Shangri-La, an imaginary land depicted in the novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton isn’t so imaginary after all. Hidden amidst lush tropical vegetation that opens out to the South China Sea, is the magical Rasa Ria Resort. Magical for its pristine sand, warm waters, 400 acres of gardens, a 64 acre nature reserve and excellent dining and accommodation options. A place where tranquillity and adventure meet.
While it may not be located in a fictional Tibetan land some 3473 kilometres away from West Malaysia as Hilton described, the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort however, is located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo. Just 40 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital city, Rasa Ria Resort is a place to unwind with a good book under the swaying branches of a coconut tree with the expanse of a 3 kilometre long beach in front of you.
The beautiful approach to the beach…
A truly intimate sojourn, Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort offers its guests a secluded getaway from the hectic city life that most of us live in. Tucked away in the district of Tuaran and set amidst a nature reserve, the resort enchants endlessly with its natural mysticism.
“Don’t know how to get back to normality after this”, said Serene after overhearing our gasping reaction over the beauty that unfolded as the sun set. Exchanging pleasantries and a few photography tips later, Serene an Australian who checked in a few days before us went on her way. We however, had our gaze stuck on the orange ball of fire that glistened the white sand as it dipped below the horizon.
The magical sunset!
What makes a stay at Rasa Ria even more special is its drive to protect the endangered flora and fauna of Malaysia. Established in 1996 by Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort in collaboration with the State Wildlife Department of Sabah, the 64 acre nature reserve cares for orphaned Orang-Utans until they are ready to be rehabilitated into their natural habitat. The reserve is also home to countless small animals like the mischievous macaques, over 60 species of birds and 30 species of butterflies and a wide spectrum of indigenous flora.
Guests at the resort can learn more about these orphaned long-armed anthropoid apes by joining a trek through the reserve that takes place twice a day. “Got you a mosquito repellent spray, got to prevent those bites”, said Vina Hee, Communications Executive at Shangri La Rasa Ria Resort. Heading into a Malaysian jungle without mosquito repellent would be the last thing you’d want to experience.
Two buckets of sweat and some 20 minutes later we had reached the viewing platform to catch these nimble creatures in swinging action. It was a rare sight to see them so up-close and in their natural habitat away from any harm. The reserve is not to be mistaken as a petting zoo, as guests are not allowed to feed, touch or provoke the orang-utans.
The Nature Reserve
The 3km long pristine beach that is cleared of pebbles daily
Our Ocean Wing Room for several nights…
With an exclusive entrance through a private courtyard and lobby, the Ocean Wing Premier Room on the third floor that faces the sunny windswept sea was home for the next few days for my husband (Joseph) and I. The best part about this luxurious 90 square-metre abode was an oversized bathtub in one corner and a large cosy day bed on the other corner of our spacious balcony.
Opulently furnished with restful earth colours of rust and apple green along with native selangan batu hardwood furnishing inspired by the ethnic richness of Sabah, our Premier Room was a welcoming sight after each day’s activity in the Borneo breeze. Guest residing in the Ocean Wing also had exclusivity to a free form pool and a 30 metre lap pool. This was a plus since we were visiting during the off-peak season; we had the entire pool to ourselves most of the time.
The exclusive pool for Ocean Wing guests
“Are you connected?” asked Joseph when we were told that WiFi was complimentary throughout the entire resort for every single guest. This was a feature that most hotels tend to overlook. Whether an avid social media junkie or quintessential businessperson, accessing Internet and being connected on-the-go is important even though we’d like to think we could just turn everything off and disconnect completely. Having to pay absorbent charges for WiFi usage can put a damper on your holiday, but this is obviously not the case at Rasa Ria Resort. A very thoughtful gesture indeed by Shangrila which merits a mention.
The Coast Restaurant is reserved for Ocean Wing guests during breakfast. Instead of the usual buffet spread and long lines, we were presented menu’s which we could custom order if needed. This sit-down breakfast sans queuing dining concept was a breath of fresh air after the many buffet lines that Joseph and I have stood in, to order an omelette with lots of chilli. Yes, we like it spicy.
“Could I entice you to savour our spicy wok fried mee siam?” asked Mohd Danish Khan, Assistant Director of Food and Beverage at Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort. Made from rice noodle, chilli boh, chicken, prawn, fishcake, beansprouts and pak choy, the dish was typically Malaysian despite the Siamese origin in its name. The attention we received gave a sense of comfort that the resort took the extra effort to make us feel truly welcomed.
The in-room day bed
The other end of the Ocean Wing Room with dining and study tables
The Ocean Wing Balcony with oversized bathtub and day bed
The view we woke up to every morning
My 800 gram lobster before it hit the fire!
The saying goes… If you’re in Sabah, you’ve got to try the seafood. Not wanting to be left out, we were hoping to indulge in some lobster for a romantic dinner out at Coast. A beachside restaurant, Coast boasts innovative design, stunning views and contemporary western cuisine.
A little disappointed on missing Lobster Night on Saturdays at the resort, we were surprised by the initiative of the resort staff in acquiring lobster for my dinner that Thursday night. Two hours later, we got a call…“We’ve managed to acquire some fresh local lobster for your dinner tonight Ms John”, said Vivian Ojang, Service Manager at Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort. Joseph, not being a fan of seafood, went along with the plan of watching me eat a whole 800 gram lobster by myself that very night.
My lobster dish…. yummy!
As we got comfortable at our table, Chef De cuisine, Alvrie Manangka came over to ask me how I would like my lobster cooked. After a bit of deliberation, I took his advice and waited for him to dish up my Grilled Whole Lobster and Celeriac Puree. “A French inspired dish, the lobster is made up of white radish fondant, pea sweet, green asparagus, semi dried cherry tomato, okra, micro herbs, black peppercorn powder and fish veloute”, said Manangka.
A passionate visionary of culinary delights, Chef de Cuisine Alvrie joined Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort in April 2012. He started his culinary journey in 1997 and has worked in restaurants across Australia, Dubai and the Maldives.
His experiences working with notable chefs throughout the years instilled in him a ‘passion for pure love of cooking’, which greatly influences his much-loved menu creations at Coast restaurant and should not be missed if you decide to make a visit to Rasa Ria.
If you’re looking for something a bit spicier, head over to Naan. With Moghul touches hinting at the past splendour of the Maharajahs, the easy elegance of this delightful restaurant creates an ideal setting to savour the refined cuisine of Northern India and spicy specialties from coastal Goa.
A must try is the kebab. Sliced and served with capsicum and raw onions, it brings out the flavour of ground lamb that has been seasoned with herbs and spices.
“My vision for the restaurant is to bring the flavour of every Indian state through the array of my dishes”, said Chef De Cuisine Shaantanu Seth when asked what was special about Naan.
Proud of his heritage, Mr Seth started honing his expertise in Indian cuisine in 1999 in well-known hotels and restaurants in India before finally joining Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort in May 2012.
During the day, Joseph and I would either stroll over to the Coffee Terrace that serves international and local dishes with plenty of health-conscious menu selections as well, or we would just hang out at Tepi Laut Makan Street that captures the nostalgia of Malaysia’s heritage of street food stalls and open-fronted shop-house restaurants. Each food stall offers tempting flavours and a special glimpse into the cuisines of Asia. My favourite was the prawn fried kuey teow.
Prawn Fried Kuey Teow
Unique to Rasa Ria, is the fact that you don’t have to leave the resort in search for better food options unless of course you want to visit Kota Kinabalu’s township. But for us, and I am sure for most of you, a relaxing resort escapade is to never having the need to leave while you’re there. There was one day when we didn’t feel like leaving our abode. We had both breakfast and lunch served in our room and the menu options are plentiful.
If cruising down the Tamballang River in a Lepa-Lepa (boat in the local Bajau dialect) in complete darkness is your thing, make sure to sign up for firefly watching, one of the many daily activities that Rasa Ria has scheduled throughout the week.
“I welcome you on board our Lepa-Lepa”, said Aling our firefly watching guide. Aling introduced himself as a sea gypsy (Bajau tribe) whose ancestors migrated to Sabah from the islands of Micronesia located between the Philippines and Indonesia. “On this journey down the river, you may see two kinds of fireflies we call klip-klip and kunang-kunang”, he added.
It was interesting to learn about the fireflies, their habitat and the curiosity they have towards bright red lights. It was also educational to learn more about the Bajau people through Aling. “The Lepa-Lepa is actually our home, it is where we raise our family and carry out our daily activities like cooking, eating and sleeping”, said Aling. However, due to modernisation, some have shifted to live along the coasts, perched on stilts over shallow reefs, while they continue their love affair with the sea.
Our guide Aling sitting on the edge of the Lepa-Lepa
In pitch darkness though there were times of anxiousness when we had no sense of where we were or where we were heading to, the experience of watching fireflies in the black of the night was truly a unique experience, though I doubt Joseph would be hoping onto another Lepa-Lepa soon. He hasn’t quite got his sea legs as yet. We’re working on it. I on the other hand, would love to enjoy a ride on this ethnic boat during the day if opportunity were to arise.
Garden Wing Room
Following the success of the 90 Premier Rooms at the Ocean Wing of Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort, Kota Kinabalu, the resort recently completed a US$20 million refurbishment of the 326 guestrooms and public areas at the Garden Wing. Each room features a private balcony with two arm chairs and a coffee table overlooking the forest, garden or the sea.
With the upgrade of the rooms, guests can expect a renewed sense of comfort and luxury that combines traditional local touches such as ethnic style artwork with modern facilities like wall-mounted widescreen televisions with international satellite channels, and complimentary Wi-Fi and broadband connectivity.
Garden Wing Pool
Dalit Bay Golf Course
Spa at Shangri-La Rasa Ria
The resort is located on the edge of the South China Sea at Pantai Dalit Tuaran, just 45 minutes from Kota Kinabalu International Airport. Facilities include a 3-kilometre white sandy beach, endless choices from seven restaurants and bars, an 18-hole par 72 championship golf course, The Spa at Dalit, a 64-acre nature reserve with a rehabilitation centre for baby orang-utans, and a wide range of recreational activities. Visit Shangri-La Rasa Ria for more information on rates and packages.
Disclaimer: We thank Shangri-La Hotels for inviting Travel and Beyond to an exclusive stay at the Rasa Ria Resort. However, as always all opinions expressed are exclusively that of the author.