Koto Kinabalu

My flight landed late in Kota Kinabalu, an island that is part of the Crocker Range rock formation of the western coast of Sabah. I was eager to start my adventures and as always, the excitement of experiencing a new destination kept me up the night before, adding to my anxiety. Here is my story of paradise at Gaya Island Resort Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

I gathered my suitcase, exited baggage claim, and saw a smiling staff member holding up a sign bearing my name. He drove me to a yacht club where a private boat waited to whisk me over ink black water to Gaya Island Resort. We pulled up to a dock where Mary Bong, the guest liaison executive, greeted me.


After a speedy check-in process, I was shown to my villa and was immediately impressed. It was luxurious! Before stepping into the villa there was a massive veranda to enjoy sunrises and sunsets. Just inside was a king sized bed with lush linens and a settee, a flat screen TV, a large walk in closet and desk where the stocked mini-bar and snack/coffee station were located. Following was an enormous modern bathroom with separate toilet and shower rooms. The tub, big enough for four people, was the centerpiece of the bath area. The whole villa was fit for a king!

Villa view from outside

I settled down in the cloud like softness of the bed and promptly passed out! I woke a few hours later to tropical birds and cicadas singing their morning song. The sun was shining and the sky was clear. With a flutter of excitement I quickly dressed and headed down to the main resort area to start my ventures.

Open Kitchen

Breakfast was held in the all day dining room and was spectacular. The open kitchen has a bakery where glorious varieties of breads, pastries, and cakes begged to be sampled. Separate sections held Japanese/Korean, Western, and Asian selections each offering a variety of freshly prepared all you can eat treats.

pool area

After stuffing myself silly I took a guided tour of the grounds and met some of the gregarious staff. I noticed that each time I’d pass a staff member they greeted me by name. It’s funny how something so simple makes you feel so special!


I headed over to Gaya’s Spa Village for a 3.5-hour completely indulgent massage and facial. The opulent spa is surrounded by natural rainforest and overlooks the ocean giving each visitor a sense of wellbeing and complete relaxation. My masseur used fresh, local ingredients and masterfully provided me with an experience I won’t soon forget. The spa offers a wide variety of spa treatments guaranteed to restore balance and harmony to both the body and mind.

Learning basket weaving

Feeling rejuvenated, I walked to the pristine beach that runs along the resort and joined in an activity called Singgah Singgarung in which the employees encourage guests to participate in arts and games while enjoying some local snacks and drinks.

Although it was fun to watch the staff try to teach us how to use a blow dart, weave a hat from stripped leaves, and play a hopscotch type game with bamboo logs, my favorite part was the homemade rice wine!

Fishermans cove

It was soon time for dinner and I was thrilled to join the resort manager, Kirinjit Singh. We sat at Gaya’s exclusive rooftop restaurant, Fisherman’s Cove, with its spectacular view of the sea and Mount Kinabalu. The freshness of the food resonated in each bite and, as I stared out at the ocean where fisherman gather their wares, I couldn’t help but wonder which one was responsible for the exquisite meal in front of me.

Throughout dinner, Kirinjit explained the spectacular resort, how it came to be, what the vision for it is, and how important it is for the owners, management, and staff to, not only make each guest’s experience a memorable one, but to give back to the community and nature.

Wide shot of Gaya Island Resort

Because the resort sits within a natural rainforest Kirinjit explained how, during its construction, it was important that as little of the natural resources as possible where damaged. It’s heartwarming to know that the owners of Gaya Island Resort care and it’s that type of attention to detail that adds to the experience.

Following another restful night it was time to indulge in some of the fantastic activities the resort has to offer. I’d signed up for a snorkeling trip in the crystal clear waters of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.

Scott Mayback

I was lucky to be joined by Marine Biologist Scott Mayback who took me to some of the best spots to see teams of colorful fish and beautiful coral. The water was clear and I’d even spotted a black tip shark.


It was soon time to head back but not before I was taken to a private island where the Gaya Resort Marine Centre is located. Scott gave me a tour and explained their ongoing program to raise and release 7 baby turtles. He introduced me to the little wiggly creatures and described how the marine centre had already rehabilitated and released two adults. It was a thrilling experience and one I’d recommend to anyone staying at the resort.


My next activity had me feeling like a dignitary! Before sunset myself and a few other guests boarded a magnificent 64-foot private yacht named Lumba Lumba. The captain guided us through some neighboring islands and stopped in a perfect location where we witnessed one of the most spectacular sunsets that I’ve ever seen. It was truly breathtaking and the beauty of it all rendered me speechless.

Inside cabin of yacht

Afterward I took a tour of the inside of this brilliant vessel where, again, I was caught off guard by all the grandeur. Click here to see the inside.

jungle tour

I also enjoyed a walking tour of the rainforest where resident Naturalist Justin Juhun guided our group through a botanic reserve where endemic plants and insects are protected. Justin is involved in a variety of unique conservation programs to help ensure that the natural habitat of the island remains intact and unharmed. Click here to see more of my guided nature walk.


As always everything comes to an end. And before I knew it, it was time for me to leave. I visit many places, meet many wonderful people, but few leave an impression like the one I have from Gaya Island Resort. The people at this unique destination left me with a sense of peace, friendship, and genuine good will. I am forever grateful for the time I spent there and walked away with a sense of harmony.

SeriouslyTravel highly recommends YTL Gaya Island Resort for a quick get-a-way, special occasion, honeymoon, or peaceful retreat. You will not be disappointed!

To make reservations for this amazing resort call or enquire online at: travelcentresg@ythotels.com or +65 6836 2455

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