The good weather ensures a smooth flight and before we know it, we have landed in Kota Kinabalu. Within minutes, our luggage is on the carousel and we are on our merry way to our port of call at Gaya Island Resort. Now that is what I call service.
Gaya Island Resort: A Place Of Sun, Sea And Sow
Gaya Island is the largest of the five islands at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu on Malohom Bay. Our transfer boat cuts through the high waves like a roller coaster and we get to Gaya Island Resort in 15 minutes none the worse for wear. Once on terra firma and our eyes have taken in the stunning landscape, we are mesmerised by the beauty of the resort.
A white sandy beach stretches along the shoreline against a hilly backdrop of verdant rainforest. The accommodations in chic villas hug the beach while others are perched on the hill nestled against the jungle. A tempting swimming pool lies by the beach with sun lounges and a pool bar. Our lovely spacious room is right by the forest with birdsongs to serenade us, interspersed with the cacophony of the cicadas and crickets, the heavy metal groups of the jungle.
Gaya Island Resort, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, prides itself on the practice of ecological sustainability to minimise its carbon footprint within the environment. Motorised vehicles are restricted to operational usage only so guests would have to walk everywhere on the resort. It is not a big resort and walking on the island is a delight to savour the enchanting hillside view overlooking the shimmering bay that sparkles like a thousand diamonds. Or you can take a walk on the beach feeling the soft sand on your feet while the waves gently caress the shore. Wonder never ceases on this island where wildlife live in harmony with human.
A wild boar sow with cute piglets strolls on the beach poking their snouts in the sand foraging for food while a monitor lizard catches the morning ray by a stream. Wild boars roam freely on the island, as this was their home before the resort was built. They are harmless and mingle quite happily with the guests without causing any trouble. In fact they bring much amusement to most of the guests. I come face to face with a big wild boar on my walk, probably the patriarch of the herd, and it has a face that only its mother would say is beautiful. It just saunters away into the forest with a wiggly tail and a guttural grunt. Charming!
Although lounging on the beach or by the pool is tempting, the call of the wild beckons and we join the resident nature guide on a jungle walk. After ascending a short flight of steps hewn out of the earth we enter an emerald haven of majestic trees soaring into the sky, frilly ferns and liana vines that wrap themselves round the trees like giant pythons trying to constrict their prey. We spot a brown tree lizard perched on a tree trunk while pied hornbills fill the jungle with their squawking calls. Along the way we spy upon a green chameleon pretending to be part of the tree but it can’t fool us. A big heart-shape fungus clings onto the bark of a tree while a giant ball of ants’ nest is skewered onto a branch. The jungle is full of wondrous sights.
The next day, we venture out on kayaks into the mangrove forest paddling on the brackish water among the spooky-looking elevated roots of the mangrove that look like the trees are ready to uproot and flee. The forest stinks of rotten vegetation and mud but it is a fascinating experience to enter this mysterious mangrove swamp.
Gaya Island Resort: In The Realm Of The Gods
It is worthwhile getting up at the crack of dawn to catch a glimpse of Mount Kinabalu when it is the only time of the day with good visibility. Across the bay from Gaya Island as the sunrise bathes the horizon in golden glow, the majestic mountain manifests itself in all its glory with a crown of cloud and mist. As the spiritual vista unfolds before my very eyes, I can understand why the natives believe this mystical mountain belongs to the realm of the gods and the resting place of their ancestors.
Dining on the island is a culinary delight with a choice of cuisine from the Asian-Pacific region featuring an extensive menu at the Feast Village. It is ideal for informal dining and lunch. Here sumptuous breakfast of eastern and western spread is served every morning. One night we decide to dine in style at Fisherman’s Cove, their fine dining seafood restaurant on a rooftop terrace dining under the stars. The fish and prawns we ordered are super fresh and beautifully cooked to perfection in a fusion style with hints of local spices and herbs.
I spend my last day on Gaya Island Resort indulging on a divine spa treatment. The gorgeous Spa Village is set on a tranquil corner of the island by the Mangrove forest. The magic of the soothing massage using native herbs and ethnic techniques by the wonderful therapist soon sets me off in a blissful state of Zen.
Travel Tips: Check out the special package on Gaya Island Resort on their “Idyllic Retreat”; “Stay Longer” and “Early Bird Advantage” offers. For international travellers, Kota Kinabalu is served by Malaysia Airlines and most major airlines via Kuala Lumpur. The Community airline MASwings operates an extensive network within Sarawak and Sabah.