Hot spots: Gaya Island Resort, Kota Kinabalu
What is it? Set in the protected aquatic playground of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Gaya Island Resort - off the northern tip of Borneo - nestles in Malohom Bay, among ancient rainforest, mangroves and shady acacias. A mere 15-minute cruise from the capital of Sabah state, Kota Kinabalu - a hazy mirage across a sun-polished bay - this is nonetheless a tropical island fix that feels a million miles from anywhere.
What is the accommodation like? Employing local materials and Sabahan architectural elements, including timber shingle roofs, 120 one-bedroom villas (right centre), each measuring 500 sq ft, blend with the environment like welcoming cocoons. Sliding doors lead to a spacious bedroom (bottom right) with darkened timber, textured creamy walls and spicy decorative notes. Outside, tradi-tional daybeds on private verandahs are angled with the view in mind.
What about the food? Overlooking the resort's shimmering infinity pool, Feast Village is where self-discipline takes a hike. Its open kitchen showcases global gastronomy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Castaway wannabes can test the waters a five-minute boat ride away, in Tavajun Bay, with a picnic lunch among the driftwood, and pre-dinner drinks on a sun-set cruise aboard private yacht Lumba Lumba provide the perfect lubricant for bodice-ripping romance, to be followed by grown-up fine dining at Fisherman's Cove. The inevitable gourmet guilt can be later assuaged by kayaking, paddle-boarding and gym workouts.
Can you see the wildlife up close? Having exchanged New York City's urban jungle for the real deal, marine biologist Scott Mayback conducts a daily snorkelling trip, part of which introduces visitors to ways of minimising the human impact on fragile coral reefs. A resident naturalist guides visitors through the rainforest's rich botanic bounty on nature walks and has been slowly gaining the confidence of a troupe of proboscis monkeys. A HK$50 conservation fee is levied on guests for each night of their stay, in support of Sabah Parks' preservation work.
Is there anything noteworthy about the spa? Pass the repellant: I'm on the outdoor deck of my spa sanctuary (left) and there's nothing between me and the incoming insects. Raised above the mangrove forest to minimise environmental impact, the resort's Spa Village offers a rich tapestry of local treatments and ancient healing practices. The service is unstinting and only the freshest local ingredients are used in rice scrubs and masks inspired by the traditional lotions and potions used by Sabah's Kadazandusun women.
What's the bottom line? Villas start at about HK$1,600 a night. Speed boat transfers from Sutera Harbour to Gaya Island cost extra.
Gaya Island Resort is in Malohom Bay, Pulau Gaya, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, East Malaysia. Call +60 88 271100 or visit www.gayaislandresort.com