Review: Gaya Island Resort, Borneo

Nestled on an island thick with jungle, just off the coast of the Northern state of Sabah in Borneo, you will find Gaya Island.

While an array of smaller islands and dive sites can be accessed from Jesselton Point in the state’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, none are quite like the hidden gem of Gaya Island Resort – your private paradise and relaxing retreat just a 20 minute speedboat ride away from one of Borneo’s most bustling cities.

On arrival at the mainland jetty, you’ll have you’re luggage quickly taken for you before being swept onto a waiting speedboat. The quick journey will see you speed past local villages built above the sea on neighboring islands, and fishing boats hard at work fetching the catch of the day that you may well be served up during your stay.

As you pull up to Gaya Island Resort’s private jetty, a warm welcome awaits while you take in the stunning vista of the hotel for the first time. Carefully constructed and beautifully built wooden tree-house villas, your home from home for the duration of your stay, rise up from the island’s jungle canopy to greet you as you approach the shore, and the clear blue water gently laps the sandy shore of the beach, which is carefully maintained by staff who will often rake beautiful designs into the sand for guests to appreciate and enjoy.


Gaya Island Resort is made up of a series of jungle villas, suites, three restaurants and a popular poolside bar – and not to mention a gorgeous spa offering an array of tempting treatments. However, to look at the Island you wouldn’t know it.

At one with the island’s natural surroundings and tropical topography, the resort is discretely nestled amongst the jungle landscape, meaning that guests stay in harmony alongside the island’s original inhabitants.

From the weaving wooden walkways that connect different parts of the resort, you can spot proboscis monkeys hanging out in the treetops, seeking shade from the baking midday sun, or admire the endless array of brightly coloured butterflies that float amongst the tropical flora and fauna. Some guests even delightedly described how they’d spotted a wild boar rooting around in the jungle undergrowth whilst they were sinking sundowners in the poolside bar.

It’s almost impossible not to immerse yourself in Gaya Island’s natural beauty and tropical surroundings, whether enjoying the stunning view of Kota Kinabalu framed by the famous Mt Kinabalu in the distance whilst relaxing on the beach, or simply walking through the shady paths as you navigate the resort, discovering the many things it has to offer during your stay.


From yoga to mangrove kayaking, and guided meditation to watching movies under the stars, there are no end of activities and experiences that you can take part in during your stay. For those that want to embrace the wild side of Gaya Island and see what Borneo has to offer off shore in terms of nature and wildlife, nature tours are held seven times a week by the resident guide from the island Nature Centre, who will take you on a tour of the surrounding jungle to try and discover more of the island’s animal inhabitants.

Away from dry land, pick up a snorkel from the beach hut and enjoy watching an incredible array of tropical fish swimming just off shore under the jetty. There are also daily snorkeling trips which take you 30 minutes from the island to explore the area’s breathtaking coral reef, and the resort also has a dive centre for PADI certified guests to take their exploration of Borneo’s oceans to new depths.  


If rest and relaxation is what you’re after, there’s no better place than the resort’s tranquil spa. Set down in the jungle, but carving out a spacious and peaceful environment of its own, the spa offers guests the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the island whilst being pampered with all organic, natural and locally sourced products and ingredients. Enjoy a honey and avocado seed facial, or a Malay massage, or perhaps even indulge in the spa’s amazing Tadau Kaamatan experience.

Spend your days away from the spa down on the resort’s peaceful beach front. Take a dip in the pool whilst enjoying the view over the bay, or get comfortable in one of the many hammocks, hanging invitingly between the palm trees that are scattered along the sandy edge of the beach. Sink your toes into the sand whilst enjoying a good book, or take shade on a cushioned sun lounger under a perfectly placed parasol to enjoy a refreshing cocktail or well timed cup of afternoon tea.


Aside from poolside dining, the resort has three different exquisite restaurants for you to choose from during your stay. Start your day in the ‘Feast Village’ with a breakfast buffet serving a fabulous array of food choices, from local Laskas to freshly made juices, cooked breakfast options and a continental selection too including freshly baked banana bread (a must try) and a mouthwatering selection of pastries.

In the evening, book yourself a table at the ‘Fishermans Cove’ upstairs from the main restaurant. The fine dining style dinner option is adults-only and boasts fantastic views of the water at night, with the bright lights of Kota Kinabalu just visible twinkling in the distance. Choose from a menu made up of delicious fresh fish choices, prepared to a high standard but for refreshingly reasonable prices.

For the ultimate seafood experience, make sure you book to enjoy the ‘Sinagang Steamboat’ on one evening during your stay. Prepared fresh in front of you by one of the resort’s expert chefs, the meal is a traditional Malay dish which cooks fresh seafood over a hot plate and boiling water. Make sure you leave plenty of room before sitting down for dinner if you pick this option, you won’t want to pass up the chance to try every delicacy on offer and sample all of the freshly caught fish from salmon and scallops to muscles and monkfish.

For a really special dining experience during your stay, make sure you reserve a place at the resorts ‘Omakase’ Japanese restaurant. There is only space for 10 guests to enjoy this special dining experience at one time, and there are only two settings per evening.

After a long day of exciting experiences, well deserved relaxation and gastronomical delights, wander back to your room for a wonderfully refreshing nights sleep. Each jungle villa comes equipped with a king sized bed, essential air con for Borneo’s tropical climate, a well stocked mini bar, huge bath tub that just begs to be used at least once during your stay and a selection of sumptuously smelling bath products. And not forgetting the flip-flops and raffia beach bag you’ll find in your walk in wardrobe when you arrive, left for you to use as and when need throughout your stay.

As our bags were loaded into the speedboat at the end of our time at the resort, and we sped away from Gaya Island back towards the mainland, our hearts couldn’t help but sink with the slowly fading sun as we bid this small slice of paradise goodbye. What better way to enjoy the beauty of Borneo than in ultimate comfort?

Whether you’re fresh from the challenging climb of Mt Kinabalu and in need of some serious R&R, or simply seeking some sun, sea and sand surrounded by serious luxury in an exciting setting, Gaya Island is a perfect pick for a memorable getaway in Malaysia. Gaya Island is owned by YTL Hotels. Prices start from £150 per night per room for bed and breakfast.

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