Hotel Insider: Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa, Gaya Island, Malaysia

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The welcome

I arrive on a late flight from Brunei, so it’s about 2am when I’m met in arrivals by the transfer driver. It’s 15 minutes to Jesselton Point dockside in Kota Kinabalu, where a boat is waiting for the 15-minute journey to the island. The sky is filled with stars, and I can see the glow of an oil rig on the horizon. Guests arrive at an attractive jetty, and are whisked to their rooms, mostly one-storey villas on stilts on the hillside.

The neighbourhood

The hotel is one of a small group of resorts on Gaya Island, the largest island in a cluster of five forming the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. The resort’s key draw is its location in a sheltered bay, surrounded by steep slopes covered in primary rainforest. Despite its proximity to Kota Kinabalu, a major city, the resort’s beach feels private and exclusive, and is similar to that of The Datai on Langkawi, on the other side of the country.

The scene

The collection of 48 private villas, plus a couple of restaurants and the Solace Spa, all open-air and surrounded by jungle and beach, feels more like a boutique hotel than resort. Other guests are mostly European and Asian. It’s a great place to de-stress and decompress. In addition to the beach, there are jungle walks, zip-lining and canopy walks.

The room

I’m in Villa 28, which is a walk (or buggy ride) up a slope, but there are views through the trees across the bay. It feels private and luxurious, with mostly natural materials, including copious amounts of wood. The large veranda with partial sea views is a major plus point, offering an up-close encounter with the rainforest. There’s no bath, though, and at night, the sound of insects and other wildlife is disconcerting on the first night. The air con is good.

The service

Generally swift, although my bag takes about half an hour to get to my room after arrival. Phones are answered quickly, buggies arrive on time and a spa treatment is excellent. The spa has a great setting over a rope bridge on the forested hillside.

The food

The main restaurant, the Longhouse, is less than five-star. I’m disappointed by the meagre, cheap-looking breakfast buffet, with a small selection of fresh fruit, watery juices and a very limited selection of breads. The hot food is only marginally more appetising. The lunch and dinner menu is much more appealing, with care taken to cook food healthily – steaming and braising rather than frying. Steamed red snapper with tofu costs 110 Malaysian ringgits (Dh103).


The setting and the room. Impressively, even the rooms have decent Wi-Fi coverage. Seeing wild boar on the beach and on the hillside. The spa is staffed by local therapists and is an ideal place to relax. A one-hour massages cost from 244 ringgits (Dh229).


My toilet room, which is thankfully separated from the main bathroom, smells of sewage the entire time, even with an extractor fan on. When I call a buggy, I’m not able to see if it has arrived without exiting my villa – fortunately, it always arrives promptly. The ladies’ locker room in the spa is small, lacks privacy and isn’t completely clean.

The verdict

A good place for a relaxing break, not far from Kota Kinabalu, offering all essential services, including an international airport. A spa break is also feasible, given the variety and quality of treatments on offer.

The bottom line

Villas at the Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa ( cost from 1,189 ringgits (Dh1,116) per night, including taxes.