Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Can’t decide between a beach getaway and rainforest adventure? Fret not, Gaya Island Resort offers both. Situated off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, you can frolic on golden sand and explore untouched jungle (also home to the endangered proboscis monkey) at this Small Luxury Hotels of the World property.

Amidst protected mangroves are 121 idyllic villas and suites with views of the rainforest canopy or South China Sea. Each has a sprawling open bathroom with oversized tub, two vanity units and a verandah, its decor blending local materials with lush surroundings. If only the best will do, plump for the two-bedroom Suria Suite with uninterrupted ocean panoramas and views of Mount Kinabalu, spread over two levels.

One way to get your bearings of the largest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is by eating your way through the resort. An array of eateries includes all-day dining and buffet heaven at Feast Village, shabu-shabu at Omakase and seafood delights (sans kids) at Fisherman’s Cove. If you prefer to dine with your toes in the sand, take the complimentary speedboat over to to Tavajun Bay, the resort’s private beach, and tuck into charcoal-grilled satay –– or stretch out over a personalised gourmet picnic. In the evening, the Bajau Laut Beach Barbecue serves local favourites alongside live music.

When not feasting, swim, settle into a hammock with a book or check out the turtle rescues at the resort’s marine centre. Nature is also woven into pampering experiences at Spa Village Gaya Island, a tranquil hideaway where treatment rooms have outdoor decks fringed with wildlife. The signature treatment for two, Tadau Kaamatan––A Couples Celebration of Rice––is an homage to the importance of the grain in local culture, and features a scrub, hair mask, massage and facial to rebalance body and soul.