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Hotel Highlights

  • Eco-credentials, with Marine Research Centre and giant clam conservation programmes
  • Overwater bungalows with direct access to the sea
  • Variety of land- and water-based activities, including day spa and PADI dive centre

Overview

Ecology is at the heart of romantic Gayana Eco Resort in Sabah, a South China Sea-meets-jungle getaway a short hop from Singapore and Hong Kong. This green-minded hideaway features a flock of stilted villas set on a peaceful lagoon, and even has its own marine research centre. Comfort and style haven’t been neglected, with overwater bungalows offering pared-back luxury.

Smith Extra

Here's what you get for booking Gayana Eco Resort with us:

BlackSmith members get a romantic dinner table set-up on the day of arrival; SilverSmiths get an hour's guided kayaking, snorkelling or jungle trekking tour; GoldSmiths get a 45-minute spa session for two on the day of arrival

Special offers

Exclusive rates, packages and special offers at Gayana Eco Resort

Welcome to Borneo package 20% off Your 2nd and 3rd night Summer Sale

Facilities

View Gallery
Gayana Eco Resort – Sabah – Malaysia

Need To Know

Rooms

52 villas (Smith recommends top-tier Bayu and Palm Villas only).

Check–out

11am, or later subject to availability and a 50 per cent charge until 6pm, or the full rate beyond that. Check-in, 2pm.

Rates

Double rooms from $502.57 (MYR1,595), excluding tax at 16 per cent.

More details

Rates include breakfast, speedboat transfers, non-motorised watersports and entrance to the Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC).

Also

Solace Spa, with its horizon-view rooms, offers a selection of Asian and western massages, scrubs, facial and beauty treatments, which use natural Florian products. Book ahead for the bamboo massage, which combines soothing strokes and acupressure with tapping by a thick piece of bamboo; it’s fantastic on overworked muscles.

At the hotel

Solace Spa, PADI dive and watersports centre, free WiFi throughout, DVD library. In rooms: minibar with free beer and soft drinks (Bayu and Palm Villas only), flatscreen TV, DVD player and Thann toiletries. Palm Villas also feature a plunge pool and an espresso machine.

Our favourite rooms

Don’t settle for less than a Bayu Villa or Palm Villa, overwater abodes with private decks and direct access to the sea. Plump for a Palm Villa and you’ll also get a plunge pool and luxe bathroom with sea-view soaking tub. Style-wise, it’s a rather incongruous mix of rustic luxury and classic New England: the cool hardwood interior and Malay batiks fit in effortlessly; the high-backed armchairs and white leather sofas less so. With knockout views from your deck or through the glass-bottomed floor, you won’t be assessing the decor for long.

Poolside

There’s an infinity pool by Macac restaurant, which has chic blue day-beds for lounging. It’s a lovely spot for a quick dip and is great for children, but if you’re after a proper swim, just dive into the ocean from your deck. Guests craving watery frolics can hop on the boat to Gayana's sister property, Bunga Raya Island Resort and Spa, without having to pay the usual transfer fees.

Packing tips

With all that surrounding water and jungle, mosquito spray is essential and you’ll need high-factor sunscreen: Borneo is equatorial and the UV rays are potent. If you’re planning to trek, remember hardy shoes or trainers, although Gayana has all you need for snorkelling and diving.

Also

Take the 10-minute boat ride to sister resort Bunga Raya, which ramps up the luxe level a notch with its private beach, smart poolside scene and award-winning wine cellar. Active types will love the gym, jungle paths with canopy walk and zip-line.

Children

With its wide range of activities, island location and super-friendly staff, Gayana is fabulous for kids. Owing to the resort's overwater nature, you’ll have to keep an eye on smaller children.

Read more

Eco‐friendly

True to its name, this is one of the most ecological resorts in south-east Asia. Much of the hotel is built on stilts so it occupies very little landmass, buildings are made from indigenous belian hardwood and furnishings are mainly locally sourced. Gayana is committed to recycling and island clean-ups, and most of the seafood comes from the resort’s fish farm. MERC also runs giant clam breeding and coral restoration programmes, which guests can experience.

Food & Drink

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Gayana Eco Resort – Sabah – Malaysia

Hotel Restaurant

Alu Alu is reputed to be the area's best Chinese seafood restaurant and people travel from Kota Kinabalu especially to eat here. Built on stilts, it's open-sided and airy yet distinctly oriental with Lazy Susan-topped tables, swathes of silk and lanterns flickering in the breeze. Choose your Gayana-farmed fish from the tanks and enjoy specialties such as grouper with Cantonese sauce or spiced soft-shell crab. Casual poolside restaurant Macac serves a mix of Asian and western food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stick to the Asian picks, such as steamed red snapper or satay skewers. 

 

Hotel Bar

Second-storey Latitude Bar exudes an almost colonial feel with its low-slung rancher chairs and day-beds in an easy-on-the-eye spectrum of creams, yellows and pale greens. It also has fabulous views, and is a perfect spot for sundowners, when the first drink is on the house. There’s also a pool table, TV and magazines.

Last orders

Breakfast is served from 7am to 10am, lunchtime lasts from 11.30am to 2.30pm, and dinner runs from 6pm to 10pm.

Room service

An edited version of the Macac menu is offered until 10pm, and if staying in a Palm Villa, your food will be delivered by boat. It’s a nice novelty, but don’t expect your meal to be piping hot on arrival.

Smith Insider

Dress code

Leave your Louboutins behind; Havaianas, shorts and kaftans are fine. Remember Malaysia is a Muslim country: topless sunbathing is a no-no as is bare chest and boardshorts in the bar.

Top table

Dine on your deck as you watch schools of fish shimmer below and stars twinkle above. Gain extra romance points by having your dinner sailed over to you.

Local Guide

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Gayana Eco Resort – Sabah – Malaysia
Eat, drink, see, do: local favourites and more…

Worth getting out of bed for

Aqua devotees are well looked after, with snorkels and kayaks provided for free, and a PADI dive centre offering offshore jaunts and training sessions. For more aquatic action, pay a visit to the Marine Ecology Research Centre, where you can spy giant clams, soft corals and spiky fish. Get up close and personal with starfish and sea cucumbers at the touch-tank, and lend a helping hand by replanting coral.

 

If you want to take part in a feeding frenzy, wander down to the pier at 9am to join the grouper-feeding tour. A two-minute boat ride will have you out to the floating enclosure filled with huge fish, some weighing in at 200kg.

 

Once you've had your eco fix, slip into Solace Spa for a soothing massage or a full-blown pummelling (get set to squirm if you tick 'firm' on the questionnaire). The second-floor treatment rooms offer serene sea vistas, but can also feel a tad exposed at times. Ask staff to draw the blinds before you strip down.

 

Fitness fans can board a boat for nearby sister resort Bunga Raya, also on Gaya Island, where you're free to use the gym and take part in jungle treks and zip-lining escapades. While you're there, the white-sand beach and well-stocked wine cellar are also worth a gander.

 

If you're trekking up Sabah's Mount Kinabalu, Gayana makes a great chill-out treat for weary muscles after your trip.

Local restaurants

Gayana isn’t surrounded by restaurants and nightlife. If you’re craving stimulation, you can hop on the boat to Kota Kinabalu, which is cosmopolitan if lacking in charm; the last boat back to Gaya Island is usually around 11pm.

 

The Filipino Market, next to Centre Point on Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, is popular with locals. Skip the shopping and head straight to the food area, where you can pick your seafood, watch it being prepared and eat it Filipino-Malay style.

 

Expats and Malays flock to Brass Monkey Café and Bar (+60 88 261 543), in Lintas Plaza, for its friendly atmosphere and good, reliable western food.

 

Headed up by chef Salvatore Marcello, Grazie (+60 19 821 6936), in Wawasan Plaza, is as authentic as it gets for an Italian in Malaysia. Indulge your carb fetish with fresh pastas and pizzas and tuck into house specialties such as carre d’agnello (rosemary lamb).

 

Busy, bustling and illuminated with strip lighting, Seri Selera Kampung Air (www.seriselera.com) is by no means stylish, but it is the place to go for Malay, Chinese and other Asian cuisines. Located in Sedco Square, Kamoung, Kota Kinabalu’s official open-air food court has an array of casual restaurants and stalls, open 3pm-2am daily.

Local bars

Board a boat bound for Bunga Raya to sip top-shelf vino in the Wine Cave, home to one of Malaysia's best collections, or enjoy a whisky sour at Latitude Bar.

+ Enlarge
Graceful Gaya Island

Gayana Eco Resort

Malohom Bay, Gaya Island , Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, 88300

Part of Gayana’s appeal lies in its proximity to Kota Kinabalu; the speedy transfer time from airport to tropical beach is a dream after a long-haul flight and makes it an easy weekend getaway from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Hong Kong.

Planes

On the main island of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu’s location as the hub of Borneo means there are regular flights to Kota Kinabalu International Airport from across Malaysia as well as Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Taiwan and Korea. Connections from the Middle East, Europe, North and South America, and South Africa are also serviced. Try AirAsia (www.airasia.com) for discounted flights.

Automobiles

It’s a 15-minute taxi ride from the airport to Jesselton Point Wharf. There are always plenty of taxis (the trip costs around RMB30).

Other

The boat journey from Jesselton Point Wharf to Gaya Island takes 10-15 minutes. Jaunts between Gayana and sister resort Bunga Raya are also on offer.

Reviews

View Gallery
Gayana Eco Resort – Sabah – Malaysia

Anonymous review

by Sarah Lewis , Wandering wordsmith

Few things excite an Aussie as much as being able to travel to a foreign land in the time it takes to watch a film. So, having moved to Hong Kong, the idea that I can be somewhere fresh and fabulous within two shakes of a lamb’s tail has me hightailing it out of here 10 days after I arrive. ‘Bound for Borneo’ my Facebook status boasts, as Mr Smith and I board a plane for Kota Kin…
Read more

Gayana Eco Resort

Anonymous review by Sarah Lewis, Wandering wordsmith

Few things excite an Aussie as much as being able to travel to a foreign land in the time it takes to watch a film. So, having moved to Hong Kong, the idea that I can be somewhere fresh and fabulous within two shakes of a lamb’s tail has me hightailing it out of here 10 days after I arrive. ‘Bound for Borneo’ my Facebook status boasts, as Mr Smith and I board a plane for Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, on the tip of Malaysia’s ruggedly beautiful eastern island.

After a high-tech arrival (fingerprint scans and digital barcodes) in an airport resembling a tin shed, we take a 15-minute taxi ride to Jesselton Wharf, checking in at the Gayana Eco Resort lounge, at the end of a café-lined pier.

There’s something about a boat transfer that instantly eases me into holiday mode, and after a short skip across the bay, we’re docking at Gaya Island and ready to relax. We’re greeted by a chirpy chap called Jameson, who guides us through the rustic-chic resort, a series of overwater villas that fan out from a central boardwalk.

Hot-pink bougainvillea and hanging orchids line the route to our room, a Bayu Villa on the must-book sea-facing side of the property. Our thatched-roof retreat is filled with warm polished woods, rattan furniture and neutral-toned fabrics, pared-back interiors that happily play second fiddle to the scenes outside.

Arming ourselves with free beers from the minibar, we head onto the private deck, where steps lead down to the South China Sea. We take a quick dip in the lagoon – dodging tiny crabs on the climb back up to the terrace – then slump onto a pair of sunloungers.

A date with Solace Spa, the hotel’s dinky day spa near the pool, soon propels me out of my lounger and back along the boardwalk. Curling up in a cushioned cocoon, I sip hibiscus tea and wait for my session to start. Clearly I’ve begun to switch off already, because when my therapist arrives I realise I’ve dribbled tea down my shirt. Classy.

Normally, I’m a fan of a firm and furious massage, but as this mini-break is all about indulgence, I tick ‘relaxing’ on the preference form. Unfortunately, acting on auto-pilot, I’ve already marked ‘firm’ in the pressure section. It’s soon clear that this isn’t going to be the soothing, gentle treatment I’d envisioned. Instead, Veronica (now known as Tenacious V), pummels, prods and pulls my muscles in a series of yelp-inducing directions. At some point I manage to unwind enough to drool again, this time into the bowl of water and orchids placed strategically below my head.

After an afternoon spent snorkelling in the warm, fish-filled waters, Mr Smith seems far more laid-back than me, but both agree that a cocktail is in order. As luck would have it, sundowners are being poured in the Latitude Bar, and from 6 to 7pm, the first drink is on the house.

Our gratis gin and tonics are served with a bowl of nuts, which we fall upon in an animalistic heap, having arrived in the dining dead-zone between lunch and dinner. Fans whir overhead, billiard balls clack above the lounge tunes, and a storm sweeps through the resort, thankfully taking the humidity with it.

Once the rain clears, we follow the lanterns to Alu Alu, the hotel’s overwater restaurant on the other side of the lagoon. With swags of red and gold satin hanging from every beam, it looks like the dining room has just played host to a Big Fat Chinese Wedding; it’s an odd touch in what could be an elegant, open-air eatery. The daggy decor is soon forgiven once the food lands on the table: omelette-wrapped noodles, wok-tossed greens and a crunchy jumble of soft-shell crab.

The next morning is a delight, as we awake just in time to see our breakfast being delivered by boat. We sit on the deck and tuck into mango pancakes and nasi goreng as the sun glitters across the glassy lagoon.

So far our stay has been entirely self-centred, so we devote the morning to the hotel’s eco-friendly focus. We feed man-sized groupers in floating pens, then wander down to the Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC), a hub devoted to giant clam breeding and coral restoration programmes. (Even pop star Ronan Keating is backing the cause.)

Admittedly, after ogling 200-kilo groupers, the clams don’t seem as massive as their name might suggest, but these endangered molluscs are fascinating none the less. In the blue-lit aquarium, we spy the not-so-giant clams, soft corals and puffer fish, then scoop up starfish and squishy sea cucumbers in the touch tanks. Last order of business is planting a piece of coral, which will be regenerated here, then replanted in the sea.

Feeling slightly smug from our aquatic good deeds, we steer clear of seafood for lunch, instead dining on satay skewers at poolside Macac restaurant and knocking back a few rounds of margaritas. Then, as quickly as we arrived, it’s time to leave… Retracing our steps to Hong Kong, we’re still feeling that tequila buzz when we touch down a few hours later. 

The Guestbook

Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel with us, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Gayana Eco Resort's Guestbook below.

 

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