The words “only accessible by boat” can mean only two things for holiday goers; 1. A tropical island paradise the likes of which you’ll not soon forget or 2. A nightmarish freezing cold, sickening, rickety boat ride where you come to believe your last piña colada was truly your last. Fortunately for us, the first destination on our Asian tour was the former -though that’s not to say we haven’t (a few times) experienced the latter…

Just off the coast of Sabah in Malaysia lies a group of tiny islands at the foot of Borneo, one being Gaya Island Resort and home to the brand spanking new resort of the same name. As soon as we landed in Malaysia, we knew this was not only a spectacular place but a very special people as well.

Gaya Island resort had been open around 6 months – enough time for the staff, grounds, monitor lizards and cheeky monkeys to settle in, whilst still feeling new in every sense of the word. Accessible only by a short boat ride from Sabah, and of course – greeted with fresh aloe face towels and guava juice – the first time you see the resort is from the long pier that leads you from your boat to the reception building. And it’s spectacular.

The resort is backed up into the lush jungles of Borneo and fronts a beautiful white sand beach – palm trees, blue-green water and all. A setting unlike any we’ve experienced. Straight away, the one thing that hits you is silence. No cars, no noise of any kind. Awesome.

Getting to our room upon arrival (even at 11pm) was a trek, but the good kind – I mean, we ARE in the jungle. After a warm reception in the building appropriately named ‘Reception’ we we’re shown through the long pavilion which fronts onto the massive daybeds IN the pool that’s right – in! The swim up bar (Katinka’s favourite), the queen size cabanas with proper beds, fans and curtains – WHAT!! From there, past the library, fitness centre all with water views of course and through the main restaurant, across a lantern-lit bridge and boardwalk and finally up a winding path to our digs – 4 stories up in the jungle and facing out to what became a spectacular sunrise over the water and Mount Kinabalu – Malaysia’s biggest mountain.

Our days at Gaya were spent lazily. Swims & naps, snorkelling right off the resort’s beach on a fantastic reef, a Malaysian cooking class, a picnic on a private beach – and this is a good place for a handy travel tip: Don’t kick sand in a monkey’s face. EVEN if he’s advancing slowly toward your picnic basket. EVEN if he bares his rabies ridden fangs and beady little death eyes – as it turns out, sand in the death eyes only makes him stronger!! At some point someone – I really hope it was Tinka – yelped like a girl and two of the resort staff came running, brandishing rocks and yelling something in monkey which saved our lunch and our lives. Phew.

Of course, on an island such as Gaya activities abound, but what about relaaaaaxing? What about a day spa so grand, so lush in surroundings and so luxurious it’s called Spa Village? Well that’s there too, and through our signature 80 min treatment (tea, foot scrub, massage, relaxation and more tea) as well as our private yoga session, we experienced the full gamut of what Gaya Island Resort is all about – serenity.

Serenity, however, means something different to everyone. As evidenced by a young English twosome who we affectionately named ‘Adventure Couple’ who, in between 30 second bouts of relaxing by the pool, peppered their serenity with runs on the beach, stand up paddle boarding, canoeing, guided treks through the jungle, snorkelling, running, weights and push ups in the gym, and even seeing who can eat breakfast the quickest – it was always him. We didn’t quite think it was all that relaxing – but each to their own, right?

What really stood out about Gaya though, was the staff. On a vacation that you don’t leave the resort – at all – the people you interact with are paramount to the quality of your stay, and Gaya’s staff made our stay absolutely fantastic. Familiar faces in the restaurant and the swim up bar made an effort to call us by name “Welcome back, Miss Katinka, another piña colada?”
Willing to assist with whatever we needed – either in the room “Would you like that piña colada delivered, Miss Katinka?” or even on our private beach picnic “I’m afraid piña coladas aren’t on the picnic menu miss Katinka, but we’ll see what we can do”. The staff truly made us feel welcome, at home and like we were kings on holiday and, in all seriousness, those piña coladas were excellent.

If you’re thinking of going, head over to our friends The Luxe Nomad. It’s a fantastic site if you’re looking at going to Gaya Island or anywhere in Asia!