Hotel Highlights

  • Beach meets jungle location, only 15 minutes from Kota Kinabalu
  • Privacy and space, with unpretentious, rustic style
  • Fabulous range of land- and water-based activities, from trekking to snorkelling and diving

Overview

A where-beach-meets-jungle boutique hotel, Bunga Raya in Sabah, Borneo, feels like your own private tropical idyll, only without the long haul. With its sugary sand and wide waterfront vistas, this romantic retreat on Gaya Island feels far from the real world, yet you'll arrive from the airport in only 30 minutes. Villas are stylish and simple, with access straight onto the sand or into the rainforest.

Smith Extra

Here's what you get for booking Bunga Raya with us:

A one-hour guided jungle trek, kayaking or snorkelling session for two; GoldSmiths also receive a 45-minute spa treatment for two on arrival day

Facilities

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Bunga Raya Hotel – Sabah – Malaysia

Need To Know

Rooms

48 villas, including two- and three-bedroom suites.

Check–out

11am, but flexible subject to availability and a 50 per cent room rate charge until 6pm; after 6pm, you'll need to pay for an extra night. Check in, 2pm.

Rates

Double rooms from $407.76 (MYR1,321), excluding tax at 6 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 10% per booking on check-out.

More details

Rates include full breakfast, scheduled deluxe speedboat transfers from/to Jesselton Point Wharf, all non-motorised watersports and entrance to Gayana Eco Resort's Marine Ecology Research Centre.

Also

'Bunga raya' is the Malay Bahasa word for 'hibiscus', the country's national flower, and each villa is named after a different variety. There are 80 species of hibiscus planted here, alongside other herbs and flowers in the gardens. Accessible by suspended bridge, Solace Spa also draws on indigenous flower ingredients, with a natural water feature in each of the foliage-fringed treatment rooms and jungle sounds to lull you into relaxation.

At the hotel

Spa, gym, watersports including PADI scuba diving, snorkelling and kayaking, beach volleyball, Clubhouse with pool table, jungle canopy walk, library with books, DVDs and board games, 24-hour butler service, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, free minibar (excluding wine and champagne), Thann toiletries. Plunge Pool Villas sport espresso machines and private pools with balcony decks; Tree House Villas have a private plunge pool and outdoor Jacuzzi.

Our favourite rooms

‘Saucer White’, aka Plunge Pool Villa 5, has prime position; you can step from your bed into the plunge pool, and then it’s a short stroll to the beach. The calm, dark-wood interior is simply furnished and the individually printed batik ceiling and wall hangings add warmth and a splash of Malay style. Your bathroom is cool, grey textured slate with his and hers sinks, a rainwater shower and a deep triangle-shaped tub. For a complete hideaway, check into one of the Tree House Villas reached by a jungle walkway high up among the tree tops. Each boasts splendid sea views as well as monkey sightings.

Poolside

Offering serene ocean views, the gorgeous 25-metre-long infinity pool will keep casual dippers and serious swimmers equally happy. It's set in front of the resort's Koi restaurant, handy for ordering snacks and cool drinks poolside.

Packing tips

A no-nonsense mosquito spray and high-factor sunscreen; Borneo is equatorial and the UV rays are very strong. If you’re planning to trek, remember hardy shoes or trainers. There aren’t any shops on the island, although Kota Kinabalu's malls are only a short boat ride away.

Also

Smoking is allowed on balconies only. Budding marine biologists can book a session at nearby sister resort Gayana's Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC) to help out with coral replanting.

Children

Bunga Raya is very child-friendly although the number of family rooms is limited, so you’ll never feel overrun by kids. Baby cots are for free and extra beds for older children cost RM350 a night. Staff can babysit for RM35 an hour.

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Eco‐friendly

Using locally sourced materials, Bunga Raya is built around the natural environment, so don't be surprised to spy trees growing out of rooms. The hotel recycles avidly, participates in local beach and coral restoration schemes, and even serves seasonal seafood from its own fish farm.

Weddings

This property is suitable for weddings

More details

Food & Drink

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Bunga Raya Hotel – Sabah – Malaysia

Hotel Restaurant

Occupying the ground floor of the Clubhouse, the Koi restaurant is a spacious, open-sided dining room offering a choice of pool or koi-pond and waterfall views. As with your villa, the timber and stone interior is kept simple so you can enjoy the natural surroundings. The overall effect is one of casual elegance, with sweeping staircases and classy furniture hinting at colonial influences. The menu is a well thought out selection of Malay, Chinese, western and fusion food – our tip is to go Asian – with highlights such as steamed fish and grilled tiger prawns with miso mayonnaise. Informal, oceanfront eatery Pantai Grill serves barbecue treats, seafood platters and snacks down on the beach, and is a romantic pick at sunset.
 

Hotel Bar

Next to Koi, casual Latitude Bar serves up refreshing cocktails, spirits and beers along with fresh juices and smoothies throughout the day. It’s a popular spot at sundown, when your first drink is free. Nurse a classic whisky sour at one of the high bar tables or sit on the chilled-out deck area by the pool. Bunga Raya’s owner is a passionate wine buff, and oenophiles will delight in the award-winning wine cellar, considered to be one of the best stocked in Malaysia (the team are also working on a Cognac and single-malt collection). Pull up a rancher chair in the underground Wine Cave by the koi pond and enjoy a private wine tasting or savour a cigar on the patio.
 

Last orders

The Koi restaurant and Pantai Grill both serve lunch from 11.30am–2.30pm and dinner from 6pm–10pm. Latitude Bar plies you with drinks from 5pm–10pm.

Room service

An edited version of the Koi's main menu is available from 7am–10pm and private dining can also be arranged.

Smith Insider

Dress code

Relaxed but stylish resort-wear. Bear in mind Malaysia is a Muslim country so guys should avoid walking into the bar topless in board shorts, and women should opt for subtle over sexy.

Top table

Venture off menu and let Chef Lung prepare a special dining experience for you. Choose Malay or western food, or a combination of the two, and he’ll concoct a memorable feast served by a butler in a private overwater pavilion by the beach.

Local Guide

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Bunga Raya Hotel – Sabah – Malaysia
Eat, drink, see, do: local favourites and more…

Local restaurants

Given its offshore location, Bunga Raya isn’t surrounded by restaurants and nightlife. If you’re craving excitement, hop on the boat to mainland state capital Kota Kinabalu, which is cosmopolitan if lacking in charm; the last boat back is usually around 11pm. The Filipino market, next to Centre Point on Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, is popular with locals in the know. Skip the shopping and head straight to the food area, where you can pick your seafood, watch it being prepared and eat it Filipino-Malay style with the locals. Expats and Malays flock to Brass Monkey Café & Bar (No 1–0, Lorong Lintas Plaza 4, Lintas Plaza, Kota Kinabalu; +60 88 261543) for its friendly atmosphere and good, reliable western food. It's open from 5pm until midnight daily, or until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays. Headed up by chef Salvatore Marcello, Grazie (Lot 2–1–30G, Ground Floor, Level 1, Wawasan Plaza, Kota Kinabalu; +60 19 821 6936) is as authentic as it gets for an Italian in Malaysia. Indulge your carb fetish with fresh pastas and pizzas or tuck into house specialities such as carré d’agnello (rosemary lamb). Busy, bustling and illuminated with strip lighting, Seri Selera Kampung Air (Sedco Square, Kampung Air; +60 88 210 400) is by no means stylish, but it is the place to go for Malay, Chinese and other Asian cuisines. Open daily from 3pm–2am, it's KK’s official open-air food court, and boasts an array of casual restaurants and food stalls.
 

+ Enlarge
Jungle-strewn Gaya Island

Bunga Raya

Polish Bay, Gaya Island, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, 88000

Set on reef-fringed Gaya Island, just off the north coast of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, Bunga Raya is within easy reach of state capital Kota Kinabalu and its nearby airport. Gaya is the biggest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman marine park.

Planes

Part of Bunga Raya’s appeal lies in its proximity to Kota Kinabalu International Airport, eight kilometres south-west of Sabah's capital city Kota Kinabalu; the speedy transfer time from touch-down to tropical beach is a dream after a longhaul flight and makes it an easy weekend getaway from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Hong Kong. The airport is the hub of Borneo, receiving regular flights from across Malaysia as well as Singapore, Brunei, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Korea. There are also flights from Australia, Europe, the Americas, South Africa and the Middle East.

Trains

Train services are limited in Sabah, and there are no rail connections from the airport to island-based Bunga Raya.

Automobiles

It’s a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport to Jesselton Point Wharf, jumping-off point for Gaya Island. There are always plenty of taxis.

Other

The boat journey from Jesselton Point Wharf to the hotel on Gaya Island takes 10–15 minutes. Bunga Raya has its own jetty, should you want to moor your own private boat. The resort's helipad means choppers can also land here.

Reviews

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Bunga Raya Hotel – Sabah – Malaysia

Anonymous review

by Jaime Rose Scudamore , Sassy traveller at Sassy Hong Kong

An incredulous look comes over my face. Despite degree credentials and geeky levels of pre-holiday research, I have been unable to shake the image of Borneo as dense jungle solely populated by orangutans. Disembarking at Bunga Raya’s island qui...

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Bunga Raya

Anonymous review by Jaime Rose Scudamore, Sassy traveller

An incredulous look comes over my face. Despite degree credentials and geeky levels of pre-holiday research, I have been unable to shake the image of Borneo as dense jungle solely populated by orangutans. Disembarking at Bunga Raya’s island quickly dispels my illusions. I certainly hadn’t envisaged that the steep tropical forest would simply cease in its tracks and stand in awe of the sandy shore skirting its edges. Mundane beaches, with their monotonous altitudes and sparse vegetation, suddenly lose their glamour. Sunbathing at the foot of virgin jungle, however, feels like a Bear Grylls-worthy adventure.

With my orangutan preconceptions overturned, we spend our morning soaring among the trees via canopy walks and precariously strung ziplines, not unlike a pair of monkeys. Soon I’m fantasising that I’m Tarzan, swinging vine by vine, but the fact that we’re then driven around the resort by obliging staff on golf buggies dilutes my tales of hardy physical thrills. The spoils of luxury just keep intruding on my daring escapades…

Blending into the foliage, Bunga Raya has expertly immersed its pared-back rooms in their natural surroundings. Forgoing the convenience of a Plunge Pool Villa leading straight down to the sea, we opt instead for a more intrepid Deluxe Villa. Perched up among the canopy on the vertiginous hillside, our handcrafted dark-wood room defies treehouse descriptions thanks to indulgent touches. An impossibly large bed offsets the otherwise cavernous space, where electrical gadgets, bathroom niceties and a free minibar await us. I try to convince Mr Smith that bathing in the corner bath, with shutters open onto the trees, is not dissimilar to wallowing in a waterhole. He simply raises an eyebrow. I finally abandon my pretence at roughing it as I don my dressing-gown and recline on our private balcony overlooking the jungle and emerald waters beyond.

Embracing Bunga Raya’s marriage of jungle authenticity and man-made indulgence, we explore the resort. I’m contented ambling along the idyllic jetty hovering above the translucent, still waters spying on fish, but categorically flake when snorkelling as my fear of lurking box-jellyfish sends me scuttling into the nearest kayak, faster that Tarzan chasing Jane. Despite my elevated perch, swarms of sand flies promptly drive me inland to my natural habitat; reclining on a sunlounger, sipping on my free happy-hour cocktail, while gazing over the glistening infinity pool.

Seeking to prove I’m over my water phobia, we opt for a private dinner in a pavilion on the jetty and feast on seafood. Floating above the sea with views of the ascending jungle proves to be as romantic as we hoped and feels more atmospheric than the main restaurant. Our gluttonous appetites are sated by a wood-fired pizza for lunch in the outdoor beach restaurant the next day and the second evening’s beach barbecue serving up a stomach-gratifying range of Malaysian fare.

By day two, I find the perfect balance between activity and luxury. I tough it out by making my own way down to the waves but allow a hotel buggy to take the strain on the way back up. I bathe in the pool (at one point somewhat bizarrely joined by a fully dressed member of staff cleaning it) but dawdle along the ocean’s jellyfish-free edge. Employing local staff, embracing native materials and bringing pampering to this remote part of paradise means that Bunga Raya’s soul is inextricably linked to its authentic roots. A few deviations from the five-star norm fail to detract from the hotel’s rustic charm and instead heighten what makes it unique. A barefoot-luxe resort miraculously in tune with this extraordinary location caught between the beach and bush.

After a weekend of relaxation, interspersed with fanciful visions of myself as a fearless adventurer, I board the speedboat back to Kota Kinabalu on the main island under my new pseudonym; Jane, Hong Kong’s very own urban-jungle explorer.

 

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