Often overshadowed by its famous neighbours, Malaysian Borneo offers a secluded escape among lush rainforest and spectacular beaches.
Southeast Asia has long been a go-to destination for Australian travellers, but one place, in particular, has been quietly building a reputation as an unbeatable holiday hotspot.
Malaysian Borneo, also known as Sabah, sits in the north of Borneo, an island split between three countries - Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Less crowded than its famous neighbours like Thailand, visitor numbers are steadily growing in Sabah, with 3.6 million people visiting last year.
It’s served by Kota Kinabalu International Airport, with flights from Sydney or Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur starting at around AU $560 (AU $390 from Perth) on the low-cost carriers.
So what’s on offer when you get there?
1. The world-class resorts
Just a short boat ride from Kota Kinabalu, Gaya Island Resort is a luxurious beachfront hideaway that sits among protected mangroves and coral reefs. Its rainforest-meets-beach location gives you the best of both worlds, finished off with an exclusive vibe.
From traditional massages using local remedies at the spa, to evening beach BBQs accompanied by local dancers, Gaya Island offers a taste of the warm and gracious hospitality that Sabah is becoming known for. Take a trek through the rainforest with Gaya’s resident naturalist Justin Juhun, and kayak through the lush mangroves to make the most of this Malaysian resort.
2. The incredible wildlife
When most people think of Borneo, they think of orangutans. The famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre offers the chance to see them up close - especially at feeding times.
Orangutans are just the surface of the amazing creatures to be found here. Bearded pigs roam Gaya Island freely, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of the proboscis monkeys unique to Borneo.
3. The spectacular beaches
Sabah is where you’ll find some of the world’s most pristine beaches. In fact, its desert-island appeal led to the very first season of US series Survivor being filmed in the area.
Beneath the surface is one of the most surprising revelations for first-time visitors - the quality of diving sites. A snorkelling trip is a must-do to catch a glimpse of the marine life. Tavajun Bay, pictured, is a secluded spot off the beaten track that’s ideal for snorkelling followed by lunch at the small beach hut restaurant.
4. The locally-inspired food
Fusions of local Malaysian, Indian and Chinese food and fresh seafood will leave you spoilt for choice throughout Borneo.
And on Gaya Island, be sure to stop by the upscale Japanese restaurant, where a feast is created before your very eyes against the backdrop of Malohom Bay.
5. The unforgettable sunrises
Borneo is home to breathtaking sunrises that are well worth rising early to witness. A beach picnic at Gaya Island is a truly unforgettable experience as dawn silently breaks over Mount Kinabalu, revealing the natural beauty that surrounds you. Villas at Gaya Island start at around AU $260 per night.