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The Best of Kota Kinabalu – City Guide

Kota Kinabalu is usually a stop over for travelers who are exploring greater Borneo, but this city is packed with culture, character and charm. Extend your stopover to experience the unassuming…

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Kota Kinabalu is usually a stop over for travelers who are exploring greater Borneo, but this city is packed with culture, character and charm. Extend your stopover to experience the unassuming beauty it has to offer. This comprehensive guide is ideal for newbies to KK and families looking for a short vacation.

To read the digital magazine, head over to: http://bit.ly/kk_goingplaces

For the online version of the guide: http://www.goingplacesmagazine.com/story/city-on-the-move

Note: A quick amendment to one of the points of interests at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort & Spa. If you’re planning on catching a glimpse of the orang utans, head over to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park instead. The hotel’s Orang Utan Rehabilitation Programme has successfully come to a close and the great apes no longer roam the nature reserve. The 64-acre nature reserve, however, is still a fantastic place to explore the wild!

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Sabah: Sun, Sea & Spas

If you’re a first-time traveler to beautiful Borneo, this is your quintessential tropical island. Beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and an endless supply of fresh coconuts. As with…

If you’re a first-time traveler to beautiful Borneo, this is your quintessential tropical island. Beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and an endless supply of fresh coconuts. As with all holidays, especially beach holidays, it isn’t quite complete without some pampering.

I visited Mandara Spa at Sutera Harbour Resort, a beautiful spa with sweeping views of the South China Sea. The spa’s lobby opens up to an airy lounge with cascading water pools and a spiral stairway leading up to individual spa suites. The wooden interior immediately brings on a cosy feeling.

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Warm ginger tea was served with a cold face towel scented with peppermint oil. A refreshing start to my pampering session. The spa’s signature massage is the Mandara Massage, four-hand massage. Despite being a spa addict, this was my first time having 20 fingers on my body at the same time.

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The four-hand massage is akin to ballroom dancing, if I may say. It requires a great deal of teamwork and practice. Both therapists massaged me with oil from my back to my feet with smooth and deep motions that are perfectly synchronised. I was quite amazed at how in-synced they were. The pressure was equal, the circular motions and long strokes were flawlessly choreographed.   

After doing my back, I was asked to turn over and then with the same technique, I was given the best head and foot massage. To have one highly-skilled therapist massaging my body is bliss, but to have two therapists doing so at the same time is extraordinarily special.

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The rainforest sounds continue to fill the air and I sip on a glass of water signaling the end of the session. I stare out the huge window overlooking the expansive seas with boats bobbing and thought – I can definitely stay here for hours – especially since the spa suite had a wonderful tub offering the grand view.

It was time to leave – but if you’re a spa lover like me – you wished the clock stopped ticking and the blissful surrender will continue. Fortunately, Mandara Spa is offering a special spa membership with “too good to be true” freebies. See the end of this article for more details.*

The pampering wasn’t quite over yet, I was ushered to the neighbouring Chavana Spa at the Pacific Sutera Hotel, the alternative mid-range stay with magnificent views of the sea and a huge family-friendly pool. Chavana’s bright and lively interior is quite different from Mandara. This day-spa is refreshing the moment you enter in with scents of lime and lemongrass infiltrating the air.

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Another first for me – I was about to indulge in their Elemis Pro-Collagen Quartz Lift Facial, an anti-wrinkle facial using Elemis products. The British brand, Elemis is widely known as the leader in anti-ageing skin care products. Top worldwide spas use Elemis products because of its successive positive case studies. So I thought, why not give it a try! When it comes to beauty regimes, I’m very low maintenance. I enjoy the occasional facial but am mostly content with off-the-shelf products, cucumbers for puffy eyes and homemade scrubs.

For an hour and fifteen minutes, I was treated to delicate cleaning, cleansing and scrubbing with soothing movements on my forehead, cheeks and jawline. The lifting facial massage was most relaxing. Finally, a thin layer of mask was applied and then some serum, moisturiser with some essential oils completed the treatment. In between, my therapists gave me a relaxing shoulder and hand massage removing all the knots on my tense shoulders, often caused by bad posture and sitting at the desk for extended hours.

The Chavana Spa offers a range head-to-tow treatments for tired travellers, honeymooners or spa spa addicts like me. Their signature ‘Journey of the Senses’ is a two and a half hour session starting with a foot bath, body scrub, detox sauna, balinese massage and capping it off with an Elemis facial. 

* Mandara Spa membership: For RM399 the package includes 2 complimentary massages, 1 complimentary facial, a 50% discount voucher and a RM75 redemption voucher. Additionally, you receive a 20% discount on all treatments and other discounts throughout the year especially for spa members. Go to Mandara Spa for more details.

Note: The above treatment was offered to me complimentary courtesy of Mandara Spa and Chavana Spa. Thank you for a day of pampering!

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Family Beach Getaway at Nexus Karambunai

The Karambunai coast in Malaysia’s eastern state, Sabah is rich in history with strong ties from her neighbour Brunei. History tells of an ill-fated journey along the coast of Karambunai…

The Karambunai coast in Malaysia’s eastern state, Sabah is rich in history with strong ties from her neighbour Brunei. History tells of an ill-fated journey along the coast of Karambunai resulting in a ship wreck and later an unrecovered ship at the bed of the sea, hence its name ‘Karam’ which means sinking ship and ‘Bunai’ referring to Brunei.

nexus karambunai 1Today Karambunai is home to two local villages and a few notable island resorts, one of which is the massive Nexus Karambunai with an 18-hole perfectly manicured golf course. Situated 45 minutes from Kota Kinabalu’s (KK) airport, the resort has a range of accommodation options suitable for honeymooners, families, groups of friends and even big corporate groups. Away from the KK buzz, Nexus offers the idyllic snappy beach holiday with loads to do around the resort such as water skiing, kayaking and trekking or simply settle into one of the many beach chairs and laze the day away. The beach is private for the resort’s guests’ and my 18-month old son absolutely enjoyed sinking into the sand while the waves lapped on him. Private beaches are quite a luxury for resorts nowadays, especially when it is somewhat of a quiet coast with a backdrop of palm forest and rolling hills.

nexus karambunainexus karambunai 2The hotel’s nature guide, Leroy tells us that there used to be a trail at the end of the beach climbing up the hill, swinging round the jagged cliffs leading up to a vantage point with unobstructed views of the great South China Sea. However, for safety reasons, the trail is no longer accessible. Instead we headed off on another trail into the palm forest just behind the resort. As we entered in, Leroy warned us of mosquitoes. Those blood suckers came in all directions, and the warning was a good caution for preparation. We went in covered with a layer of repellent and was mosquito free. The quiet under grove had plenty of diversity from pitcher plants to the local traditional aphrodisiac, tongkat ali. The trail continued to climb up until we reached Pangiran lookout point. The view was spectacular with nothing but ocean and forest to behold. We descended after 40-mins and returned to the resort by van.

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Arriving back at the entrance of Nexus, I get a sense that the resort’s interior is a reflection of the Malay traditional kampong grandeur. Furnished with dark wood, the high A-framed entrance etched with floral carvings opens to a spacious lobby with a spiral staircase at the end leading to the pool and beach. The rooms have the same rustic Malay traditional design with a minimalist approach.

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Imprinted with the 80’s glory days of big resorts, the Nexus Karambunai has a choice of eight eateries to choose from. Unfortunately, during my visit, two of the main restaurants were closed for refurbishment. Noble House, the resort’s only Chinese restaurant is as Chinese as you can get, with its interiors lined with intricate embroidered-designed wallpaper, hanging lanterns and tall slender wooden furniture with circular marble top tables. Food at the Noble House is uncompromised, with the freshest seafood coming from the coasts, the menu offers a range of famous Chinese dishes such as herbal soups accompanied with fresh seafood, Peking Duck wrapped in rice paper rolls and dim sum.

Perhaps what I appreciated most about the resort was the friendly staff. They were at our service anytime of the day with a big smile and a hand across their chest as a gesture of welcome and respect. Stepping into Nexie Club, their indoor kids recreation area, I get a sense that many little people have stepped into the room busying their hands with arts and craft, watching cartoons and listening to stories. The murals on the wall suggests that the resort has had at least two decades of visitors streaming in – donald duck, lion king and mickey mouse.

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Back in the room, our retreat continued. Our Ocean View Room boasts of spanning sea views along the coast lined with swaying pine and coconut trees. The spacious room with wood panelled flooring has undergone some maintenance but still manage to maintain its simplistic charm with every bit of modern facility needed for a comfortable stay. Vacationing at the Nexus reminded me of days when my family retreated on beach holidays to Penang and Port Dickson, the kind of family friendly resort with expansive ground to explore.

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Grandis, Kota Kinabalu: A City Hotel With A Grand View

With a weekend in Kota Kinabalu (KK) city, I was looking for a hotel that’s close to the city buzz without compromising on KK’s coastal beauty. Grandis Hotel was the…

With a weekend in Kota Kinabalu (KK) city, I was looking for a hotel that’s close to the city buzz without compromising on KK’s coastal beauty. Grandis Hotel was the perfect find and it also happened to be the new kid on the block. Perched along the harbour front, Grandis boasts of sweeping views of the vast South China Sea with the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park Islands dotted in the horizon.tunku abdul rahman islandSince I had just travelled from Battambang, Cambodia’s countryside, I was still recovering from city shock and KK was the perfect place to acclimatize. The hotel is conveniently linked to Suria Sabah, a shopping mall and within walking distance to KK’s famous tourist strip, Gaya Street. On Sunday morning, Gaya Street comes to life with stalls lined up from the front of Jesselton Hotel to the city’s municipal building. Join in the festive atmosphere and shop till you drop. I found vendors selling everything under the sun, from local drinks and food to pets to traditional herbal aphrodisiac! The morning market is also a great place to buy local souvenirs, antique china and all sorts of collectibles.

Gaya street morning market

I explored KK for a day and retired back in the hotel in time for the anticipated sunset. I had gotten word from some local friends that hotel Grandis is the place to watch the sun go down. The swimming pool with an open deck offers unobstructed views of the ocean and the comfortable circular pool beds are ideal for lounging. The sundown show was nothing less than spectacular as the sky turned amber and slowly merged into the grey seas.

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Breakfast the next morning was at hotel’s Rosea Café with ceiling to floor windows overlooking the ocean. The modern interior of the café is made more contemporary with a centrepiece of hanging bulbs atop a wooden bench table and boxed stools around. The breakfast spread boasts of local and international flavours and the food offered was exceptionally fresh.

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I meandered to the Piano Lounge for some quiet contemplation after a heavy brekkie and found the lounge to be the ideal solitude. Decked with classy embroidered arm chairs and dainty coffee tables, plush sofas and sleek modern lamps, the lounge felt just like the kind of living room you can stay all day in. I imagined dawdling over tea with some friends while the pianist played at the grand piano.

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The weekend in KK was sublime bliss, with a tinge of city life and a whole lot of comfort, thanks to finding the right hotel in the heart of the city.

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