Ask most expats in Singapore about their travel wish lists, and you can pretty much guarantee that Borneo is near the top. With thriving rainforests, picture-perfect mountains, oodles of culture and the opportunity to glimpse rare animals, it’s an absolute must-see during a stint in this corner of the world. So why don’t you hear about more people travelling there? If you want the full Borneo experience – whether it’s mountain trekking, gorilla spotting or visiting local villages – you’ve got to take at least a week off to reach the secluded spots. With one international airport in Kota Kinabalu, reaching the remote areas of Borneo involves hitting the road, or taking another internal flight. Many folks are happy to do this – but lots of us prefer to save our holiday and opt for easy short breaks from Singapore.
While working out exactly how I’d be able to tick Borneo off my travel wish list with only four days to play with, I came across Gaya Island. A huge, jungle-y island off the coast of Borneo with beautiful beaches and live coral reefs that’s reachable from Kota Kinabalu airport within 30 minutes (15 minutes by land, 15 minutes by sea).
If the above sounds a little too good to be true, imagine how I felt upon discovering that one of the best-rated hotels in Borneo – Gaya Island Resort – was offering a deal of three nights for the price of two. Needless to say, I booked immediately. Tip: This deal is still running.
Aside from a world-class luxury resort with insane views across the turquoise ocean to Mount Kinabalu, what Borneo-style experiences can you expect from Gaya Island? Well, I’ll tell you! Read on for my top five cool things to do during your stay…
An enchanting rainforest walk
Take a refreshing stroll through the virgin rainforest with Gaya Island’s Resident Naturalist. Justin, the pro who leads the jungle tour, will give you an educational and engaging nature experience – pointing out the various species and finding fun critters. For inquisitive guests, there’s a chance to get involved in a mini guided natural science project too…!
Feast like a local chieftain at a tribal BBQ
Dine Borneo-style by getting stuck into an exciting barbecue in a beach mangrove setting, to the sound of live traditional Kadazan music. Watch the sunset as it dims behind Mount Kinabalu with a glass of famous Kadazan rice wine (known as Lihing), before tucking into fresh local fish grilled around the campfire.
Designated snorkelling trails that weave through Borneo’s colourful reef are located along Malohom Beach. This runs along the front of the hotel’s private bay, which gives guests the chance to sign up for a tour and enjoy a knowledgeable commentary about the reef and its fishy inhabitants from the Resident Marine Biologist as they swim along (you’ll soon discover that there’s all sorts of nature pros at Gaya Island Resort!).
PADI Underwater Digital Photography Class
Are you a passionate diver and keen to document your aquatic antics? Take your awesome hobby a step further and sign up for a two-part course in digital underwater photography. Based around today’s simple point-and-shoot digital cameras, student divers can nail the skills (it’s all about the light) and practical techniques (staying still) necessary to snap amazing underwater photos. The classes are during excursions to selected dive sites within Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.
The Tavajun Bay enclave
Finally, a seaside holiday wouldn’t be complete without discovering a private beach now, would it? The tranquil, exclusive Tavajun Bay is located five-minutes by boat from Gaya Island Resort and is perfect for a day of relaxation. Don’t worry – you’ll be fed and watered! Munch on dishes warmed in earthenware skillets over charcoal embers, or pre-order a personalised picnic basket.
Ready to book your Borneo trip? There is a selection of direct flights to Kota Kinabalu from Singapore which take just over two hours. Both Silk Air and Air Asia offer flights every day. Want to stay at Gaya Island Resort like I did? Be sure to make the most of their pay two, stay three deal – which means you’ll pay a total of 710 SGD per room for the whole stay.
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