At Kota Kinabalu, the closest airport, I’m met at arrivals by a red-uniformed Shangri-La staff member, who guides me to the waiting transfer car, equipped with Wi-Fi, chocolate and peanuts. All are welcome, because I arrive at rush hour, which means the 30-kilometre trip takes 90 minutes. It’s scenic, and the welcome at the hotel’s Ocean Wing is polished. Check in is fast.
The 499-room resort is on 162 hectares on a promontory north of Kota Kinabalu. It’s away from the city sprawl, and backs onto a beautiful mangrove swamp, the second-largest in the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. It’s well-located for trips to Mount Kinabalu, especially for recovering after the climb. The beach, comprising most of Dalit Bay, is large, sweeping and reasonably wild, though the dark-coloured sand means the seawater isn’t clear. The resort’s orangutan sanctuary, on one side of the resort in coastal jungle, works with the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
It’s a large resort split into two sections, the Garden Wing, geared towards families, and the newer Ocean Wing, which has a more-adult, exclusive atmosphere. Despite the titles, all rooms face the sea and a large, landscaped area in between, which contains four swimming pools and seven bars and restaurants. The main buildings rise to six storeys, but the mostly open-air design makes everything feel relaxing and spacious. There’s a golf course and country club at the back. Although the beach is technically public, it feels private. Most other guests are Asian or European.
My room is on the fourth floor of the four-block Ocean Wing, which was completed last year, and now contains 173 rooms. The standard rooms here are exceptionally large: 90 square metres, with a huge outdoor terrace containing a hot tub, a spacious bedroom with work and dressing areas, and big bathroom. Everything works and feels fresh; the mostly beige-and-cream colour scheme is pleasantly neutral.
The staff are lovely – warm, direct, caring and efficient. The room staff light beautiful scents and restaurant staff are attentive: lobby staff jump to attention. The only problem I have is when the transfer van from the spa, at the country club, takes off without me. In the spa, where I ask for firm pressure on my back, my masseuse tells me only when I’m in my bathrobe “I’m not strong, but let’s see how it goes” – yet the massage is perfectly good.
The buffet breakfast in Oceano, the Italian restaurant, is good, with a dense collection of high-quality items, including juices, homemade bread, yogurts, fruit and hot items. The most impressive dinner experience is Tepi Laut – a fake street food market with surprisingly authentic food, including crispy fried duck, seafood curries and real coconuts (125 Malaysian ringgits [Dh104] per person). At Coffee Terrace, the all-day dining restaurant, the laksa, at 55 ringgits (Dh50) is good, but about 10 times what you’d pay at a local restaurant. The best item at Oceano seems to be the pizzas (from 45 ringgits [Dh37]).
The location and sense of relaxation.
The sea-swimming areas aren’t marked out both times that I go.
A great place for a few days or a longer holiday, but too far from town and too spread out to make it worthwhile for one night.
The bottom line
Double rooms at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort & Spa (www.shangri-la.com) cost from 862 ringgits (Dh716) per night, including breakfast.
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