HIGHLIGHT: The enormous balcony bath in the Ocean Wing rooms.
LOWLIGHT: The resort is a little isolated if you're thinking of going off piste, as it were.
Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort & Spa, Sabah.
About an hour's drive north from Kota Kinabalu airport in Malaysia's Sabah province on Borneo, Shangri-La Rasa's Ria Resort & Spa fronts a wide sandy beach surrounded by lush tropical rainforest full of flickering birds and mischievous long-tailed macaques. It's a secluded hideaway with pretty much everything on hand, so there's no real need to leave unless you're the adventurous type and need to climb Mount Kinabalu or go whitewater rafting.
The resort has 499 rooms, all with sea views, and is divided into two wings, Garden and Ocean, which opened only at the start of April. Each wing has its own reception area and a different personality. The older Garden wing, which overlooks a children's playground pool, is much more family oriented. Ocean Wing guests have their own breakfast venue, pool and Jacuzzi. Next door to the resort is the 18-hole championship Dalit Bay Golf & Country Club, which also houses the small but perfectly formed spa.
At 90 square metres, our premier room on the first floor is huge and tastefully decorated in muted stones and forest greens. The large balcony features a large circular daybed and a big stone bathtub, from which it's possible to soak and watch the sunset seep across the bay. There's plenty of storage room for suitcases and clothes, and the bathroom sports a shower, separate toilet and two washbasins. The toiletries are by L'Occitane, so you can smell permanently of jasmine and bergamot.
From the seductive king-size bed to the balcony daybed, to the Nespresso-style coffee machine and the choice of fragrances for the night-time oil burner, it's a wonder anyone ever leaves their room. With many of the facilities (sailing, parasailing, jet-skis, archery, rock climbing wall, gym) over by the Garden Wing, it's a bit of a walk to get there from the Ocean Wing, but, hey, you're on holiday. What's the rush?
Breakfast for Ocean Wingers is buffet-style in the Oceano restaurant, which in the evenings is a top-notch Italian eatery. Tepi Laut Makan Street is the resort's hugely popular open-air homage to street food stalls, with open-fronted kitchens offering food from Malaysia and the rest of Asia. The roti house and Asian grill stalls were special favourites. The traditional Sabah cultural dances here are a hit with the kids, who get to take part. There's Naan, an excellent Indian restaurant, and Kozan, a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant, where the chefs whip up beautiful dishes in front of you. An all-day dining menu (Western and Asian) at the Coffee Terrace, which doubles as the breakfast venue for Garden Wingers, is also available.
Families aside, most people come to Sabah for the outdoor life, and there's no shortage of things to do. Top of them has to be climbing Mount Kinabalu, all 4095 metres of it, and perhaps a pilgrimage to the, sadly, run-down Australian War Memorial at Kundasang, which commemorates, if that's the right word, the Sandakan death march of World War II. More uplifting fare can be found cycling locally, whitewater rafting or taking a sunset river cruise to see a firefly spectacular. If you don't want to venture too far, the resort's nature reserve and orangutan rehabilitation project offer opportunities to explore its 26 hectares. Work up an appetite by walking to the summit of the reserve for a champagne breakfast, and make sure you make time to experience the orangutan feeding hour.
Set in an astonishingly beautiful bay, Shangri-La's Rasa Ria is popular with the British, with Australian guests a close second. It's a perfect winter getaway whether you're going with the kids for a beach holiday or you're after something more adventurous. The buildings are top class, but it's the people who make a huge difference. The staff are unfailingly polite, very professional and super friendly.
Several special packages are available, including golf escapades, nature escapes and family fun. The seven nights' getaway package costs from $267 a night (plus service charge and GST), and includes daily buffet breakfast for two adults and up to two children under 12, and return airport transfer. In the more exclusive Ocean Wing, a special promotion costs from about $345 a night (plus service charge and GST). For more details, see the website.
Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort & Spa, Pantai Dalit Beach, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. Phone (60 88) 797 888. See shangri-la.com/kotakinabalu/rasariaresort.
The writer was a guest of Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort & Spa.