Travelling to a luxury resort for a vacation is one thing, but when it comes to bringing children along it’s another thing altogether. They need entertainment, a safe and clean environment, and kid-friendly food…. lots of it in my case since I’m travelling with a girl army. They eat around the clock since they’re always so active!
Gaya Island Resort
Just a stone’s throw away from Singapore, we only needed to take a short flight from Changi Airport to Kota Kinabalu before taking a 20 mins drive to Jesselton Ferry Terminal and enjoying a quick 5 mins boat ride to get to this beautiful island resort located along the pristine coast of Malohom Bay. How convenient is that!?
I flew in to Kota Kinabalu with the kiddos via Air Asia and very conveniently got a taxi which drove us to the jetty that had quite a number of dining options available just next to the Gaya Island Resort transfer centre where we had to register and await for our speed boat to arrive.
The first thing we noticed upon arriving at the jetty of Gaya Island Resort was the crystal clear waters revealing the coral and fish that call this island their home. There were also hornbills flying overhead towards the lush green trees decorating the resort.
As we headed towards the main island via the boardwalk, I couldn’t help but appreciate the various shades of blue and green from the clear waters. The area here is also home to green sea turtles, macaques, and so much more. And this says a lot about the conservational efforts and respect for the environment and nature that the resort has for its surrounding.
The moment we arrived at the jetty of the resort I just felt like jumping into the crisp blue waters to snorkel and swim with the friendly fishes meandering about the corals and jetty. And there were actually several guests who were doing that already. We just had to wait till we were all settled into our rooms and got into out gear for water activities! And there are quite a few choices when it comes to water activities that you can do here.
A sanctuary for wildlife too
What I really love about the resort is how its built on an an island within the protected Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. And in this ancient rainforest, the children and I were surrounded by beautiful creatures and plants that have called his their home for eons. Its always so heartwarming to see humans and wildlife living harmoniously and it shows when you see how the corals are flourishing along the shore and the fishes swimming around are plentiful. We also saw hornbills and eagles flying around, and monitor lizards lazing about in the marshes. This gorgeous resort is actually committed to ecologically-sustainable practices to minimise its carbon footprint within the environment. Another ginormous big yes from the girl army and I!
One of the highlights of our stay here was visiting the conservation centre and joining in the guided nature walk by their very seasoned and knowledgeable guide. The trail we went on showed us parts of island that made me think of scenes from Avatar the movie. Remember to bring your walking shoes or sneakers when you visit! This is a must do when you come here.
I couldn’t help but feel humbled being around such magnificent fauna with so much history. The variety of plants and animals here is just amazing and our very experienced guide taught us how to identify marks left behind by animals to show that they were around us.
The children and I were constantly intrigued by the presence of wildlife around us although you had to look closely in order to see them. We could definitely hear them clearly though, like the birds, insects, giant gecko and flying foxes.
Our guide was able to show us various types of edible plants and mushrooms found throughout the walk and its so amazing how we tend to take a lot of the rainforests for granted. Kudos to Gaya Island Resort for the conservation efforts made to protect our natural environment.
The Gaya island marine centre
Because of how the resort is set within a nature reserve, human activities are restricted and this allows sensitive wildlife like sea turtles to continue to call this place home.
Launched in October 2013, the Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre rescues, treats and cares for mainly the endangered Green Sea turtle, but has also done so for one critically endangered Hawksbill turtle. I was so amused to learn that the Green Sea turtle got its name because that the colour of its fat! And its really due to its steady diet of seagrasses and algae.
The Marine Centre here actually produces coral fragments that will be put into the sea to help rebuild the reef and outside of this turtle rescue centre is a 14,000-litre recovery tank which provides a safe and stable environment for the sick or injured sea turtles undergoing rehabilitation. There is even a combined effort between Reef Check Malaysia and YTL Hotels whereby the resort conducts a school outreach programme with the local primary school. By using a combination of audio-visual materials, creative activities and fresh pastries from the resort kitchen, the programme aims to engage the children while simultaneously educating them on recycling and the need for conservation. Such a meaningful initiative and I truly do hope to see more of such efforts spread throughout other resorts around the world.
Dining on a private beach less than 5 mins away by speedboat, the girls and I got to feast on Thai dishes specially prepared by the chefs here and we got so excited when we spotted a shy family of wild pigs. 6 piglets and their mom peered out from the thicket nearby while we had our meal and I was really happy to know that we were able to share this space with the wildlife here that didn’t lose their home because of humans coming to visit.
You will have to pre-book for your dining experience here on Tavajun Bay though so do plan ahead and remember to bring along your snorkelling gear and sunscreen if you intend to spend some time in the pristine waters frolicking among the coral reefs.
The Spa village
One of my many highlights of the stay here…. a pampering session at the Spa Village! This is a must do when you visit the resort here as well another one of their locations at Pangkor Laut Resort. The sitting area at the spa is really cosy and being surrounded by all that greenery and open space out in nature just gave me that mental peacefulness and calm even before my treatment started.
A cooling welcome drink and wet towel to freshen me up before being led to one of the treatment rooms where I would fall asleep midway during the luxurious oil massage.
Each one of these rooms has a gorgeous view of the greenery outside and I just couldn’t help but open the balcony doors to check out the view.
Right after the treatment, I get to relax on the couch with a warm ginger tea. Parents like myself…. just chill. The resort has babysitting services available so your little ones can be well taken care of while you pamper yourselves at the Spa Village!
With a girl army in tow, there is no doubt variety and flexibility is very much appreciated. Which is why we dined mostly at the Feast Village offering a buffet spread of diverse cuisine from the Asia-Pacific region. The welcoming dining space showcases a bakery, Japanese/Korean, Asian and Western selections which is sure to appeal even the pickiest of eaters and the little ones.
The kids and I really like the spaciousness of the restaurant at Feast Village and there’s always something here in the buffet spread that makes our differing pallets water. You can even make special requests from the kitchen if need be, just like i did. Kudos to the service and kitchen crew for such amazing service and attention to detail!
I was particularly pleased with all the local desserts and sweets that were offered at each meal. I was able to share with children about the various types of local pastries here which they rarely get to see back home. And its always so amazing to be able to get a flavour of each culture whenever we travel.
If buffets aren’t your thing, there are several other options available including the dining experience on Tavajun Bay which I mentioned earlier. But I also highly recommend dining at Omakase, a two-storey Japanese restaurant perched on the hillside of the island with a stunning view of Malohom Bay and Mount Kinabalu. You can choose from one of three Japanese omakase-style dining experiences available, ranging from teppanyaki, shabu-shabu and nabe. The kids and I went for the teppanyaki experience and boy did they love it. This is a kid-friendly joint so don’t worry about leaving the little ones behind.
Don’t forget to make a reservation for your meal here at Omakase to avoid disappointment as seats are limited.
The other dining experience I highly recommend for you to take during your stay here is the Singgah Singgarung night where you get to enjoy your barbecue dinner on the mangrove beach along to a showcase of native arts, activities and delicacies. The kids got to experience Kadazan music for the first time as we even participated in their tribal dance!
You can also dine at The Fisherman’s Cove and the Pool Bar and Lounge while you’re here. And for those who are here as a couple, there’s also the option for a Private Dining experience.
Travelling to me is always a great opportunity to be exposed to other cultures and on this trip the kids definitely learnt a lot about the culture of Borneo. Through the Singgah Singgarung night where they watched the dancers and listened to the traditional music, the local specialty foods which the restaurant staff were so kind to explain more to the kids about and even the through art as they made birds and insects with the coconut leaves.
As a parent, I couldn’t be more appreciative of the experiences that my kids got through this trip.
Held in a very uniquely designed yoga room, I was very pleasantly surprised by the layout for our mats and how exclusive the class was. And I enjoyed it because it wasn’t overly crowded and the instructor was able to watch each practitioner closely. The studio is located within the Spa Village which means no kids allowed. So parents, do plan in advance and arrange for babysitting services with the resort should you need to. The instructor was very kindly introduced through information placed at the lobby so you’ll know what to expect and I do recommend attending the classes while you’re here. It really is a unique experience to be practising at the studio space here.
As each room accommodates up to 2 adults and 2 children aged 12 and under, we took up 2 identical rooms and each one had such a magnificent view of the flora and fauna outside. I really have to commend the service staff here for the quality of their service and friendliness. The moment we opened the doors to our rooms, we were welcome but these adorable towel elephants and a warm welcome message as well as a complimentary bottle of the local traditional rice wine – lihing.
Thank you Gaya Island Resort for such an amazing and memorable stay for the Girl Army and I. The efforts and actions made to conserve and protect the wildlife and natural surroundings here are commendable and I will highly recommend families with young children to make this one of your next destinations for your family trips.
For those residing in Singapore, don’t miss the Family Escapade Offer that’s valid only during the Singapore School Holidays where you’ll get to enjoy 3 nights stay at the luxury resorts by YTL Hotels at Gaya Island Resort, Pangkor Laut Resort or Tanjong Jara Resort that includes all meals and return transfers for 2 pax and enjoy complimentary stay for up to children aged 11 years and under in a villa/room! Head on over to https://www.ytlhotels.com/sg/family-escapade for details.
Gaya Island Resort Address
Malohom Bay, Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia