Malaysian Borneo was our final destination on the first leg of our 2019 travels, and it has ended up being one of our favourite South East Asian destinations. It has beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife and some the nicest people we have met anywhere in the world (in fact the people throughout Malaysia have been incredible).
We finished a wonderful ten days on the island in style with a three-night stay at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in Kota Kinabalu, a 5-star resort that is perfect for families and perfectly positioned to take in the picturesque sunsets over a cocktail or mocktail – we really didn’t want to leave!
Here’s our review of this wonderful hotel.
About Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa
The resort is situated in the beachside area of Tanjung Aru, just a 10-minute drive south from the centre of Kota Kinabalu, and a similar time from the airport. While it’s close to everything, once you’re met with a big smile in the lovely reception area, you feel well away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
There are 492 well-appointed rooms and suites, with most looking out over the bay. To ensure you’re not left hungry or thirsty there are 3 restaurants and 3 bars that serve up food and drinks from all over the world.
As you would expect, most recreational activities are catered for, from golf to spa treatments to diving to the gym. It would be tough not to find a pastime to meet your needs.
The Resort Facilities
There is so much to do at the resort, it’s difficult to work out how you should spend your time!
The stand-out facility at the resort is the incredible pool complex.
It’s perfect for families, with separate areas for toddlers and families, three fun slides totaling 100 metres between them (suitable for adults and kids), 2,000-sqm swimming pool with a tapered shoreline, making it easy for kids to run in and out.
Lifeguards are stationed at strategic points all around the pool and life jackets are available for new swimmers.
Our kids spent hours just running around this area, and with plenty of loungers close by we were always able to keep an eye on what they were up to.
For those wanting some peace and quiet, a big portion of the pool is also dedicated adults-only space.
Some of the free activities on offer around the resort include pétanque, basketball connect four game, table tennis, football snooker and pitch and putt golf.
There are also tennis courts on site, with equipment hire available, as well as a very good gym, which Mike used to avoid running in the outside heat.
Kylie was pampered on Mother’s Day with a wonderful spa treatment at CHI including a full body, head and shoulders massage.
She said it was the best treatment she’s ever had and would highly recommend requesting Flora for your massage when visiting the spa.
Being a beachside resort, as you would expect there is a myriad of water-based activities available through the STAR Marina office, including jet skiing, parasailing, banana boat rides, water skiing and wakeboarding, as well as the opportunity to hire hobie cats, kayaks, windsurfers or paddle boards.
You can also book in a sunset cruise out in the bay, or even charter your own boat, while those looking for a day out on the water fishing are also well catered for. In collaboration with Borneo Divers, STAR Marina provides a range of dive options including certification courses for novice and advanced divers.
We were fortunate to get an upgrade to a family room (thanks Shangri-La!), with a separate bedroom for the kids, including bunk beds, cloud light shades, kids decals on the walls, their own TV, bean bags, skids desk and a very cool seating and storage area.
The kids received a fun kids pack on arrival and immediately jumped straight into the colouring, which gave us parents time to unpack and settle into the room.
It also happened to be Sophie and Mike’s birthdays, and when we were escorted to our room we were greeted with about twenty balloons, a happy birthday sign, two plates of macarons and chocolates (one each for Sophie and Mike, though they were good enough to share!) and a happy birthday chocolate cake, which was delicious.
That evening even more delicious cake arrived!
The main bedroom was huge and very comfortable, with plenty of space for our luggage, and a nice bathroom. And being on the 5th floor we had a lovely view out over the grounds to the ocean and the islands beyond.
The resort offers three restaurants and three bars.
Café TATU is the main hub for breakfast, offering food from around the world, as well as plenty of stations preparing food specifically to your request. Our kids love a buffet breakfast, and they filled themselves up for most of the day!
The Café is also open for lunch and dinner with an a la carte menu available throughout the day and a delicious buffet option available in the evenings.
Coco Joes is a relaxed beachside barbecue restaurant offering cocktails and other drinks as well as a yummy a la carte menu, with plenty of options for kids and adults. The restaurant caters to the poolside guests as well, with waiters bringing the food and drinks directly to your lounger.
This was our favourite spot to sit with the kids and enjoy a bite to eat looking out over the view after a tough day by the pool!
Shang Palace is a lovely Chinese restaurant with delicious dim sum available for breakfast and lunch, as well as a mouth-watering choice of Cantonese and other Chinese specialties available throughout the day, including dinner. There are also two private dining rooms for 10 and 20 people available, should you want a more private dining experience.
The Borneo Lounge and Bar is situated on the reception level and provides great views out over the resort, while you can enjoy music from a live band.
Our kids’ favourite was the Cool Box ice cream bar for obvious reasons!
Meanwhile us parents thought the Sunset Bar was far and away the best spot to spend an evening.
It’s a good idea to book in advance to get a seat at the Sunset Bar, and you’ll also need to buy a drinks package in advance, however it’s definitely worth it for the stunning sunsets alone!
Like us adults, our kids absolutely loved the stay at Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa. There was so much for them to do and experience.
We arrived on a Friday, which was good timing as the kids club (the “Cool Zone”) hosts a Friday night party each week between 6 and 9pm with games, magic, dancing and dinner included. The kids loved it, hanging out with the new friends they had made by the pool that afternoon.
We also loved the fact that we got to spend a few hours looking out over the ocean at the sunset bar, enjoying amazing cocktails and delicious sharing plates.
There are also plenty of activities available at the kids club each day – our two went on a science expedition collecting bugs from the garden, and also spent time preparing lovely bracelets for their mum on Mother’s Day. The staff running the kids club and the activity co-ordinators were lovely and would even engage with the kids around the pool area as well.
Out by the pool there were also great events for the whole family to get involved in, with the kids having a go at trying to ride the blow-up bull at water rodeo. An absolute highlight was the watermelon eating competition!
Our kids also enjoyed participating in Water Wars – firing water balloons at one another and their new friends, assisted by the great Shangri-La team.
The kids favourite thing at the resort however was the waterslide complex, and we lost count of the number of times the kids visited.
There are also plenty of shaded areas and water play areas for younger kids too.
We were also very fortunate (thank you Shangri-La!) to be invited to the Executive Lounge situated on the 6th floor of the Kinabalu Wing, with beautiful views out to the nearby islands. We had breakfast there on two of the days, and also had lovely pre-dinner drinks and canapés on our final evening (family time is from 4.30pm to 6.30pm).
The lounge offers a far more intimate and personalised service than Café TATU, with the same range of delicious food. And it was certainly very nice to sit down with a glass of sauvignon blanc (pre-dinner drinks – not breakfast!) and take in the views.
The service from the staff in the Executive lounge was also exceptional, plus we were also able to check out from there to avoid any potential ques at reception.
We all thought the Executive Lounge offered great value and really added to our enjoyment of the Shangri La experience.
Prior to arriving at the Shangri-La almost everyone we spoke to in Kota Kinabalu asked us whether we had been out to the islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park to go snorkeling – it was obviously the thing to do! So on our second day at the resort we made the three-minute walk from our room to the on-site STAR Marina jetty to catch the 9am speedboat to Sapi Island.
There are a number of island destination options, however Sapi was recommended to us because it was the only one free of jellyfish. The jellyfish are seasonal, so it would always pay to check the likelihood of encountering them as they have the ability to ruin what would otherwise be a perfect day!
The adults were able to hire snorkel sets (our kids have their own), and we also hired life jackets for the kids so they didn’t get too tired navigating the deeper water over the coral. We also booked a very tasty packed lunch, which was prepared and brought out on a separate boat at about 11.30am.
The trip to the island only took about 10 minutes, including a drop off at Gaya Island on the way, so we were in the water snorkeling within thirty minutes of leaving the wharf. The beach itself was nice, though there were plenty of people there, however we had our own cordoned off area specifically for Shangri-La guests complete with picnic blankets and a staff member to watch over our things.
The real wow factor came when we entered the water. There were plenty of fish very close by and some really great coral.
There is a designated swimming area to avoid any boat-related incidents. And it was large enough that it was easy to get plenty of space to yourself in the water. In fact, most of the people snorkeling stayed very close to the shore, so if you’re a confident swimmer it’s easy to find yourself a good distance away from anyone else and able to enjoy the experience without any distractions.
We stayed on the island for about 5 hours, and along with the snorkeling we also hiked up to the top of the island along a path through the bush. We took our time, so ended up being away from the beach for about 40 minutes. It was worth the effort, but we enjoyed the swim when we got back!
As well as Sapi, there are a number of other islands available for day trips, all of which looked amazing (jellyfish dependant!).
From Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort, you can also get a free transfer to the Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort, 45 minutes north and surrounded by 400 acres of tropical forest. The resort is the gateway to the Rasa Ria Reserve and some of Borneo’s amazing wildlife. The beach and pools are pretty good too!
Should you want to venture further afield, the resort will be able to arrange an incredible day trip to Mt Kinabalu or a river cruise on the pristine Klias Wetlands to view proboscis monkeys, fireflies and if you’re lucky the odd crocodile!
We absolutely loved our stay at Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, in fact we’d go as far as to say it’s the most family-friendly accommodation we’ve ever stayed at!
It’s perfect for kids our age – at 7 and 9 years old there was so much to keep them entertained and the staff were simply wonderful with them.
The pool-side facilities were laid out in such a way that they could be independent – playing on the waterslides area by themselves but allowing us to be close at hand to keep an eye on them from a distance was brilliant.
The entire staff were friendly and helpful in an entirely genuine way, and you could tell they enjoyed their jobs and assisting the clientele.
We have no hesitation in recommending the resort to families wanting a relaxing holiday in Borneo, the kids are already asking when we can return!!
Disclosure: We paid for our own stay at Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort, however we received a room upgrade, complimentary excursions, access to Chi Spa, entrance and drinks at Sunset Bar and attendance at the Executive Lounge thanks to Shangri-La.
As usual, our opinions however are our own!