Falling in love with Borneo isn’t hard but it’s all the better when you can experience it with a family-friendly luxury hotel as your base. We chose our hosts Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in Kota Kinabalu because we’re fans of the brand, this resort has a reputation for being incredibly family-friendly and our friends happen live nearby.
But, I underestimated how much we would love the resort. My 8-year-old daughter has already asked to return during her spring break next year and I’m more than happy to oblige.
You will not believe the range of offerings at this beachfront paradise. Here, in no particular order, are some of the many reasons why you should visit… and I really hope that you do.
1. It’s a Perfect Mix of Wildlife, Culture and Leisure
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah, a state in Malaysian Borneo, and a gateway to exploring the island’s incredible wildlife, rainforests and marine life. It’s a perfect place to escape city life and unwind for a short weekend break or a lengthy beach holiday.
Traveling with my 8-year-old daughter means that half-day excursions are more our speed, and many leave directly from Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa. We could snorkel around an outlying island until after lunch and then unwind at the pool. The resort offers so many amenities that we didn’t have time to take advantage of them all, even over the course of five days.
A shuttle runs between Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa and its sister property Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort and Spa which has the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve that rehabilitates orangutans and offers educational programming. My daughter participated in the Ranger Experience and we both enjoyed an orangutan viewing as well as this resort’s lovely facilities for the day.
And, you can order up Malaysian delights for every meal, a strategy that I would highly recommend.
2. Convenient Location Near Kota Kinabalu Airport
Flying into Kota Kinabalu airport (Malaysia’s second largest) is incredibly easy. Our flight on Dragonair from Hong Kong took roughly 2-hours and from the airport we were in the car for about 15 minutes prior to reaching the resort. (Flights from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur each take about 2.5 hours, to give you a perspective of the amount of time it takes to arrive.)
We coordinated airport transfers through Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa and a representative met us just after baggage claim. Seamless transfers are incredibly important to me when traveling with my daughter.
Many of my Hong Kong friends holiday in Kota Kinabalu because it is so convenient to access (and, of course, this resort is a top choice).
3. Spacious Rooms
We enjoyed a sea view room in the Tanjung Wing that had a lovely balcony we took advantage of multiple times. It overlooked the resort’s little pitch and putt golfing area as well as a beach where people and birds seemed to walk into the ocean forever.
While we were out and about elsewhere on the resort during sunset, these balconies do have spectacular views of it—an almost priceless amenity.
The room is decorated in a contemporary style with warm hues with incredibly comfortable beds and a sizable bathroom (separate tub and shower) as well as premium bath amenities. In-room coffee and tea were replenished daily. All-in-all these rooms are very nice as are the attendants who service them.
Suites as well as connecting rooms can accommodate larger families. If you need a crib or other baby gear contact the resort as some necessities can be placed in your room.
4. A Spectacular Pool Area
The pool is divided into two huge areas: a tapered shallow end and a deeper infinity pool though all ages were playing on both sides. Poolside drinks and food are available for ordering to the many lounge chairs.
Yet another small kiddie pool bordered a sizable water play area that is a young child’s dream complete with a little water jungle gym, three water slides (yes, I went down them, too), a water balloon launch area and a gigantic tipping bucket.
If you’re thinking that this is the type of place that your kids could hang out at all day, you’d be correct.
5. Even More Kid-Friendly Amenities
My daughter was a fan of the gourmet ice cream, Cool Box, shop near the pool. We played giant chess and ping pong here, too.
A supervised kids’ club called Cool Zone keeps kids ages 4-12 happily entertained while parents enjoy some alone time or spa. Daily programming is quite robust ranging from scavenger hunts to crafts to coconut bowling. We golfed on the nine-hole pitch and putt, too.
Adults and families can enjoy programming outside of Cool Zone such as the art of towel folding
Jaga, the resort’s mascot clown fish, makes appearances here and there. We had fun Instagramming him around the resort using the hashtag, #FindingJaga.
6. Amazing Malaysian and International Cuisine
I absolutely adore Malaysian food and it is next to impossible to find in San Diego. So, I really overdid it. With nasi lemak at breakfast (above), nasi goreng via in-room dining, satay everywhere, kaya toast and then some, I’ve had to spend many hours on the treadmill to make up for it but it was worth it.
Over the course of five days we ate in every restaurant (except for Shang Palace because we’ve dined at the Island Shangri-la’s delicious outlet in Hong Kong many times and I was desperate to fill up on Malaysian food) though most breakfasts were enjoyed in the Kinabalu Club.
Booking club level with kids is highly recommended because a delicious breakfast, all-day beverages and evening drinks with light appetizers (with hours for families and adults-only) are served daily.
The signature Italian restaurant, Peppino, is one of the best restaurants in Malaysia and a favorite of my friend who lives in Kota Kinabalu.
We took our friends to the Cafe TATU for a delicious buffet dinner after a fun day at the pool. Currently, children under the age of 12 who are hotels guests eat free with a paying adult. I loved the diversity of this buffet. I could pair naan and nasi lemak with sushi, noodle soup or a Caesar salad if I wanted to with crepe or kaya toast for dessert. Buffets at Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts are always awesome.
Truth be told the kids thought the 2-foot-long breadsticks were hilarious.
Also, fresh pineapple juice at Coco Joe’s Bar and Grill paired with flatbread is fantastic especially when enjoyed from cabana seating near the beach.
And, there’s the Sunset Bar, a very special treat for resort guests only where the sunset puts on a show for the memory books. Tapas-style food and drinks are offered here, enough for the two of us to enjoy.
7. It’s One of the Best Places to See a Sunset
If the picture above wasn’t enough to sell you, I’ve been told that the Sunset Bar is considered by people who live in Kota Kinabalu as one of the best places in town to watch the sunset. After experiencing it for myself, I completely understand why.
Sunsets in Borneo are special. The colors are intense and the time it takes for the sun to dip below the horizon is a lot longer than here in California, anyway.
The Sunset Bar is a little island connected to the resort via a walkway with lounge bed seating at the water’s edge.
We enjoyed our sunset here so much that it deserved its own post. Read Add a Kota Kinabalu Sunset to Your Life Bucket List.
8. Easy Island Excursions That Leave From the Resort
Explore the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, a cluster of five islands located off the coast of Kinabalu, directly from the resort’s onsite STAR Marina. Resort boats transfer guests back and forth to the islands for beach going, snorkeling, hiking and other fun recreational activities that are just minutes away.
My daughter loved the resort’s family-friendly private beach on Mamutik Island so much that we went twice. She snorkeled here for the first time amid a variety of stunning tropical fish and other marine life. One of the guides took us out on a private tour to see a cluster of clownfish (now you see why Jaga is their mascot). We ordered lunch through the STAR Marina that was delivered to our lounge chairs. Read Snorkeling Around Mamutik Island for more reasons why we loved it so much.
9. Water Sports Galore
From the STAR Marina, steps from our room, we could book wake boarding and banana boat rides, rent a stand-up paddle board, hop into a kayak and so much more. Private charters can be arranged and a number of people during our stay took advantage of the diving tours leaving from here. The resort offers a diving certification course. Fishing tours are also extremely popular.
If you like being on or in the water, this is the luxury hotel in Kota Kinabalu that you pick.
10. Bliss at Chi, The Spa
CHI, The Spa rests on a standalone little village where treatments happen in individual, private cabanas. Mine had a treatment room and shower room separated by a walkway leading to an outdoor bath. Getting there required walking from the spa lobby and along the water’s edge. This alone is enough to send you into bliss.
With my daughter off on a late afternoon play date with our friends, I opted for a CHI Journey called The-Indulgence-of-Time which included a signature massage and facial over the course of 2.5 relaxing hours. I left feeling like a new person.
My spa treatment was pleasantly sandwiched between a morning at Mamutik Island and evening at Sunset Bar. How awesome is that?
Also, guests can do yoga in the spa’s oceanfront pavilion. I’ll try this next time!
Good to Know
Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa is an incredibly well-rounded hotel that is family-centric but also appropriate for couples and other leisure travelers. Coming from the U.S. and Hong Kong, I think this hotel provides also excellent value for what you receive.
The resort has a marine conservation coral planting program that is overseen by the resort’s marine biologist to help keep the reefs healthy and preserved.
The swimming area in front of the resort is protected by netting (to keep sea life out) but during our stay there were signs warning of the possibility of jellyfish. It didn’t keep people from swimming in it, however. We swam through harmless moon jellies off of Mamutik Island with our guide just like many other people so it could be these but check with a resort staff member during your visit.
We did not have any trouble with sand flies which are common in Kota Kinabalu. Upon the recommendation of friends, I brought Avon Skin-So-Soft SPF bug spray and despite spending tons of time outdoors in Kota Kinabalu during the day and night, we weren’t bitten by anything.
I should also mention that the service was excellent throughout the hotel.
Would we return? Absolutely. We’re looking forward to it.
Have you been? We’d love to hear about it.
Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa
20 Jalan Aru
Tanjung Aru, 88100
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
+ (60 88) 327 888
*Thank you to Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa for hosting our room, spa and some excursions. This absolutely has not impact on how we feel about this amazing resort. We can’t say enough good things about it.
**Top, aerial and Cafe TUTU photos are used courtesy of Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa. The rest are my own.