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Shangri-La's Ria Rasa Resort in Sabah

EXPATS here in Malaysia are really spoiled for choice when it comes to outstanding resorts. Always intrigued by Sabah, I’d been reading up on this exotic State for the six years we’d been in Malaysia. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to go there. TRANSLATION: Four kids under age eight. However, when the equation changed to four kids under 17, Jack and I decided to reward ourselves basically just for keeping everyone alive up to this point.

Going to Sabah was a given and even on the flight over from KL, the family was in “Holiday Mode,” and were actually chatting to one another just like real humans do. It was truly a stunning sight to behold – as was our first look at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort. From the moment we arrived we all felt we were somewhere very special. The awesome beauty all around us created an atmosphere where our overriding emotion, and I know it sounds corny, but was one of happiness.

Rasa Ria actually means taste of happiness in Malay and we all agreed (another first in our family) that the name was perfect. The Resort has a magical setting: a glorious long white sandy beach fringing the South China Sea and cradled by a jungle headland with a backdrop of Sabah’s icon, Mount Kinabalu. The peace and utter beauty of Rasa Ria, where the chorus of birds mingles with soothing sounds of the sea, exert their spell on visitors. Even our four-year-old was mesmerized. There is a deceptive simplicity about Rasa Ria, where all the facilities one would expect of a luxury resort are available and everything is supremely comfortable, yet never grandiose. Being shown around on our first day there, I could well appreciate why this Resort had been the recipient of many prestigious international awards, particularly for their attentive and genuinely friendly service. The staff even seemed to not only like our children, but to even enjoy them!

We woke up from our first night to the symphony of birds living in the 64 acre Nature Reserve, which is found on the headland at one end of the resort. Dennis at the Front Desk explained that the Sabah’s Wildlife Department was impressed by Rasa Ria’s commitment to conservation and now works together with the resort in the rehabilitation of young orangutans, teaching them the skills necessary to return to the wild. In the Nature Reserve, several orangutans can be seen twice a day enjoying a meal of bananas on a platform just a couple of minutes’ walk away from its entrance. They are totally enchanting with their cute antics. (“Is that why you used to call us little monkey’s?” whispered my wide-eyed twelve year old.)

The Nature Reserve not only assists in the rehabilitation of orang-utans but provides a home for other species such as deer, monkeys, pheasants, porcupines, the huge-eyed slow loris, pangolins, pythons and many species of birds, squirrels and bats, as well as rare Borneo orchids and pitcher plants. The kids and I stood at an observation post at the entrance to the reserve and watched an endless array of fascinating creatures including tiny mousedeer’s, pheasants and peacocks.

We did notice that Jack seemed to have vanished. A giggling young staffer informed us he was seen going in the direction of the adjacent Dalit Bay Golf and Country Club. Turns out that it was the first club in Malaysia to be awarded an international certification for its environmental management. The club has also worked towards rehabilitating the mangrove and marshes native to the area, successfully attracting more birds, fish and monitor lizards.

With Dad happily entertained, I discovered there was a plethora of things for me and the kids to do. Rasa Ria diversions are designed for all ages. Younger guests will delight in searching for shells, running wild along the three-kilometre-long beach, sliding down the water into the huge free-for pool, zipping on a flying fox, or playing pirates in a boat “marooned” in a patch of sand with treasure chests nearby. For some quieter moments they can go to the “Kid’s Club, where the children are safely entertained by the resort’s caring staff.

My temptations were many. Should I laze about the pool? Perhaps go horseback riding? Windsurf? Maybe take a hike on a trail through the secondary forest of the Nature Reserve. I opted for an icy beverage and sprawled my untanned self by the pool, opened a long anticipated tacky novel, and immersed myself in the luxurious state of doing absolutely nothing for anyone. Another convenience for families is the mini-mart, where drinks, ranging from milk to wine and beer, snacks and biscuits can be purchased, along with clothing, books and souvenirs. And families wishing to save on laundry bills can use the Laundromat rather than the resort’s laundry service.

With a world class resort like this, we knew any of the dining options for the evening would be excellent. Throughout our stay we managed to frequent all the food outlets. Deserving of special mention is Coast. The natural coastline is joined by Coast, a beachside restaurant where innovative design, stunning views and superb Californian cuisine come together. We had made few rules for the kids on this special vacation, but one of the most important ones was that every evening, Mom and Dad would be left alone to be decadently romantic dining, drinking and dancing the night away at Coast. Not to worry about the kids though, they were more than happy to eat at Peperoni’s Italian Restaurant, the Coffee Terrace, the casual Pool Bar, partake of the evening barbecue which offered some of their favourite hawker food or snack in their rooms.

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Other resort guests told us about the many activities to do outside the resort. Activities which included white-water rafting, trips to downtown Kota Kinabalu, a cycle tour to the village of Tuaran or to a nearby fish farm. The resort’s activity desk could easily arrange all kinds of packages tailored just for us. But you know what? We just couldn’t tear ourselves away from the resort – it was a patch of paradise just too perfect to leave. My family had this wonderful opportunity to come together and just enjoy each other’s company, and that folks, is the best miracle of all!

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