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Sabah 'The Land Below The Wind'

Author: Brian W Fisher (More Trip Reviews by Brian W Fisher)
Date of Trip: November 2011

orangutan sabah borneoMount Kinabalu, at 13,455 feet above sea level, is the world's twentieth highest mountain. Its peak often pokes its head above the clouds whilst its lower parts are shrouded with mist from the surrounding rain forest, which, in turn, rise and mingle into spectacular cloud formations.

Sited in Sabah, Borneo, it draws both novice and experienced rock climbers from many countries, challenging them to tackle its formidable traverses and faces. This author was much too old to join those eager to try, those folk who'd awoken at three a.m., donned their gear and in the tropical temperature, began their quest to reach the summit (where numbing cold awaits) and return to base before what was left of the day's light, turned itself off.

My tour of Sabah was to be much less strenuous. I wanted to witness and savour some of the other attractions that country could offer 'Mr and Mrs Average' tourist, wishing to holiday under the tropical sun and recharge their batteries.

I chose not to fly from the UK via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Kota Kinabalu but via Bangkok and onwards by using Royal Brunei Airlines. Take-offs and landings were on time and the flight was comfortable enough, although more thought could have gone into the choice and standard of food on offer.

Arriving after dark and facing a 30 kilometre road transfer north to the hotel I'd booked, the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort, I did a fast check-in, showered for a bit longer than usual and flopped into bed.

It wasn't until the following morning, that I took time to inspect my room and its facilities. Having spent many thousands of nights in hotels across the globe, I have to confess that this was the best I'd ever come across -- a bit like my description of Mount Kinabalu -- 'it pokes its head above the clouds'.

The room itself was large (as was the bed). Double sliding doors led to its balcony. Not the usual type with a small table, a couple of hard-backed chairs and not enough room to swing the proverbial cat - but one sporting a huge (6ft x 5ft) glazed bathtub, an even bigger lounger bed complete with scatter cushions, a table, a pair of rattan easy chairs, electrically operated privacy screens and an overhead fan that actually did what its designer had wanted it to. Sunset views were spectacular indeed.

What came as a real surprise, was when one of the 'front office' staff introduced me to the room's facilities. She asked, "Please select a preference from the Pillow and the Perfume Menus and I will instruct the housekeeper accordingly."

Oops! This was a new one on me. I admit now, to having asked her to explain?

"Yes, sir," she replied, "you have a choice of bed pillows...Full Feather Down - or Dunlopillo - or Memory Foam - and whatever kind of aromatic smell you would prefer in your room overnight."

Pretty unusual menus eh? I opted for the Feather Down and a room permeation of Jasmine. Brilliant!

As to the hotel's dining options, I was even more impressed. Housed in separate buildings and sited in various areas of the grounds, each catered for guest's preferences -- Malay specialities -- Japanese Sushi -- Western a la carte -- Indian -- Italian -- Chinese -- American and any combination requested.
I never heard a single complaint about food quality or presentation -- no wingeing Poms -- no wise-cracking Aussies -- no stern Germanic frowns.

The hotel's staff outnumbered guests by three to one and that delivered impeccable service, no matter in what area a guest happened to be -- by one of the three pools - near the beach - working-out in the gym - partaking in a morning routine of Tai Chi, or lounging on one's own balcony sipping a G & T.

For the golf fanatics, the hotel's minibus can deposit them outside the entrance to the Dalit Bay Country Club (belonging to the hotel) in less than three minutes. The 18 hole course is sited among the most beautiful scenery, the backdrop to its signature hole for example, being where the azure blue of the sea, meets the gently flowing green of a river -- truly stunning!

The Director of Golf (and head coach) Aaron Johnson -- an Australian, is an ex professional. Having witnessed at close quarters, his style, manner and demeanour, I can vouch for the comments made to me by players of all categories. Aaron prides himself on being able to offer the absolute novice, the perfect way in which to fully enjoy even lesson number one. Yours truly just watched -- not wanting to demonstrate a life-long total lack of hand and eye coordination.

What else? Well, three swimming pools are on offer. A large (three section) one to the front of the hotel's Ocean Wing, another of equal size but furnished with an array of water slides for adults and children alike, near the Garden Wing, and a smaller (semi-hidden) one shaded with an overhead translucent sheet and sited in a manicured lawn for those who seek seclusion.

A fully equipped gym with expert staff, is large enough for the most nervous of patrons to exercise without being constantly overlooked by the more adventurous and pose conscious -- those with bulging biceps and a rippling ribcage.

There's mini golf, tennis and water sports available too. Constantly evident was space -- lots of it -- in fact acres of it. This meant, that whatever activity (or otherwise) one chose to indulge in, there was a feeling of freedom.

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