Thursday, January 14, 2016

Hotel insider: Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and Spa, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

The welcome

At Kota Kinabalu, the closest airport, I’m met at arrivals by a red-uniformed Shangri-La staff member, who guides me to the waiting transfer car, equipped with Wi-Fi, chocolate and peanuts. All are welcome, because I arrive at rush hour, which means the 30-kilometre trip takes 90 minutes. It’s scenic, and the welcome at the hotel’s Ocean Wing is polished. Check in is fast.

The neighbourhood

The 499-room resort is on 162 hectares on a promontory north of Kota Kinabalu. It’s away from the city sprawl, and backs onto a beautiful mangrove swamp, the largest in Malaysian Borneo. It’s well-located for trips to Mount Kinabalu, especially for recovering after the climb. The beach, comprising most of Dalit Bay, is large, sweeping and reasonably wild, though the dark-coloured sand means the seawater isn’t clear. The resort’s orangutan sanctuary, on one side of the resort in coastal jungle, works with the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

The scene

It’s a large resort split into two sections, the Garden Wing, geared towards families, and the newer Ocean Wing, which has a more-adult, exclusive atmosphere. Despite the titles, all rooms face the sea and a large, landscaped area in between, which contains four swimming pools and seven bars and restaurants. The main buildings rise to six storeys, but the mostly open-air design makes everything feel relaxing and spacious. There’s a golf course and country club at the back. Although the beach is technically public, it feels private. Most other guests are Asian or European.

The room

My room is on the fourth floor of the four-block Ocean Wing, which was completed last year, and now contains 173 rooms. The standard rooms here are exceptionally large: 90 square metres, with a huge outdoor terrace containing a hot tub, a spacious bedroom with work and dressing areas, and big bathroom. Everything works and feels fresh; the mostly beige-and-cream colour scheme is pleasantly neutral.