Monday, January 19, 2009

Borneo: Fiona Bruce is wild about Sabah


It was only when I reached Borneo that I realised it's not actually a country but an island in the South China Sea, belonging to three countries: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. I knew I should have paid more attention in geography lessons. I was heading with family in tow to Sabah, one of the two Malaysian states in Borneo. It's about the size of Ireland and has tropical jungles, caves, beaches and former headhunting tribes – we were in search of adventure.

You'll probably have to stop en route at Singapore airport as there's no direct flight. Despite the excitement of flying on Singapore Airlines' new A380 (seats like sofas) we came down to earth in both senses of the phrase at Changi airport at 1am our time. After an 11-hour flight we now faced a six-hour wait until the next flight to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. But Changi is an airport like no other, and as well as an open-air swimming pool and a cinema, it also has hotel rooms in the terminal for people in transit. After four hours of sleep in a clean, air-conditioned room, we were ready for the next leg. Forty Singapore dollars excellently spent.

Once we touched down in Kota Kinabalu our hotel was about 40 minutes' drive away. The Shangri-La is situated on a wide sweep of beach with a jungle and nature reserve at one end, home to some orphaned orang-utans. Our suite faced the sea with a huge bath on the balcony. Every night, the staff would come and fill it with various fragrant potions, flower petals – even rubber ducks if requested. And every night all four of us piled in and watched the sun go down from our scented tub. Even the room could be given its own fragrance from an aromatherapy menu – we worked our way through the lot, though I'm not sure I could tell the difference.

It's a huge hotel, though the Ocean wing, where we were staying, feels small and intimate. It has its own pool where you can have various massages on your sun lounger and although it's the smarter part of the hotel, it wasn't snooty where children were concerned. There was a lifeguard in attendance and the children could splash and make as much noise as they liked. The staff got to know our names after a few days, and by the end of a fortnight we felt as if we'd stayed in a small family-run hotel but with amazing service and amenities.

Continue reading (incl. pic) at: Borneo: Fiona Bruce is wild about Sabah
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