Monday, 28 December 2015

A tiny bit of East Malaysia

Year end is the perfect time to take some time off and relax. This year the holidays of 12th Rabi-ul-Awal and Christmas fell on Thursday and Friday providing us with the perfect 4-days-get-away from the daily drill. We decided to spend it in the eastern side of Malaysia. An island we had not been to before. 

View from our room at Shangri La Tanjung Aru 

East Malaysia or Malaysian Borneo is part of Malaysia located on Borneo Island. It consists of three main states Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan. The South China Sea separates East from West Malaysia. East Malaysia is known for its exotic beaches. We visited Kota Kinabalu the most vibrant city of Sabah. Apart from some amazing beaches, Sabah also hosts one of the highest mountains in South East Asia called the Mount Kinabalu. It also grows the world's largest flower, Rafflesia, a famous tourist attraction. Sipadan Island which is one of the top dive sites in the world is also in Sabah. The World renowned Danum Valley conservation and Sabah's largest wildlife reserve, Tabin, are top tourist attractions that this state has to offer.

Please note that East Malaysia has their own immigration that every passenger needs to go through when entering this island. Though it is a part of Malaysia and you will be taking a domestic flight while travelling from any part of Malaysia yet you must have your passport and the required permit. I will update this blog once I get more information. but meanwhile, it will be wise to check with your tour agent before booking your trip. Immigration placed an entry stamp on my passport and permitted 30 days stay. 

For my short and sweet trip, the focus was on relaxing and unwinding thus a good resort was the top priority. We did not plan many activities and just booked a luxury hotel Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa as the reviews were really good and it was near the Kota Kinabalu International Airport. We took Air Asia morning flight on Thursday, 24th as the check in was at 2 pm. The flight is two and half hours from Kuala Lumpur. 

Our hotel was near the airport but the taxis mostly have fixed rates which are quite steep compared to West Malaysia. We reached the hotel around 2 pm just in time for the check in.

 Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa is a dream resort. Beautiful, comfortable and very peaceful. Most importantly it is clean and best of all doesn’t have the damp smell most beach resorts have. It is on a coast actually but there is a small beach from where you can see the sunset.You can enjoy a cup of coffee, fresh coconut water or any other drink off their menu while you see the beautiful colours spreading on the sky as the sun sets. You can also swim at the beach or enjoy their luxurious pools. 

There are a few restaurants in the hotel offering Asian, Continental, Italian and Chinese food. On 24th and 25th December in conjunction with Christmas, the restaurants were closed for Ala carte. Their buffet menu looked scrumptious however we mostly called in-room dinner which was a bit slow but the food was good. The best thing among our orders which included burgers and sandwiches was the Szechuan Hot & Sour Soup from Shang Palace. Unfortunately, we only discovered it on our last day.

There are a lot of activities every day at the hotel for kids and adults. There is a kid's swimming pool, water slide and other water related activities that keep the kids occupied. You will also find a shop in the hotel selling overpriced swim suits, T-shirts, souvenirs, drinks and snacks. At least there is something for you in an emergency. At their Chi Spa, you can enjoy a good foot or body massage and many different types of facials. Parasailing, boat rides and other water sports can be booked at the resort or one can also take the shuttle to Rasa Ria which is a sister resort of Shangri-la. At Rasa Ria, you can visit the Nature Reserve which is home to Sabah's wildlife including Sabah's icon Orangutan. 

In front of the hotel, there is an open public beach and next to it a grand golf club. Last day after checking out from the hotel we took a taxi to Imago – a shopping mall just 5 mins away from the hotel. We had lunch at Nyonya House. Nyonya food is a mix of Malaysian and Chinese food. The food was excellent but the service was very slow. Perhaps a point to remember when visiting this side. The mall offers all kinds of shopping and eating options like any typical mall would do.

We spent most of our time just resting and rejuvenating. We definitely need another trip to explore the city and activities. One thing that we will remember from this trip was the beautiful full moon that was shining brightly in the clear sky. I could not capture the actual beauty of the scene as I just had a cell phone. But I understood what Keats meant when he said, A thing of beauty is a joy forever. 

The beautiful full moon at Shangri La Tanjung Aru 

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