Family holidays as depicted in films tend to be disaster epics. Whether it’s lost luggage, lost children or lost time, Hollywood doesn’t seem to think much of a family getaway – think “Home Alone” or the “National Lampoon’s” series (all of them) and “Blended”. The one reigning theme besides chaos is confusion. What do we do, where do we go? Whilst a packaged holiday may take the headache out of thinking, it doesn’t seem to allow for individual needs. Here at Unreserved, we’ve curated experiences that will thrill the kids but also allow for downtime for the adults. Anecdotally, from friends and families, the one key takeaway of a holiday with the kids is exhaustion for the parents.
Certainly, this writer, who comes from a family of 6 siblings, will understand the logistics behind an expedition that is a family holiday. What I remember from my time, as a child was my father ending each break with an activity that had us fully occupied, allowing my mother and he to take a well-deserved break. A holiday, like most things, should also be an exercise in democracy – kids should not rule the day, rather, everyone should be able to have their down time too.
The itinerary we have curated for you reflects all of the above, and suggests activities for a family holiday in Sabah. Known as “The Land Below The Wind,” as it is protected from the Typhoon Belt that ravages the countries north of its geographical location. Its rich history in association with Borneo, of indigenous tribes and headhunters, often evokes a sense of “Wild Borneo.” And whilst this remains true of its forests, flora and fauna, the “Enchanting Sabah” you will visit today is family-friendly yet still offers the intrepid adventurer the much-needed adrenaline journey of discovery. The state’s development, whilst rapid in some areas, still offers destinations that are far flung from the maddening crowds.
My last trip there in 2018, I saw a Sabah that was markedly different from a decade before, now more hotels and all the creature comforts you might need (shops restaurants and a buzzing capital) have greater and better access to all its nature bound activities––perfect for families.
How to Get there
Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia both operate direct flights to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Direct flights don’t just save you time, but also the headache of disembarking families, and needing to kill time in a transit airport. Book your seats ahead of time, and remember to check in earlier if you have golf clubs, sporting equipment to check in.
Where to Stay
Where you stay as a family is important. It’s your home away from home, and has to be packed with all the mod cons you might need: for instance, good WIFI, enough space so you aren’t living on top of each other, convenient and hassle free access to the places you might want to visit, a good concierge service that can cater to all your demands. Make friends with the Concierge, a good one is worth their weight in gold in terms of saving time, local knowledge and the hassle of organizing yourself. Less time spent on logistical hassles, is more time for yourself and family. And remember to tip the Concierge if he has been helpful. Absolutely the service is free, but good work always deserves a bonus.
To this end, we recommend the following hotels:
If you have the time, split your stay to enjoy the cool mountain air and the adventures discovering the uniqueness of highland flora and fauna at Sutera Sanctuary Lodges nestled in the jungle at Kinabalu Park, and then come back down to earth at Shangri-La Rasa Ria’s barefoot paradise on Dalit Beach. There is nothing like getting the best of both worlds, and in one fell swoop you make the Jungle Jim’s and Beach Bunnies in your family happy.
Sutera Sanctuary Kinabalu Park
Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site (2000), 9 luxurious accommodation options await you from Suites to their living large 4,000sqft Villa, at an elevation of 1,584m above sea level sit amidst a biodiversity that carries lowland, montane & alpine vegetation on a scale that is not seen between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The area gained its UNESCO recognition because of its role as one of the world’s most important biological sites.
Tea with a View at Sabah Tea Plantation
Nothing more civilised than a cup of tea, but to drink it here amidst the jaw dropping mountain views, cool air at one of the few organic tea plantations in Malaysia, makes it a truly unique experience.
Enjoy sweet treats such as the freshly brewed teas, freshly made tea pancakes and Sabah Tea Pandan teh tarik while overlooking Borneo’s only organic tea plantation. For an educational yet fun take, take part in the variety of recreational activities such as obstacle-crossing in the Sapaon Recreational area, or trekking along the trails to the peak of Kamunsu Hill. Desa Cattle Dairy Farm and the Sabah Tea Garden tree house are also worthy of your time to visit before moving on to the next location.
A Walk on the Wild Side at Kinabalu Park
Covering an area of 754 sq/km (basically this Park’s size is bigger than a small country like Singapore), this UNESCO World Heritage Site is an adventure to be had on Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain. Not least the six unique major topographical features all under one canopy of forest. According to the Endemic Guides you will find peaks and plateaus, gullies, rivers, streams and waterfalls, hot springs, caves (Paka Caves and the tumbled bats cave at Poring) and granite slabs, a characteristic of the slopes of the summit. It’s 4 climatic zones is what makes the park one of the richest in terms of biodiversity.
The Hills are alive with over 4500 species of plants at Mount Kinabalu Botanical Park
Most of the species to be found in Kinabalu Park are cultivated here, conveniently curated for you to explore at your leisure. Especially exciting for all budding green thumbs, pun intended.
Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort
Another great nature oriented luxury resort, this 400-acre beach meets rainforest resort, boasts its own 64-acre nature reserve, the Rasa Ria Reserve. Also, while the parents enjoy a day at the spa, the resort’s Kid’s Club can entertain the younger ones under supervision, for long enough for their parents to sneak off to the spa, take a gander like a pro at their 18-hole championship golf course or just read a book. Kids between the ages of four and12 can also get close to nature by joining the Ranger Experience, and there’s even a 2-hour Bespoked Family Tour for kids ages four and above.
Onsite, there are a few main restaurants. ‘Tepi Laut” hawker inspired food stalls with live cooking stations serving local and international dishes can satisfy the most picky eater with stunning views over the sea. While Coast Restaurant and Bar offers a perfect location for sundowners before proceeding with night activities.
Dalit Bay Golf & Country Club
Shangri-La Rasa Ria boasts an 18-hole championship golf course. Bordered by the Tambalang and Mengkabong rivers, you can tee-off with stunning views of Mount Kinabalu in the background, which makes for a picture perfect moment. Framed by 400 acres of exotic vegetation, the course offers a view to appreciate as you walk from one hole to another.
Sun, Surf and Sand
With the soft powdery sands of Dalit Beach at your doorstep, activities abound for the avid seafarer from sailing to boogie boarding. Or doing nothing at all on your beautiful spot in the sun.
Night Golf at Sutera Harbour
Perhaps, you can enjoy playing golf at the only golf course in Kota Kinabalu that offers night-time golfing activities, which coincidentally also has a spectacular 27-hole course for your golfing pressure. Underneath the stars, you’ll be swept away by the challenges in terrain and the beauty of the Borneon vistas.
Our Last Word
Your concierge will be able to guide you on restaurants; activities that are opening up post the Covid-19 pandemic. From mountains to beaches, and the world of the sea – Sabah’s diving is one of the world’s finest at Sipadan, you will never be short of things to do and see, all contained in one state. If traversing valleys and mountains gives you pause, do not fear, for a luxury four wheel drive complete with driver and guide, will help you navigate the terrain. Whilst an expedition into the wilds or to view nature at its best usually conjures images of beautiful views but basic accommodation – those days, at least in Sabah are now gone. Clearly, with families, comfort and safety come first wherever you may go. And now you can enjoy Mother Nature’s bounty with the kids, with a five star hotel as your base camp.
For more information on how you can experience Kota Kinabalu to the fullest, head over to Sabah Tourism Board’s official website.