Bliss in Borneo

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With miles of beautiful beaches blended with bio-diverse lush rainforest vegetation, Borneo is a charming tropical island with varied geographical landscapes.  Borneo is split between the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, the Indonesian portion known as Kalimantan, and also Brunei which is home to its famed Sultan.

The Rasa Ria, a Shangri-La resort-hotel, takes 45 minutes to reach from Kota Kinabalu International Airport in Sabah. This tropical oasis spans across three kilometres on Pantai Dalit Beach, with the hotel enjoying far-reaching views of Sabah’s famous Mount Kinabalu, creating a magnificent backdrop for the resort.

What makes this hotel remarkably unique is its 64-acre nature reserve, which is home to 62 species of birds, reptiles and mammals. It is also where young and orphaned orangutans are rehabilitated as part of a scheme in conjunction with the Sabah Wildlife Department, which eventually returns these critically endangered animals back into the wild. Borneo is one of only two places in the world (the other being Sumatra) where orangutans can be found in their natural habitat. Orangutans are shy creatures, tending to remain high up in the trees, making it very difficult to observe in the wild – but the Rasa Ria’s protected natural environment offers guaranteed viewing opportunities.

The short trek to the orangutans doesn’t prepare you fully for the wonderment of seeing these beautiful animals close up during their feeding time.  The rangers offer them food, but the orangutans are not enclosed in any way and are free to roam around the extensive rainforest as they wish. They are smart and usually hang around the viewing platforms in anticipation of their feeding times. The antics these creatures get up to is both thrilling and hugely entertaining – they seemed to love showing off. If observing them for the maximum one hour is insufficient, just come back again in the afternoon or the next morning.

The sprawling but well laid out hotel is divided into two distinct wings. The accommodation of choice, if travelling without children, would be the Ocean Wing, which is more of a luxury travel experience.  Families, on the other hand, would be more suited to the Garden Wing, where rooms have all been recently refurbished and are of an exceptionally high standard. Extensive children’s facilities are located in this wing, including the kid’s club and the kid’s pool and play area, and there is also a baby-sitting service available. Children visiting can also join a ranger’s programme to discover more about the orangutans and the nature reserve.

The Ocean Wing rooms offer guests unadulterated luxury, yet remain understated to reflect their authentic Sabah roots – furnishings are extremely comfortable and the marble bathroom is magnificent. A remarkable feature of the Ocean Wing rooms is the outside balcony featuring a sumptuous oversized bath overlooking the ocean – which can be enjoyed day and night. It was wonderful to wake each morning and to step onto the balcony to take in the outstanding views, while inhaling the freshness of the sea air.

The range of activities on offer at the Rasa Ria is unrivalled – an 18 hole championship golf course, tennis courts, horse riding, sailing, windsurfing, water skiing and jetskiing. In addition, a range of trips can be arranged to enjoy jungle treks, Mount Kinabalu hiking, mangrove tours and wildlife experiences.

Any up-market resort comes with an extensive choice of restaurants – and the Rasa Ria is no exception. The newly opened and outstanding Oceano is the hotel’s Italian offering and is quite possibly as good as any Italian food anywhere in Europe. At its helm is its head chef, Mauro Altea, hailing for Sardinia, who has recently joined the Rasa Rai from one of the world’s most prestigious hotels.

He explained how he created the menu using locally sourced produce, with ingredients that were impossible to purchase locally being shipped to the hotel regularly. He takes great pride in explaining how he has enjoyed training the local staff in the hotel to cook ‘like an Italian’, with the restaurant earning a fantastic reputation amongst the locals and expat community in Sabah.

Aside from Oceano, the other ethnic restaurants at the resort include the award-winning Indian restaurant, Naan, specialising in the refined cuisine of Northern India and the popular Japanese teppanyaki restaurant, Kozan. All-day dining is available at the Coffee Terrace, which serves international and local dishes and snacks with an emphasis on healthy options, and Tepi Laut, the beachfront and poolside restaurant, serving western snacks, finger foods and drinks all day.

The Spa, creates a unique atmosphere of tranquility, which is immediately evident upon on arrival. It is ideally situated in its own secluded environment, away from the buzz of the hotel. The full body massage utilises a combination of exquisite herbs, essential oils and traditional techniques, with the experienced masseuse’s unforgettable massage guaranteeing a full hour of escapism.

Having enjoyed the wonders of Rasa Ria, it is easy to appreciate why this resort is placed firmly on the wish list of so many visitors to Borneo – it certainly is worth travelling halfway round the world to experience.

by Amanda Bernstein

Rasa Ria hotel Pantai Dalit Beach, Tuaran, Sabah, 89208, Malaysia
Tel: (60 88) 797 888
Fax: (60 88) 792 777

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Glass Travel Editor

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