Bungaraya Island Resort review, Sabah, Malaysia

Our rating

4.5 out of 5


Bungaraya is an island resort off the coast of Borneo, the world's third biggest island, and part of the Malaysian state of Sabah. It offers an authentic sense of seclusion even though it's remarkably close to the burgeoning state capital of Kota Kinabalu, a gateway to the myriad adventure and ecotourism opportunities available to visitors to the bio-diverse Borneo, including the 4095-metre-high Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia's highest peak.


KK, as it's commonly-known, is about 2½ hours flying time from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur respectively with Bungaraya a 20-minute-or-so speedboat ride from a centrally located jetty in the city. Bungaraya, which is the Malay word for hibiscus, is nestled in a rainforest setting beside the crescent-shaped, white sandy beach of Polish Bay on Gaya Island. The 48 spacious, palm-shrouded timber villas spread out from the beachfront and into the steeped, thick jungle-clad hillside above the main part of the beautifully-landscaped resort.


I've scored one of the 87-square-metre, sea-facing plunge pool villas. A large outdoor deck leads to a plunge pool from which you can recline and view not just the beach and ocean but the island's magnificent hornbills perched in the tropical foliage above you. Although the villas are designed in a style reflective of the traditional local architecture, the resort's Danish-born general manager, perhaps irresistibly, has included the odd Scandinavian interior furnishing piece.


The resort includes two separate restaurants, one, Longhouse, specialising in south-east Asian fare, including local Bornean specialities, that tend to be a little too moderated for this reviewer's liking but catering to the less adventurous palates of European guests. The resort's other restaurant, the recently refurbished Pantai, has more of a focus on Western fare. Both of these attractive open-sided eateries have ocean views


The relative bright lights of the city are a boat-ride away if you're staying here for a more than a few nights and fancy an excursion, though most guests will be more than content to enjoy the salubrious delights of the island. Echo Resorts, the environmentally minded Malaysian group of which Bungaraya forms part, also operates another resort on the island, Gayana Marine Resort. It's attached to a special Marine Ecology Research Centre. The main objective of the centre, which can be visited, is the propagation of threatened giant clams that inhabit the waters around Gaya Island. Elsewhere, head into the jungle to experience the island's own mini canopy walk and zipline ride or take to the pristine sea for kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkelling and scuba diving.


A superior one-bedroom with jungle or ocean views and breakfast included starts from MYR1245, excluding taxes and fees. Check Bungaraya website for seasonal and other offers. See echoresorts.com


Bungaraya Island Resort, like most accommodation in Malaysian Borneo, doesn't quite match the familiar levels of panache of like-minded establishments elsewhere in south-east Asia. But nor does it suffer from any of the glitzy pretensions with Borneo  itself one of the region's most rewarding, yet under-visited destinations despite its plethora of natural attractions, including some extraordinary and threatened wildlife. It makes for a perfect relaxing antidote to the typically more adventurous pursuits at the end of a tour of Borneo itself, or for a more subdued alternative to Asian resort holidays beyond predictable Thailand and Bali.


It's a pleasure to experience a low-key Asian island resort not in Bali or Thailand.


The Asian dishes in the resort's restaurants would benefit from more authenticity.


Anthony Dennis was a guest of Echo Resorts.