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 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 to live nearby.

But, I underestimated how much we would love the resort. And the information below was gathered across multiple visits. 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. It is 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 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 to explore and 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. (Note: The orangutans are at a different sanctuary now)

And you can order Malaysian delights for every meal, a strategy that I would highly recommend.

2. Convenient Location Near Kota Kinabalu Airport

The oceanfront Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in Kota Kinabalu is amazing for families.

Flying into Kota Kinabalu airport (Malaysia’s second-largest) is straightforward. Our flight on Cathay Dragon from Hong Kong took roughly 2-hours. It takes about 15 minutes from the airport to reach 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 critical to me when traveling with my daughter.

Many of my Hong Kong friends holiday in Kota Kinabalu because it is convenient to get there (and, of course, this resort is a top choice).

3. Spacious Guest Rooms

Our room at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa

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.

The beach in front of our room at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa

While we were out and about at the resort during sunset, these balconies offered spectacular views—an almost priceless amenity.

The room is decorated in a contemporary style with warm hues. It has incredibly comfortable beds, a sizable bathroom (separate tub and shower), and premium bath amenities. In-room coffee and tea were replenished daily. Overall, these rooms are very nice, as are the attendants who service them.

Suites and 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

Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa oceanfront pool is excellent for all ages.

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.

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.

Kids love the water play area at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in Kota Kinabalu

If you think this is the type of place where your kids could hang out all day, you’d be correct. Oh, and there are also three fun water slides.

5. Even More Kid-Friendly Amenities

Kid-friendly amenities at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa include onsite games, an ice cream shop, a kids' club, awesome pool area and more.

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.

Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa has a little 9-hole pitch and putt course.

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

Nasi lemak for breakfast at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

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.

Cafe TATU at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa

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.

Satay and dips at the Sunset Bar, a little private island that is for guests of Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa only during sunset.

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.

Water's edge seating at Sunset Bar at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in Kota Kinabalu

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

Kids will love the beach and tropical fish in the waters of Mamutik Island, Kota Kinabalu

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.

Tropical fish along coral reefs of Mamutik Island, Borneo

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 wakeboarding and banana boat rides, rent a stand-up paddle board, hop into a kayak, and so much more.

Private charters can be arranged, and during our stay, a number of people 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

The lobby at Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in Kota Kinabalu

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 also provides 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 during the day and night, we weren’t bitten by anything.

I should also mention that the service was excellent throughout the hotel.


We have access to Shangri-La Luxury Circle benefits which is the brand’s VIP program. However, this hotel is currently including breakfast with all rates and is offering a bunch of sale rates. Therefore, recently, booking directly through the hotel’s website directly is the best way to get the most value.

Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa
20 Jalan Aru
Tanjung Aru, 88100
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
+ (60 88) 327 888

**Top, aerial and Cafe TUTU photos are used courtesy of Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa. The rest are my own.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

More in Asia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. Your time at Shangri-La looks amazing. It has plenty for the children, the water bucket looks like a load of fun.

    1. I would highly recommend this resort if visiting Kota Kinabalu with kids! The water bucket is crazy fun.

  2. very nice blog post , really the pic’s talk about it self i love love the orange sky wile sunset and the small lovely girl , thank you for sharing love with us

  3. Oh how much I need that view right now! Been staring at my laptop for way too long again 😉 Gorgeous photos!

  4. Truly perfect! It seems to have everything that we would look for in a resort and I’m really in need of a beach vacation — we’ve been a bit too active recently. I’m pinning this for future reference!

  5. I used to live in Asia, and like you, would trust friend’s recommendations on where to spend our precious vacation time. Thanks to this post, I’m now sold on this resort. I’ve always wanted to get back to Malaysia and this resort hits all the right buttons. Hopefully we can make it happen in the next two years. Fingers crossed!

  6. This looks amazing and we are considering going end Sept/Beg Oct… how much is it to eat at the hotel roughly ?

    1. That is tough to answer. If you are eating at the buffets at Cafe Tatu, up to two kids eat free with a paying adult. I ordered room service once and since I was coming from Hong Kong, I felt like I was getting an incredible value. The lunches we ordered to take to Mamutik Island were huge and maybe $15 for salad, sandwich, bottled water, dessert. Pepino is more expensive as it is fine dining. I am sure you could call to get an idea of pricing as I found staff very helpful. I am actually going back to the resort in April so will include some pricing ideas after that!