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“High quality, but not for the purist”
Review of Gaya Island Resort

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Gaya Island Resort
Ranked #1 of 3 Hotels in Pulau Gaya
Certificate of Excellence
Reviewed September 16, 2012

I do hope for the sake of the fantastic staff of this high-quality resort that it overcomes its teething problems and succeeds, but I think for some visitors there are negative environmental factors that cannot be cured so easily. We booked on a special offer, knowing that the resort only opened in August, and becoming aware that mixed reviews were appearing on TripAdvisor. My advance concern was that, having looked at the satellite imagery on Google maps, Gaya island is home to extensive stilt-villages, home to 6,000 people, only a couple of kilometres from the resort. I just couldn’t imagine that these boasted anything more than basic gravity-driven sewerage systems (and have since read this is the case). Landing at Koto Kinabalu (KK) airport is from over the sea, and the impression is not of crystal blue waters. KK appears to have a mixed industrial economy and several container ships were at anchor in the bay. On arrival by launch on Gaya island I noticed a guy with a wheelbarrow and shovel working his way along the resort’s small beach; there is a little tide, which was out, and the exposed sand was muddy with wormcasts and in places had a light coating of green algae. The water at the pier wasn’t exactly opaque, but certainly not transparent. This confirmed my expectation that I would avoid the sea, although during the week several people we met said they successfully snorkeled and saw plenty of marine life from the resort beach. Later in the week we went on a snorkeling excursion around the more distant side of the island. Here the waters were pretty clear and there were lots of attractive fish, although I wasn’t convinced that the coral reefs were at their most healthy – generally they were a sandy brown colour, and again I have since read there is some sediment damage to these reefs. We had lunch at a local beach restaurant; the shoreline was littered with domestic rubbish, notably crisp packets and plastic bottles. I found the same situation exploring the resort’s beach: just yards beyond the line of the last villa the flotsam and jetsam was in plentiful supply. Again, it made me wonder that, if this sort of stuff is floating around the island, what else is? The hotel has a flag system for water quality; during our stay it was always a green flag for ‘low hazard’. Within view of the resort’s beach, at one point a large barge was anchored at the pier used by the staff boats. It seemed to be collecting the last of the building rubble and waste from the development. It wasn’t a pretty sight, nor is almost exactly 50% of the view from the beach: across the channel to what must be the northern suburbs of KK, where several tower blocks are visible (not unsightly as such, but not a tropical paradise view), and most days 5 or 6 large container ships at various distances. The other 50% of the view is made up of the wooded curve of the island and neighbouring Gayana resort – perfectly idyllic.

At all times, everywhere in Malaysian Borneo that we went, the welcome from the people was astoundingly friendly and gracious, and the staff at the resort were no exception – 100% perfect. On arrival at reception we were checked in and guided to our allocated room. The villas are built in blocks of 4, two above, two below, set upon concrete stilts (presumably reinforced) against the steep forested hillside. You reach them by a combination of boardwalk at beach level, and a concrete access road (also on stilts) that winds up and across the back of the villas. The highest balconies must be a good 40 feet above the forest floor. Because the buildings are new, there are masses of exposed concrete stilts and superstructure. This looks unsightly. They are training fast-growing creepers to cover these, but it will obviously take a few years before the impression of a building site is disguised. The raised roadway has only a knee-high concrete wall at either side, and 20-40-foot drops into the jungle below. You wouldn’t let your kids out alone, nor walk back to your villa unaccompanied after too many shandies. I imagine a European Health & Safety person would have some concerns in this regard. I’m wondering if they’re planning to finish this ugly concrete with some more attractive rendering and whitewash, and put in place safety rails at all appropriate places.

On walking to our villa, as well as these impressions, there was a lot of bare ground where nothing yet seems to be growing, and various unfinished structures that might be beach barbecue or shower places. We passed a rather unsightly pond with murky water and green weed, and a half-hearted fountain. This aspect worsened when we reached our villa. You enter via the balcony, so the balcony view was the first impression: here was another pond, about ten feet below, much worse, stagnant-smelling and scattered with litter and building detritus, more unpleasant-looking pondweed, and four large monitor lizards lazily chewing away at… well, if you read about their diet, you won’t want to eat your lunch. After a few days in the heart of the rainforest and not a sign of a mosquito, I just couldn’t imagine for one moment sitting on this balcony sipping a G&T. Our instant request to be moved was met with a very polite response, and we were immediately taken to the restaurant and offered a drink, while our reception person went off to check availability. After about 20 minutes she returned with details and a map, but we could see that it was still over the pond, so we refused this. Now we were invited to have a free dinner, and after this she returned with more details. It seemed a lot of the rooms were not ready for occupation due to problems with A/C and other snags. The third villa was acceptable – only a short distance from the ‘pond’ villa, but higher up the hillside and surrounded by a mixture of villas and palms trees, with a view through to the sea. However, the ground below was not exactly a tropical garden: again a rather unsightly mixture of bare earth, puddles, logs and struggling plants. In a year or two no doubt the jungle will have covered much of the eyesore, but surely there is going to be a mosquito problem unless the artificial ponds are filled in.

The rooms, conversely, are of an exceptionally high standard, and maintained as such (and very quickly turned around when you were out). After three nights of troubled sleep with no A/C on uncomfortable beds in the rainforest, we slept really well and in great comfort. This aspect applies to all of the indoor facilities of the resort: spotless, modern, cool, airy and well equipped; and everywhere the most friendly and helpful staff imaginable. The pool was ideal for our 8-year-old (shoulder deep), with plenty of space around it, and a pool bar that could be accessed from the water or from within. As dusk fell around 6pm the reflected sunsets (it faces east) could be spectacular, and as the scenery changed to lights over the water, with other lights strung from palms along the beach, the atmosphere does indeed become idyllic.

The food at all times was of very high quality, with a wide selection of local and international choices. If you are focused upon the quality of staff/service, high standard of accommodation/public facilities (eg. Spa), and excellent food, with a great pool to lounge beside – then this place will not disappoint you (especially if you get a good offer). If you picture yourself or the kids running in and out of pure crystal blue waters, to a 360-degree backdrop of tropical forest and distant surf on the reef, if you want snorkeling and to enjoy the sea in an environment that feels reassuringly fresh and clean – then you should probably go to the Maldives or the Western Isles.

I’d also mention that the staff sensed our disappointment, and immediately offered to pay for our dinners for our 5-night stay. This was a big compensation and made a difference. I do feel that someone from senior management (or perhaps a consultancy) who can come with a fresh visitor’s eye should tour the place and deal with the many cosmetic (and potentially safety) issues that currently create a poor first impression. Reception staff should not be expected to show guests to rooms along a route that is patently disappointing; you wouldn’t do it to guests in your own home.

My wife and daughter graded the holiday as excellent – higher than me as they are not so anoraky about the environment and safety – and say they would go back. Again I’d reiterate that the staff training and delivery is of the highest standard. I have graded it low, both for the reasons above, and since I think it is more likely the company will read it and perhaps therefore it will be of benefit to future visitors.

Room Tip: Keep away from rooms with a balcony overlooking a pond - ask for higher up in the trees.
See more room tips
  • Stayed: September 2012, traveled with family
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6  Thank MrMrsSmith1998
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
James_YTL, General Manager at Gaya Island Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 6, 2016

Thank you for your feedback on your stay at Gaya Island. I can see from your review that your stay was far from your expectations and apologize for the various shortcomings and inconveniences which you experienced.

These are far from common occurrences and certainly not representative of our usual high standard of service, facilities and upkeep of the property.

Rest assured I have been through your feedback with our team and analyzed where opportunities for improvement lie, how we best achieve that task and will be acting swiftly to see it through

I understand your disappointment but sincerely hope we will have the opportunity to welcome you for a return stay in the future to rebuild your confidence in our brand and resort.

Warm regards,
James

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed September 11, 2012

We stayed at Gaya Island as part of our honeymoon trip in early September and I can honestly say that it did not feel like the resort was not finished or that shops were not open!

The villas are absolutely beautiful, the pool perfect for cooling off in (and not at all crowded) and a fantastic reef for snorkelling.

The restaurant has some of the best food around, cooked fresh by the chefs in the open restaurant and good value for money (approx. 120 MYR for 3 course meal and a beer). The pastry chef, Yusra, makes the most exceptional desserts! When we left she came running onto the speedboat with a box of freshly baked macaroons for us to take away. Such a personal touch!

  • Stayed: September 2012
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2  Thank Kkanga
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
James_YTL, General Manager at Gaya Island Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 6, 2016

Thank you very much for your review of Gaya Island Resort, we are all glad that you enjoyed your stay with us, and I hope we will have the pleasure of welcoming you back to our resort soon,

Kind regards,

James

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 10, 2012

We stayed at the Gaya Island for four nights at the end of August. We had read the reviews on trip advisor and were a little concerned but were reassured by our travel agent that the resort was ready for paying guests.

To be honest we are so glad we ignored the reviews and went with our gut instinct. We can understand why some people have raised a few issues but our view is that these are inevitable with new resorts and if you can get over the fact that yes the vegetation needs to grow to cover the new structures and that occasionally (and we stress occassionally here) that things might not be up to 5 star standard, they are remedied absolutely immediately. For example our room wasn't ready when we first arrived but straight away we were taken to the bar for a complementary lunch and drinks which was delicious. The staff are fantastic, so helpful and extremely attentive.

The room was impeccable. We had a fantastic view over the small bay and felt like we were nestled in to the rain forest. We had just spent a week in the jungle so all we really wanted to do was relax and enjoy ourselves which was what we did. We enjoyed the snorkelling with paul and Scott (names we think?!) and the cookery course. We enjoyed the food in the bar, feast village and fishermans cove and although yes maybe expensive but this is a five star resort!

We'd particularly like to thank Karoline who made our stay extra special and also Joy who worked in the feast village/ fishermans cove.

Only recommendations would be that the road up to the villas could be made aesthetically pleasing either by painting it or putting down paving. Also we felt it would have been useful to have more of an information pack in our room, about the resort etc and individual facilities, prices, timings etc.

All in all a wonderful end to a great holiday!

  • Stayed: August 2012, traveled as a couple
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2  Thank OnTheGo3711
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
James_YTL, General Manager at Gaya Island Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 6, 2016

Thank you very much for your review of Gaya Island Resort, we are all glad that you enjoyed your stay with us, and I hope we will have the pleasure of welcoming you back to our resort soon,

Kind regards,

James

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 1, 2012

We have just arrived back from our trip and spent 4 nights at the Gaya Island Resort from 26-30 Aug. As a honeymoon couple, we had read the reviews and were anxious that the resort would not be ready, on arrival we were relieved that this was not the case the resort was beautiful.

We received a warm welcome and was shown to our room immediately. The room we stayed in was spacious and was decorated very nicely, however there is still some evidence that work had been carried out recently, e.g dusty corners and masking tape, however, the rooms are very comfortable. The grounds surrounding the villas is still a little raw, and lots of planting was happening during our stay, I'm sure once the plants have matured it will look lovely.

The food and the staff were brilliant, the main feast village serves buffet style starters and desserts and you choose a made to order main course. We felt that the food was exceptional and was presented beautifully (particularly the dessert counter!), compared to some of the other resorts where quantity is more important than quality. The staff were very attentive, they were always very helpful and nothing was too much. We also had a picnic hamper and had this served on the beach. A small canopy was set up, with blankets and pillows and we had a lovely relaxing afternoon.

During our stay the Spa villiage was open and we had a Malay massage. There were still workmen milling around the spa but the therapy rooms and lobby are ready and are as lovely as the rest of the hotel.

We went scuba diving, the dive centre at the resort were really helpful with explaining everything and were really enthusiastic, we couldn't wait to go after speaking to them. We are not PADI trained so went for the one day try dive. We went out to Sapi Island which is about a 20 minute boat ride away. I was quite nervous but the dive instructors Richard and James were really good and explained everything clearly and were reassuring.

One thing that was not so pleasant was the routine mosquito 'fogging', where insect repellent is sprayed around the resort. I understand that this is necessary to manage the insects, but we were unfortunate to be inside the villa at the time that this happened. The fog came in through the air-con vents and it felt like we were being smoked out of the villa, the smoke alarm went off and we had to open the doors and vacate the room for about 45 minutes for it to clear. The smell was unpleasant in a confined space. We did mention this to staff and they apologised sincerely for this. I don't know whether we were a bit unlucky that the fogger's came right past our villa as it may not have been like that in other villas, but i would advise not to be in your room when this happens.

Overall we had a lovely stay and would like to come back in a few years time, maybe for an anniversary and i am sure that the resort will be perfect.

  • Stayed: August 2012, traveled as a couple
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4  Thank OxfordKatieC
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
James_YTL, General Manager at Gaya Island Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 6, 2016

Thank you for your feedback on your stay at Gaya Island. I can see from your review that your stay was far from your expectations and apologize for the various shortcomings and inconveniences which you experienced.

These are far from common occurrences and certainly not representative of our usual high standard of service, facilities and upkeep of the property.

Rest assured I have been through your feedback with our team and analyzed where opportunities for improvement lie, how we best achieve that task and will be acting swiftly to see it through

I understand your disappointment but sincerely hope we will have the opportunity to welcome you for a return stay in the future to rebuild your confidence in our brand and resort.

Warm regards,
James

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 29, 2012 via mobile

Very nice structure, rooms comfortable and with a great visual on jungle or on the sea. Very good cantin and restaurant. Swimming pool big with a bar in the flank of it. Personnel warm and professional. Maybe a bit expensive the lunch-dinner prices considering also the basis price for the room. In 2012 the structure was still not completed, but yet very comfortable. I am sure then in few months will be a 5 star in every points of this classification.

  • Stayed: August 2012
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1  Thank Augustus82
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
James_YTL, General Manager at Gaya Island Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 6, 2016

Thank you very much for your review of Gaya Island Resort, we are all glad that you enjoyed your stay with us, and I hope we will have the pleasure of welcoming you back to our resort soon,

Kind regards,

James

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 28, 2012

My family and I spent 4 nights (21st -25th August, 2012 ) in this stunning resort. In case you are wondering where this place is since it has just been newly opened (1st of August 2012), it is on an island located just off Kota Kinabalu (KK) , Sabah, East Malaysia .

Once we arrived in KK, my family and I took a taxi from the airport to the serene Sanctuary Harbour where a boat took us across to the resort. I enjoyed my view from the second level of the luxurious white yacht. All five of us were just amazed at the scene before our eyes – the turquoise blue sea, the calm clear sky and the many little islands we saw on our way besides enjoying the cool breeze . The holiday pretty much started from when we arrived in KK since the town itself is beautiful and abounds with lush greenery unlike the concrete jungle of any city. I will now describe some of the activities, the cuisine on the resort, our room as well as the facilities provided in the resort.

Once on the resort, my family and I went for the private snorkelling session as we preferred to be given extra attention while swimming in the open sea. It was scary at first as it was our first time, but that perception changed once we started seeing sea creatures such as the clown fishes, sea urchins, groupers and a variety of sea corals. It was an amazing experience as we were able to see live what we used to watch on the National Geographic channel.

Besides, we also loved taking a dip in the pool which is so uniquely positioned that it overlooks the blue sea. So, we could have the seaview while swimming. We also managed to take a full body spa the day before we left. It was a wonderful experience as the spa is set in a tranquil place giving customers a peaceful feeling.

The meals were really interesting , from the presentation to the taste. I’d recommend the seafood as it is fresh and yummy as well. They serve a variety of sea foods such as lobsters, prawns, scallops, river fish and a variety of clams. What surprised me most was when the chefs suddenly appeared to warmly greet the customers with cheer and smiles , every now and then, just to make sure we are happy with their cooking. The waiters/ waitresses were also exceptionally friendly as they greeted us and helped us in any way they could to make us enjoy the food better.

Our rooms were meticulously clean complete with state-of-the-art TV set, double beds and a spacious bathroom. We were really happy with the condition of the room since it was maintained well. Lastly, I’d like to point out the other facilities provided in the resort. There’s a library complete with two computers with free internet access, a gym room, a souvenir store and a state-of-the-art spa, to name a few. All in all, we had a great experience there and I’d suggest those who would love to take a break from a busy life to make a quick dash to this wonderful resort.

  • Stayed: August 2012, traveled with family
    • Value
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7  Thank Nageswary N
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
James_YTL, General Manager at Gaya Island Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 6, 2016

Thank you very much for your review of Gaya Island Resort, we are all glad that you enjoyed your stay with us, and I hope we will have the pleasure of welcoming you back to our resort soon,

Kind regards,

James

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 27, 2012

If you read the other reviews you will get the flavour. The resort has been rushed to be ready and is not up to the usual luxury standard. However the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful so I am sure it will get there. I have to say we were very surprised that the manager was pretty invisible to us. There is a lot he/she needs to attend to.
So Starting on the positive.

Great staff
Great location
Good villas, if you go up higher
Great snorkelling

What needs fixing

Sort the booking system out. We booked as a family and our villas were not interconnecting though geo did sort out two next to each other.
In many places the finishing is v sub standard (mastic on the floors, hand prints on walls cupboards don't fit) I assume there will be a re close to fix these
The food is very good but the main dining area feels like a works cantine
The sun umbrellas are about the size of a golf umbrella
The telephone system is too "clever". The network is often down and is very hard to hear and to make yourself understood
The central water feature needs a real re think.
As I said as far as we are aware we didn't see or talk to the manager (we were there 5 nights). He/she could learn a lot from just seeing what was and was not working and talking to the guests (always the sign of the best hotels)

In conclusion unless you get a great deal now is not the time to go. We have been lucky to stay in some great Asian hotels and this is not yet up to the expected standard. However the staff are great and the fundamentals are there.

Room Tip: If you are fit ask for high up rooms
See more room tips
  • Stayed: August 2012, traveled with family
    • Value
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
4  Thank Lesterfam
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
James_YTL, General Manager at Gaya Island Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 6, 2016

Thank you for your feedback on your stay at Gaya Island. I can see from your review that your stay was far from your expectations and apologize for the various shortcomings and inconveniences which you experienced.

These are far from common occurrences and certainly not representative of our usual high standard of service, facilities and upkeep of the property.

Rest assured I have been through your feedback with our team and analyzed where opportunities for improvement lie, how we best achieve that task and will be acting swiftly to see it through

I understand your disappointment but sincerely hope we will have the opportunity to welcome you for a return stay in the future to rebuild your confidence in our brand and resort.

Warm regards,
James

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Gaya Island Resort

Address: Malohom Bay, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park | Jesselton Point, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Pulau Gaya 88000, Malaysia
Phone Number:
Location: Malaysia > Sabah > West Coast Division > Kota Kinabalu District > Pulau Gaya
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Beach Beverage Selection Fitness Center with Gym / Workout Room Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Children Activities (Kid / Family Friendly) Restaurant Spa Suites Swimming Pool Airport Transportation
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 3 Hotels in Pulau Gaya
Price Range: $189 - $383 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:5 star — Gaya Island Resort 5*
Number of rooms: 121
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Gaya Island Resort is located on Pulau Gaya, the largest of a cluster of five islands that form the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, a natural conservation area off the coast of Borneo, close to Kota Kinabalu. Gaya Island Resort has a unique setting: the land is fringed with a golden sandy beach, rocky coastal outcrops, and surrounded by coral reefs. The hilly island landscape is covered with lush tropical rainforest and an abundance of flora and fauna. And to complete this perfect setting, visible in the distance, is the stunning outline of Mount Kinabalu. The guest villa exterior respects Sabahan architecture uses local materials and blends harmoniously with the natural environment. The interior living space is designed with contemporary elegance to create warmth, comfort and a serene indoor setting. Gaya Island Resort is committed to ecologically sustainable practices to minimise the carbon footprint within its environment. Therefore the resort is a walking resort and only minimal motorised vehicles are used for operational purposes. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Gaya Island Resort Malaysia/Pulau Gaya

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