Experiencing the spa traditions on one of Malaysia’s most highly eco-preserved islands
Borneo seemed to me a destination so beautiful, yet always out of reach somehow. Little did I know that I would be spending the first three months of 2013 on the third biggest island in the world, surrounded by a rainforest over 130 million years old.
My adventures in Borneo started when I visited Brunei in September of last year. And when I returned in December, I made a promise to myself that I would try visit as much of the island as possible before returning back to Europe in the Spring.
One of my first inquisitive thoughts began with wellness in Borneo. With that entire lush green forest ecosystem and an abundance of fauna and flora, I imagined the spa philosophy to distinctly in touch with nature. I decided the best place to find out would be to escape to one of Borneo’s newest boutique resorts in Malaysia– The Gaya Island Resort.
The new eco hotel on the block
Just opened in August of 2012, the hotel is located on Pulau Gaya, the largest of a cluster of five islands that form the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, off the north- east coast of Borneo, close to Kota Kinabalu within the region of Sabah Malaysia. From Brunei, it’s only a 35-minute plane journey, so I didn’t need to travel far to experience my spa escapism.
Mangroves and spa bliss
When I arrived after by 15-minute boat ride from harbour, I was instantly captivated by the island’s tranquil aura and the therapeutic shades of green vegetation swaying softly in the light breeze. It’s hard to imagine that the conservation area covers 15sq km of untouched dense rainforest and boasts the best coral and un-spoilt beaches in the entire park, just all on one island.
The resort’s spa village, nestled between the intertwining mangroves, feels as if it belongs within the nature of the island. Designed in local Sabah style, the interiors are contemporary with a simplistic touch – shades of brown and beige contrasting beautifully with the surrounding green rainforest.
My spa experience began in the pre-treatment lounge where I was served a refreshing elixir made with guava, lime, pineapple, star anise and a splash of chilli, along with a cold towel to refresh myself. Although humidity levels on the island are generally high at around 80%, I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable with the heat. It was more a hydrating feeling like when you spray Evian water mist on your face.
The spa concept in Malaysia has a very interesting mélange of cultures due to its historical past with Indian and Chinese traditions. Nethertheless, the essence unites to one philosophy – to restore balance to the body and soul.
Indigenous healing traditions
I was greeted by my therapist, a Malay local, who led me to one of the verandas to begin my first part of the treatment. My feet were washed with a combination of fresh ginger, chili and salt – ingredients frequently used in Sabah culture. With a spring in my step (thanks to the chili), we went to the room where I would have my Deru Laut treatment, inspired by locals called Bajaus, indigenous locals who’s lives are dedicated the love of the sea. So imagine yourself in a sunken bath filled with organic seaweed, a rich collagen plant full of enzymes and vitamins, and your face coated with extract of sea pearls. There seemed to be no doubt in my mind that all of these natural ingredients were going to do wonders for my skin.
The final part of my treatment involved a rhythmical massage called rolling waves, releasing the tension away from my rock-hard muscles using hand pressure that I had not experienced before. By using the forearm and knuckles, I could feel my body slowing falling into a peaceful slumber. With the healing sound of the waves gently washing up onto the sand, and the wildlife in the rainforest playing its sundown musical repertoire, I had never felt so rejuvenated. You can’t get more distinctly Borneo than that!
The nearest airport is Kota Kinabalu airport (BKI) and takes approximately 45-1hour to reach Gaya Island. Air Asia, Dragon Air, Royal Brunei and Malaysian Airlines, KLM, Etihad all fly into Kota Kinabalu Airport.
Spa Village Gaya Island Resort: Palau Gaya, Tunko Abdul Rahman Marine Park, 8800 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, East Malaysia
Tel: +60 18 939 1100
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, Gaya Island Resort, Kuta Kinabalu