Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and the hub of tourism in Malaysian Borneo. We were looking for a holiday that offered a warm climate to relax with a touch of adventure to keep us busy, and we certainly found that and more at the idyllic resort, Bunga Raya.
Named after the Hibiscus flowers that encircle this private hideaway, Bunga Raya is the local Malay name, which means ‘the flower of celebration’, and is a symbol of beauty, courage and strength – and it’s not hard to see why. Bunga Raya is a naturally beautiful, jungle resort by the sea blossoming with tropical fauna and flora at every angle. A hidden private retreat as languid and sultry as the low-lying mists that surround the hills, which house the luxurious stilt structured tree houses. Even as you approach the gorgeous jetty by boat, the view is mesmerizing, and I knew instantly this was going to be a memorable vacation.
Sitting back on our spacious timber deck, on rattan lounge chairs overlooking the bay, the sounds of the jungle are immediately apparent, and it’s quickly clear that we are in fact in the jungle. Despite the many varieties of tropical bird squawks, insect hums and animal chatter it doesn’t feel noisy, but instead pleasantly relaxing and somewhat exciting. We’re told not to feed the animals or leave food on the decks, as there are wild boars, lizards and monkeys around, but if you read on further, we felt we had to test the limits just a little bit. I feel like Robinson Crusoe with an Amex Card and this family holiday blends the perfect balance of adventure with luxury travel combined – my ideal type of holiday!
One of the reasons we booked Bunga Raya was that it was one of the only places we could find that had a 2-bedroom accommodation, which for a family of five is one of the high considerations on our list when we travel. We stayed in the 2-bedroom deluxe treetop villa, which was spacious and roomy with a huge timber deck to accommodate our three children. It was such a treat for the family to feel like we were in our own ‘house’ rather than separate hotel rooms.
We were of course not supposed to leave any food out on the deck, but we couldn’t help ourselves and placed a few pieces of fruit on the railings one morning and sat and waited to see if monkeys appeared. It took no more than five minutes, and there was rustling in the trees, and then the ‘Daddy Monkey’ came straight onto the deck without a care in the world and grabbed some pineapple.
It wasn’t long before the rest of his family appeared, and before we knew it, we had five or six monkeys all on the roof and on the deck grabbing some fruit. We kept our distance for safety, and then they left almost as quickly as they came, but it was an absolute highlight of the trip for my kids and such a privilege to be so up close and personal with them in their own habitat.One tip I would advise is not to leave anything out on the balcony like clothes or sunglasses while they are there. We had been told there were stories of them taking sunglasses and shorts off into the jungle and one even picked up my teacup, drank the tea and took off with the teacup!
We often look for places, which do offer a kids club or kids activities program to keep our children entertained and well, keep my husband and I sane. But I can honestly say, our kids were never bored, and there was so much to do on the Island that they never missed a human-made water-slide or fun park.
They had the chance to learn about the marine environment and play ‘marine biologist’ at the ‘MERC’, Marine Ecology Research Centre located on the sister Resort, Gayana, which is a short boat trip around the bay. It was a great opportunity to boat across to the other resort and check it out and spend some time there for lunch or dinner as well.
We adopted some coral, which will be replanted once it grows big enough and we were taught a lot about what this resort is doing to rehabilitate and save the natural marine environment. The passion by the staff and this resort on their work with large clams and coral in the region is to be commended, and you can read more about MERC’s program at www.merc-gayana.com
This resort offers all the normal activities you grow to expect on an island including, sailing, snorkeling, diving, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, and a gorgeous infinity edged pool (which for argument’s sake, is actually a real infinity edge pool you’ll want to swim in that looks like it does in the photos on the website). Too many times I’ve been drastically disappointed in a resorts real-life version of an ‘infinity-edged pool’ resembling more of a suburban-backyard family pool with a rock drop-off.
And saying that, the beach was clean, the sand super white and the water was amazingly crystal clear, so much so that I dropped our Go-pro while stand up paddling (needless to day my husband was not impressed!) and we were able to retrieve it because the water was so clear. But if it’s getting back to nature you’re seeking, Kota Kinabalu will give you a large dose of it. We went on a jungle trek with a local guide, who pointed out all sorts of flora and fauna, including a lovely looking green snake, which apparently would kill you in seven minutes if you were bitten.. comforting!
Our kids loved the canopy walk in the treetops and the zip-line flying fox gave a new meaning to being ‘high in the trees’. It was enjoyable and fantastic to give our kids a bit of adventure in the jungle and perspective on just how high the trees were.
The Town and Market Shopping
It’s an easy boat trip back to Jesselton Jetty where we spent a day exploring Kota Kinabalu town, and while it’s not overly big, it was good to see the variety of different markets around. We spent some time exploring the main town markets called the Gaya Street Sunday Fair markets as well as the food markets and commodity markets on the waterfront. I always find it’s the best way to see the locals doing their ‘thing’ and extremely educational for my kids to see what local food is on offer and see how locals sell and trade their wares.
One of the main reasons most travellers come to Malaysia is to see the orangutans in their natural environment. I can tell you it’s worth the plane fare alone to look at these guys in action. There’s a couple of places to see the orangutans in Malaysia and Borneo, and it depends on whether you’d like to see them in the wild or in one of the rehabilitation centers. We would have loved to go and see them in the wild but time didn’t permit so we went to one of the closest reserves from town, which is located on the grounds of The Shangri-la Hotel.
Another more significant reserve, which is further away, is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (details below). The Shangri-la Hotel is about 45 minutes drive from town, so if you’re going out for a day trip, you may as well spend the day there or break up your trip and stay overnight as it’s an excellent hotel. These little guys are so amazing to watch, and cute doesn’t even begin to describe them. Such a fantastic experience to see them in their environment even if we did have to all stand on a viewing platform to see them.
While there is no pumping nightclub, kids club, swim-up bar or glitzy designer outlets close-by, Bunga Raya allows you the freedom to get closer to nature and experience the environment at its best, in a gorgeous and peaceful setting. There are plenty of excellent hotels in Kota Kinabalu, but none will match this place for eco indulgence, privacy and good old-fashioned service.
The staff were lovely, kind and helpful from the grounds people right up to the General Manager who took it upon himself to chat to the guests each morning at breakfast and generally seem to take an interest in who the guests were and where they had come from, something you seldom see in resorts anymore. There have not been many places I’ve stayed at that I have honestly said I could come back to, but this place is like chicken soup, good for the soul!
Other things to do in KK
Hike Mount Kinabalu
Scuba Dive Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
Visit the Monsopiad Cultural Village
View wildlife at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park