Sometimes my life is fabulously chic, and these past few days have been one of those occasions. I was lucky enough to be invited to come and stay at the spectacular Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort in Sabah, Borneo earlier this week. Borneo has always been at the top of my list for places to visit, and when I saw where we would be staying I couldn’t book my plane ticket fast enough. There are half a dozen airlines that fly directly from Seoul, making it just a hop, skip, and a jump away. The resort has been open for 20 years, and at this stage has virtually every amenity you could imagine. Private beach, golf course, two pools, gym, a nature reserve, and a spa just to name a few.
We stayed in the very beautiful Ocean wing, where every room comes with an oversized outdoor bathtub on the balcony. The room itself was very spacious, with a gigantic bed big enough for four, a twin-sinked bathroom, a walk in wardrobe, and of course the aforementioned tub on the giant balcony. Guests staying in the Ocean wing are treated to a complimentary fruit/snack platter and minibar, which was stocked with beers and soft drinks for you to enjoy until your heart is content. Ocean Wing guests also get to enjoy a complimentary cocktail and canape hour down in the courtyard, which we of course partook in too and sampled a very nice tropical cocktail as well as some local snacks. It’s so nice to be able to unwind with a few drinks without worrying abut the cost, so this was a real plus point for us. The most luxurious feature of the room is probably the “indulgence” bath on your very own balcony, with a choice of rose petals, bubbles, or bath salts (once for free and 50MYR for additional baths). We had a very romantic bubble bath at sunset, which was just the thing to refresh us after a long day of sight seeing.
Our day started with breakfast at Oceano restaurant, which offers up the standard hotel buffet fare, along with an a la carte menu with items such as Eggs Benedict, frittatas, and local specialty nasi goreng. The nasi goreng was especially good, as were the made to order omelettes. Honestly i don’t think there was anything that you could want that wasn’t available. TFB particularly enjoyed the deli meats and cheese and tended to have a charcuterie to begin his day, while I was thrilled to find a juicer, and a huge array of fresh fruits and vegetables to pack in some vitamins alongside my Eggs Benedict, pastries, and fried rice.
One of my goals when I travel is to eat as much of the local food as possible, however when I get home, a lot of the time the delicious treats I have been stuffing my self with are unavailable to me, which is where a cooking class comes in. Learning to cook from local chefs gives a real insight into the food culture of an area, as you can really see what gets put into the dishes that you have enjoyed. In our class with Chef Chiew we learned to make the famous butter Prawns, using the gigantic tiger prawns found locally. I have never seen anything like these before, they were bigger than a babies arm! We also whipped up the Tuaran Mee, which is a local specialty noodle dish, and the chef added some satay as it’s one of my favourite dishes. All of the food was fantastic and the only thing that could compete for my attention was the breathtaking view of the ocean as we sat at our beach side table.
One of the activities that was arranged for us as part of our stay was a boat trip along the Mengkabong river(156 MYR per person). The river is the home of the Bajaus tribe, a lot of whom still live in traditional wooden houses built on the water. The saltwater river is home to an abundance of sea creatures, from which the Bajaus fishermen earn their livings. In particular mud crabs, tiger prawns and oysters can be found there. The river itself is peaceful and calm, and there is a real sense of calm isolation once you reach some of the narrower, mangrove surrounded, stretches of the river. We were then taken to the water village to sample some local coffee and a kind of fried cake made from rice flour, water, and brown sugar. The coffee was very sweet, and the fried cakes were tasty. The trip ended with us returning to our crab traps, which we had set up on the way out, to inspect our catch. As luck would have it, we had caught a couple of small mud crabs, and a solitary jellyfish, all of which we returned to the murky, muddy depths to be caught another day. This trip was a real highlight for me, it would not have been something that I would ordinarily arrange to do, as I tend to lean more towards food themed activities, however I was pleasantly surprised with the trip along the tranquil river, and highly recommend it, if you get a chance.
The property has maybe half a dozen restaurants within its grounds, but we opted to try the Japanese Teppanyaki-Kozan. For those unfamiliar with Teppanyaki, it is the style of cooking where a chef prepares your dishes in front of you on an iron grill, the teppan. This tends to be one of the more fun and interactive styles of dining, as you can build up a rapport with your chef as they prepare a selection of delicious treats for your enjoyment. At Kozan, there are several different set menus available, as well as the option to order a la carte. Given my aversion to fishy fish, I picked the more land based Akita set(159 MYR), whereas TFB went for the more mixed Kozan set(295 MYR). Out of all of the dishes we got to try from the two set menus, the standout was the Fois Gras. It was cooked to perfection and melted in the mouth without having too much of the oiliness sometimes associated with fois gras. We also loved our steaks, which were still pink in the middle and melt in the mouth despite the epic flames that engulfed them during one of the tricks. Our chef Ben, was entertaining throughout our dinner, and while he didn’t quite manage to succeed in performing his egg trick, he did however put smiles on our faces with his stories.
The resort is located on a large plot of land, part of which is a nature reserve. On one of our mornings we got up at the ungodly hour of 6am to hike up to the top of the nature reserve for breakfast (98 MYR per person or 498 per couple with a bottle of champagne). Very un-fatgirl-like, I know, but it was a thousand percent worth it. Our friendly guide Sabinus led us up the trail, pointing out various interesting plants,as well as the tree snakes that we needed to be wary of. The hike, while not being longer than 30 mins, was definitely enough to work up a good sweat, especially in the tropical heat, so when we were greeted by a cool breeze at the top of the path, it was with palpable relief. A light breakfast of fruit and pastries had been laid out for us, and we sat down to eat with a view of the majestic Mount Kinabalu away in the distance, and the Bornean coastline stretching away to the horizon. Honestly it was incredibly humbling to be able to enjoy the stunning scenery in such an exclusive way, this is one for the bucket list for sure.
After our morning hike, and a second breakfast back at Oceano…, we wandered down to the beach-side pavilion for the combo massage. This was combo reflexology massage(239 MYR) for the back, shoulders, and feet, and I can honestly say it was one of the best massages I have had, and I’ve had about a thousand. Lying out next to the sea and having all the tension massaged away was exactly what I needed and the state of bliss stayed with us for the rest of the day.
Having enjoyed breakfast in the Oceano restaurant each day, it seemed fitting to go and have a look at what is on the actual menu throughout the day. Rather than order something from the menu, the head chef, Luca, came out and said he would make us “something”, which is always fun. We ended up trying several dishes, some familiar, some not so much. We started with a take on one of our favourite salads, the caprese. As you can see above the juice from the tomatoes had been made into a kind of jelly which sat atop a a huge ball of fresh mozzarella. The star dish for me was probably Chef Luca’s incredible gnocchi, it was so soft it was like a cloud was melting in my mouth. The meal ended with the tiramisu, which was a novel spin on the classic Italian dessert. The dish is made a la minute, with biscuits, cream, and two kinds of meringue. A shot of espresso is then poured over the dish at the table, before being quickly absorbed by the biscuits. This method results in the tiramisu having a real punch of flavour, and the coffee meringue on top added a balancing crunch. This was a fabulous meal to end our stay, and we left with full bellies.
Although our time at the stunning Rasa Ria was all too short, it was incredibly sweet and I cannot recommend this place enough.The staff were truly wonderful, and every last person we encountered went out of their way to make sure we were taken care of. This culminated in them gathering together to sing a farewell song as we departed, which was the perfect touch to say goodbye. If you are looking to get away from it all and indulge yourself it is the perfect location, and if you are in the mood to get out there and really explore Borneo it is perfect for that too. Rooms in the ocean wing average 1400 MYR per night. For more details about the resort or to make a booking please visit their website.