Striking the right balance between adult appeal and locations and activities appropriate for children is a niggling conundrum. Kids need engagement or parents are never going to get a chance to enjoy that spa treatment, but not all of it should necessarily be mindless entertainment. Hotel operators know this, and so as urban hotels contract into neighbourhood-friendly basics, multi-faceted resorts have proliferated outside the cities, providing what only large operators can. Combine that with increasing environmentalism and eco-tourism, and most vacation problems are solved.
Borneo, Asia’s largest island the third largest on the planet, is well known as an ecologically diverse, vital and lucrative location. Divided up by three countries — Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia — its 140-million-year-old rainforest is home to the endangered orangutan and its timber industry supplies roughly half the world’s stock. Replacing the rainforest is palm oil crop, which is eating away at the orang’s habitat, so like the sinking Venice or the deteriorating Angkor Wat, now might be the time to check out the Amazon’s only real competition and see its amazing wildlife.
Malaysia’s share of Borneo comprises Sarawak and Sabah, with Kota Kinabalu on the northeast coast a good place to start. And Borneo is massive, so there’s no way to see it all in one long weekend. Pick one little corner and immerse in it instead of making ambitious plans. The renowned Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is on the other side of the island, and for anyone on a weekend getaway avoiding long drives and extra flights is a must. A couple of days in the city is fine, but the extra hour towards Tuaran is worth the effort.
Nestled behind the already tucked away Shangri-La’s Rasa Risa Resort and Spa is a pocket of jungle that is home to a smaller orangutan rehabilitation facility: the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve established by the Shangri-La and the Sabah Wildlife Department. The centre works with a small number of abandoned orangutan’s on a rescue and first-stage rehab programme — and in education for Sabah schoolchildren. As a tiny centre taking advantage of the hotel’s lush location chances of a sighting on the organised Jungle Walk, Canopy Walk or Orangutan Viewing excursions are high. The resort’s Nature Interpretation Centre has materials and activities for all ages and entry fees go toward the centre. Currently, two-year-old Musa and five-year-old Kolapis, and a female, Cendrawasih, reside at Rasa Ria, and though they’re the stars, a jungle walk reveals long-tailed macaques among a host of other wildlife — walking, flying and crawling. Creepy night walks unearth even more as the jungle surrounding the hotel really comes alive after the sun goes down, with all manner of squawk, howl, bark and screech emanating from the trees. It’s not unsafe, but it’s certainly vivid and is a great introduction to eco-tourism for younger kids.
For anyone not wholly enamoured by nature, the area boasts fishing, horse riding, hiking and cycling excursions — and (naturally) excellent watersports including jet ski rentals, assorted boat rides, parasailing, windsurfing and ocean kayaking on the crystalline waters off the coast in the South China Sea. A horse trek across the otherworldly salt-white sands of the broad beach is a bit like something from a movie; you kind of expect Bo Derek to come running out of the water and it does suggest a day of lounging with a good book.
Finally, The Spa (located at the adjoining Dalit Bay Golf and Country Club) is where visitors can indulge in the signature Rasa Hot Stones, In Harmony or Heaven & Earth rituals. Hot Stones combines thermotherapy with deep massage designed to reenergise the body. Heaven & Earth concentrates on the head and shoulders using warm oil before finishing off with a pampering facial. But for true decadence, the two-and-a-half hour In Harmony is the way to end a jungle trek. From the welcoming foot ritual to the mud wrap, mineral bath and final aromatic massage, it’s an ideal capper to a weekend of wrestling with nature and the perfect place contemplate how much palm oil you buy.
If You Go
Dragonair and Air Asia fly direct to Kota Kinabalu from Hong Kong.
If You Stay
There are dozens of hotels in Kota Kinabalu at all price points. For luxury, ecology and service, the tucked away and newly renovated Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort and Spa is the way to go (www.shangri-la.com/kotakinabalu/rasariaresort). A strong urban choice is the Hyatt Regency Kinabalu (kinabalu.regency.hyatt.com).