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Borneo - 2010


We flew again with Malaysian Airways via Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu. Following our last experience of Malaysian (economy class) we had vowed not to fly economy with them again. Never say never! We had a brilliant price deal with them - and a very enjoyable trip. Unfortunately, once again, the overhead reading lights were U/S (3 out of the last 3 trips on Malaysian economy that they had not worked) but this time the IFE worked and food and service were good. We also had a 4 seat centre bank of seats for the two of us.

Transfer at KLIA was good (immigration transfer to the domestic terminal was fast and efficient) and we were shortly boarding a Malaysian 737 for Kota Kinabalu. We were served breakfast and after a short flight (2 1/2 hours) we were disembarking in Kota Kinabalu. Bag pickup was swift, we were met by the Shangri-La limo and following a visit to the ATM (easy to find) were off on the 50 minute trip to the Shangri-La Rasa Ria.

Beach Rasa Ria
Rasa Ria
Sunset Rasa Ria

The Beach at Rasa Ria

Rasa Ria - from the sea

Sunset at Rasa Ria

Shangri-La Rasa Ria - Our immediate impression of the hotel was of a high standard of hotel, well maintained, with an open air lobby and many friendly, helpful staff. We had booked directly with Shangri-La and check in (with refreshing drinks and cold towels) was fast and efficient. We had a top-floor sea view room and our impression was that of cleanliness, comfort and a stunning view - thoroughly recommended.

There are four restaurants at the Rasa Ria; a coffee shop (where food - breakfast, lunch and dinner - and service were excellent), Tepi Laut, serving lunch and turning into a hawker centre style eatery in the evening (we found the evening food dry and not too exciting), an Indian restaurant,"Naan" which was very good and their top-end restaurant "Coast", where we had a very good meal, but felt the restaurant itself lacked any atmosphere.

We visited the orangutan sanctuary and, softies that we are, sponsored two orangutans, Cinta and Reg (see picture below). We also took a river trip through the mangroves to a sea gipsy village, which was interesting, but the river lacked any sort of wildlife - which we thought to be strange. It was worthwhile trip, nevertheless, which included fresh coconut and traditional fried cakes, in a typical house.

The beach and sea view were stunning - but beware. The expanse of white sand gets blisteringly hot (too hot for mere flip-flops) and the beach and area between the pool and sand is alive with sand flies, which seemed to take no notice of DEET or Autan repellent. SWMBO ended up with over 40 bites in 8 days and I must have had about 20!

There are no local shops or restaurants, so getting away from the hotel meant a taxi to Kota Kinabalu town (45 minutes and fairly expensive) or into Tauran village (10 minutes and lacking in restaurants, bars etc.). If, like us, you are not a fan of spending all your time in the hotel, you could go "stir crazy" after a few days. The hotel does run a shuttle service (at a charge) 5 times a day to the Tanjung Aru in Kota Kinabalu, via the main shopping outlets in Kota Kinabalu town.

There is entertainment at the hotel in the evening (the main lobby bar has something every night) and the Tepi Laut had an "ethnic" evening with dance and other items, once a week. The sunsets are stunning and well worth a view from the "Coast" bar with a cocktail, during their happy hour.

Our impression of the resort, facilities and staff was extremely good - but I think the 8 nights that we spent there was a little too long. I would, however, not have missed this part of the trip (and would thoroughly recommend). The Rasa Ria is a great resort, with excellent rooms, service and staff - but is rather remote.

We booked the hotel shuttle service to take us to the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru hotel in Kota Kinabalu (we were surprised that they not only charged us, but actually charged the full return fare!) for the next part of our Borneo break.

Welcome Tanjung Aru
Beach Tanjung Aru
Dining Tanjung Aru

Welcome at Tanjung Aru

The Beach at Tanjung Aru

Fine Dining at Peppinos at the Tanjung Aru

We arrived at the Shangri La Tanjung Aru at lunch time and were swiftly escorted (to the accompaniment of the mandatory gong) into a very attractive lobby for check-in. Once again this was speedy, friendly and hassle free. We had sea view Club rooms, once again on the top floor, with an excellent view over the grounds and sea to the islands - absolutely magnificent!

The grounds at the Tanjung Aru were smaller than at the Rasa Ria, but were extremely well kept, with flowers, shrubs and pools, absolutely laden with fish. They even have a small 9 hole pitch and putt course. There is a small private beach (much smaller than the advertising pictures would suggest), where there is a torch lighting ceremony about 15 minutes before sunset every evening. As with the Rasa Ria, the sunsets are stunning.

Once again there were four restaurants, a coffee shop (adequate but not up to Rasa Ria standard), Coco Joe's (lunch and evening barbeque, but unfortunately, despite an excellent steak here, I am still waiting for my vegetables) which has a wonderful view, Shang Palace (Chinese food and apparently very good and reasonably priced, but which we never tried) and Peppino's, Italian restaurant (which we couldn't get enough of), where the food, ambience and service were second to none. In addition to the excellent standard "a la carte" menu, Peppinos had "chef's specials" (good value and great quality) and a gourmet special evening, with free wine tasting (we both got rather squiffy!).

Breakfast was taken in the club lounge and was a full breakfast, if required, rather than the usual continental or buffet meals that are sometimes provided in club facilities. I would recommend the club upgrade here as, in addition to the excellent breakfast (beef bacon though!), soft drinks are free and available through the day, cakes are served between 2 and 4 pm and wine, other drinks and canapes are served between 5 and 7 pm (noting like a couple of G and Ts to set you up for the evening).

We ate in Kota Kinabalu town twice, once in a banana leaf restaurant, "Jothys", here my meal was excellent but SWMBO's was rather dry, and a Malaysian Restaurant, "Sri Melacca", which was heavily frequented by local people and which would have been far better if we had been part of a larger group.

I would recommend neither restaurant, nor Kota Kinabalu town - which is spread out and which offers poor, uninteresting shopping. The town is a mixture of old, run-down buildings and concrete structures. It was neither atmospherically "local" nor a modern town. The favoured shopping Mall for most people was Centre Point / Warisan Square, but these did nothing for either us!

Boat trips to the offshore islands, for relaxation, are available from the hotel jetty as are other water facilities including, unfortunately, jet skis (although very few people used them).

Overall a first rate hotel, great rooms and food and very good staff and service.

Reg - Rasa Ria Orangutan Rescue Centre
Bajau - Sea Gypsy Homes
Evening - Proboscis Monkey

"Reg" at Rasa Ria Orangutan Rescue Centre

Bajau - Sea Gypsy Homes

Proboscis Monkey - Evening

From the Tanjung Aru, we took another river trip (Klias river) to see the Proboscis monkeys, fireflies and other wildlife, which included a typical Malaysian evening meal. The trip did what it said on the tin but very little more. It is a 2 hour journey each way, followed by refreshments, a 1 hour river trip, dinner and another short 20 minute river trip to see the fireflies in the evening. Unfortunately we were with an untypically large group. This meant a coach, rather than a mini bus for the 2 hour trip each way, a very full boat, where people nearest the wildlife would stand up, so that those not so well placed had obstructed views. This was no problem with the fireflies in the evening, but did cause some problems with the wildlife through the day.

The dinner was adequate and SWMBO enjoyed hers. I opted for chicken curry which appeared very tasty, but I soon discovered that the chicken was uncooked and still bloody. There is no way, given our personal experience, that I could recommend this trip.

After 8 days of relaxation at the Tanjung Aru, it was off to the Airport for a long flog back to UK via KL. We opted for the early morning (0605) flight and a word of warning. We booked the hotel transport, which was less hassle than relying on a taxi. Firstly we were charged double the rate quoted (early morning and "out of hours") and were told that we needed to be at the airport 2 hrs. before our flight. We arrived on the dot, only to find that check in didn't open until 1 1/2 hours prior to the flight and that security didn't open until 1 hour before (at 5 am) - as there are no facilities open in the terminal, we could have done with the extra hour in bed!

Nevertheless, it was a good flight to KL with a light breakfast served. Spicy, but hot and welcome! Our bags were checked all the way through to LHR so a simple and quick jaunt through departure facilities (including immigration) at KLIA, a short wait for our LHR flight - immediate boarding and then, joy of joys all facilities, including lighting were in full working order on the flight. We had 3 seats between the two of us, the food was very good, the service very attentive and it was by far the best economy flight, ever, on Malaysian long haul. Result!

We landed 15 minutes late, and it was almost another hour until our baggage arrived (following lengthy and slow queues at T4 immigration). Back to the grey drizzle that is UK.

Overall, it was a good, enjoyable and interesting trip with excellent hotels. Thoroughly recommended as a one-off, but entirely unsure if we would repeat the visit.

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