Monday, May 27, 2013

Gaya Island Resort by YTL, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

YTL has long held a reputation for luxurious escapes in lush natural environments around Malaysia. Their latest opening, Gaya Island Resort is no different.

A 15 minute transfer from Kota Kinabalu airport sets you alight at Sutera Harbour. With views of a sapphire sea and envy-invoking ivory yachts, the YTL Lounge is a white bright cool haven from the outside tropical heat. A creamy calamansi sorbet refreshes while you’re seated on couches and the friendly staff organize your check-in. Soon you’re escorted to YTL’s speedboat, and a quick hair tanglingly invigorating ride later you arrive in a Bornean paradise.

Set amongst the lush forest, rather than in place of it, Gaya Island Resort is a model of friendship between the natural and the man-made. Trees protrude through walkways, mangroves encroach on boardwalks and lush gardens frame communal spaces.

While minimum plant life was touched to build the resort, an assertive planting program is in place to regreen the areas that now hold artificial structures. Vines are already making their way across cement walls and up metal supports. Before too long, it will be an extensive expanse of leaves, and villas will resemble floating tree houses ascending the hills.

The core common spaces are at sea level just off the jetty. Open walls entice breezes and, alongside ceiling fans, are the preferred method of cooling. Minimal complexity is evident throughout, freeing the mind from too many details and encouraging appreciation of the island habitat.

The Pool and Bar provide multi layers of refreshment. The upper level sports low tables, lounges and transparent chairs, aside a compact bar with stools and high counters. Dropping down a level are cushioned rectangular platforms protruding just above the water’s surface - perfect for a few hours of lounging and dipping. Descending again is a lap pool complete with swim up bar and, lining the edges are classic white sun umbrellas and deck chairs. It’s as if the designer were planning a tiered theatre, ensuring the whole audience has a clear view of the sea.

Destinations are linked by gardens and guests are enticed to sit in any number of seating configurations along the way. Beginning at the lobby reception, a pillowed lounge stretches from one end of the lobby to the other. Between the pool bar and restaurants, relaxation rooms, fitted with mattresses, cushions and wispy curtains, entice meditation or napping, again with an outlook to the beach. A spiral staircase leads to an open walled library, furnished with low sofa beds, books, fans and more views.

Feast Village, the all day dining location adjoins and is lined with a cage of perpendicular wooden beams softly bent outwards at the middle in a stance of cradling protection. Gentle wind blows through to the international buffet that’s charmingly lit with lanterns made from traditional fishing traps. It’s here that guests linger over breakfast, sipping on freshly brewed coffee and munching on some of the best pastry items in the country.

Up another spiral stairway, Fisherman’s Cove offers fine dining under the stars. Intimate, candlelit tables are separated with gardens and pebbled pathways. Borneo’s sea creatures are deliciously showcased. In efforts towards a more sustainable future, only line caught fish are sourced from local fishermen, reducing the use of nets – which catch all in their way, rather than just the desired species.

Having just over 100 rooms, the food and beverage options are currently limited to these three main restaurants, the Pool Bar and Lounge, Fisherman’s Cove and Feast Village (also a small menu at Tavajun Bay). There has been some discussion however of introducing another restaurant in the future.

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