Discovering paradise at Gayana Eco Resort and Bunga Raya, Sabah, Malaysia

Take a minute and try to imagine paradise. Can you visualise it? I’m seeing private wooden villas standing solo in still, clear, fish-filled waters, a deserted white beach backing onto a jungle full of wild animals, infinity pools, beach-side dining, private boats, snorkeling, endless scrumptious cocktails..  oh and of course minimal people. Well funny thing is, that’s all real, except much better, and it’s pretty much on our doorstep, the sort of place you probably couldn’t dream up any better – meant for honeymoons and princes. I’ve set foot on this paradise and you could too in about two and a half hours!

Getting out of Singapore for a weekend can often be a real stress, but this trip was as easy as pie. There are direct flights to mainland Sabah where you can then hop onto your complimentary boat straight to paradise.

Firstly, we had the absolute pleasure of visiting Gayana Eco Resort which focuses on water based living.

It’s expensive, it’s luxury and if you can afford to do it for a special occasion you absolutely should. It’s like the Maldives without as much of heavy price tag and is bound to knock the socks off anyone accompanying you. We stayed a couple of nights and were gutted it couldn’t have been longer. If you’re looking for a peaceful, uninterrupted escape then you should know that this island hideaway is waiting for you..

The villas are absolutely stunning, each separate from the next, standing in shallow clear waters. There is something extremely tranquil about sleeping on water, which is perfect if you’re in need of a detox and de-stress. We stayed in one of the biggest villas, the Palm Villa, at AUD$970 (about S$1140) per night. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but honestly it is totally worth the spend.

Complete with a gorgeous bathroom, a lounge, bar area, a glass floor to see the fish beneath, a fairly private outdoor area with decking, complete with loungers and a mini plunge pool, a bed with mountains of pillows and super soft linen which totally engulfs you as you sleep and, of course, that absolutely breath taking view from your bed. Although it’s phenomenal, it’s also totally extravagant for two people. Not that we’re complaining, we say if you find yourself in paradise.. well then why not!

If you want to downsize then the Buya Villa is available for AUD$606 (about S$710). These villas are smaller and less extravagant, but with the same intoxicating view (just ensure when you book that you request a water-facing villa, not the jungle). Did I mention each villa comes with private steps leading down to the sea, in case you want to make use of the complimentary snorkelling equipment and pursue some fish with a little more privacy.

In my opinion, if you’re going to come here you may as well take up one of the Palm Villas.. you’ll definitely want to when you see them!

The resort has two restaurants, one Chinese and one Western, both serving delicious food. A la carte breakfast is served every morning in the Western restaurant, situated just beside the pool. The infinity pool is beautifully blue, clean and looks out onto those stunning tranquil waters. If you can’t tear yourself away from that super comfy bed in the early hours of the AM for breakfast, just give the reception a tinkle and they’ll have your breakfast delivered by boat so you can eat it on your private decking area or in bed. Ahh breakfast by boat, ridiculous and totally necessary sometimes!

If all that tranquility gives you cabin fever, a complimentary speed boat is provided for all guests of Gayana Eco Resort which will take you to main land Sabah, flooded with eateries and bars for you to explore. We hit up the huge, local, night market, for some crazy good, cheap local food and were seriously impressed!

Being secluded isn’t for everyone, so if you’re looking for somewhere just as peaceful, but with a bit more of a sense of adventure, well then Gayana Eco Resort’s sister resort Bunga Raya might just be what you’re looking for.

This jungle-living is a totally different concept. It’s less honeymoon and more ship-wrecked explorer.. although a pretty loaded and very lucky ship-wrecked explorer. The island is natural and untouched – expect to see some wild boar roaming freely whilst you sun yourself. Bring your trainers along because you can even do a bit of jungle trekking here.

The villas are all in the jungle, some right up the hillside. If you have kids or aren’t too keen on walking around, just pop outside of your villa and you’re bound to see a buggy you can hop into and be transported wherever it is you need to be. This is island luxury after all, darling!

There are more accommodation options in this resort, ranging from $560-$3033 per night. We stayed in the Plunge Pool Villa ($880 per night), a quaint, tropical villa surrounded by gardens with your back door falling just metres from the beach front. The decor is stripped back and natural, full of local character. Even the bathroom is jungle-fever esque.

For me, this island is more about hidden secrets and different levels of enjoyment. You’ve got a lush pool looking out to the sandy beach, that gorgeous left-alone beach itself and then the jungle to explore and be more at one with nature. It’s luxury meets wild. By hidden secrets.. well let’s just say, somewhere on the island is a cellar and lounge packed with an incredible selection of wines and cigars. The room is available for private hire.

If you’re in a big group and want the royal treatment then stay in the Three Bedroom Deluxe Suite for $3033 per night. This is plusher than plush and has had the likes of Ronan Keating stopping by for some indulgence. If you’ve got a pocket-full of cash to spare, you’ll have your own chef, a villa which could happily sleep 20 people and a private infinity pool that looks like this..

There are also two restaurants here, one beach-front grill and another with an exceptional view of the infinity pool, where breakfast is served every morning. Dining doesn’t really get much better than beachside. The tranquil setting, exceptional service and simply delicious food makes for the perfect evening meal. If it’s a special occasion, you can even arrange for a stand alone pavilion to be decked out for a more secluded dining experience.

Again, speed boat transfers are provided from the island, should you need a little trip away.. although I know I could kayak and snorkel all day long, be pappy and over-watered, but be as happy as Larry!

After the most amazing, relaxing, weekend we conclude you just HAVE to come here. I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to. Save up your cents and get booking. If you can make a trip to both islands I would, as each has something very different to offer and personally, I’d be gutted if we had missed out either of these stunning resorts.

This trip was sponsored and coordinated by Mr and Mrs Smith. For more information on these resorts or any of their other properties, please visit www.mrandmrssmith.com

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