Saturday, March 29, 2014

Gaya island off Sabah is beguiling


FROM the deck of a speeding motor boat scuttling along at 25 knots, I saw Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, growing fainter every second until it finally blended in with the surrounding colours of blue, green and turquoise, like an artist mixing paints – only this time, it’s made by nature’s exquisite “hands”.

I was in this vast expanse that lies between 6°N and 116°E of the equator once before, two Septembers ago.

Lingering in my memory are the trips I had made to the stilt houses of the sea gypsies, and the murky waters of the Kinabatangan river.

Then there were the perilous treks along the war memorial trail that often led to uncharted jungles, and encounters with strange creatures as well as listening to stories about head-hunters and blowpipes.

Although Borneo is mountainous with impenetrable areas of rainforest, just a 15-minute boat ride off the coast of Kota Kinabalu lies Pulau Gaya.

The Sabahan captain, who couldn’t have been more than 20 years old, directed our attention to a swarm of bright multi-coloured clown and parrot fish that glistened like jewels under the midday sun as our boat approached the jetty.

Arriving in Pulau Gaya, I found myself surrounded by lush ancient rainforest, and the South China Sea beyond.

On my left, were verdant foliages under a cerulean sky and, just over the horizon, a stunning silhouette of the highest mountain in Malaysia – Gunung Kinabalu.

We had booked a canopy villa in the relatively new Gaya Island Resort. The structure exudes a tribal vibe of the indigenous Kadazan, Dusun and Dayak people.

Perched atop a hill, one can enjoy a view of the rainforest from there.

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