From steamy jungles to blissful mountains, balmy beaches and peaceful villages, Sabah – one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo – is awash with a bounty of natural treasures, seemingly tailor-made for fun, relaxation and adventure. We had also heard that Sabah is one of the most romantic places on Earth, making it an ideal destination for a wedding or a honeymoon. After spending 10 days exploring the beautiful region, we’re convinced. Here’s why we think Sabah makes the ultimate honeymoon destination…
Its natural beauty
Lonely Planet calls this place one of the most “physically stunning places on Earth” and after visiting for ourselves we have to agree – the state’s diverse natural landscapes are truly beautiful. Sabah is filled with scenery from lush green rain forests and imposing mountains to dreamy white beaches and sparkling oceans – making it a blissful setting for couples seeking a unique honeymoon.
The romantic resorts
Sabah is home to some of the most romantic hotel resorts in the world. Stand out places include the ultra luxurious Pacific Sutera Resort which comes with a full-service spa, a golf course and its own private beach – a truly tranquil couple’s retreat. The five star Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria is also very special, situated on a wide sweep of beach with a jungle and nature reserve at one end, the resort follows the Shangri-La’s ethos of world-renowned style and exemplary service. Honeymooners should opt for a room in the gorgeous Ocean Wing which features a private pool, an oversized romantic bath for two situated on a private balcony and even a complimentary menu of scents with aromatherapy benefits – little details always count!
Borneo’s beaches are world-famous and Sabah has an abundance of impossibly wide, impeccably clean, tranquil white sandy beaches flanked by gorgeous azure blue waters. On some, you might even catch a glimpse of the nesting highly endangered Hawksbill or Green turtles who come ashore at night to lay their eggs, usually in batches of 50 to 80. The region also offers some of the best diving and snorkelling opportunities in the world: here the oceans are teeming with colourful marine life, fragile corals and awe-inspiring caverns which are perfect for exploring.
Spas are always a popular feature on honeymoon and Sabah offers some exceptional spa experiences. We were lucky enough to try an indulgent massage at the on-site spa at the serene Gaya Island Resort by some of the best therapists in the business. They pride themselves of their impressive range of traditional beauty and holistic treatments which reflect the healing traditions of Sabah’s indigenous tribes. Six modernist pods tucked in a lush mangrove forest make up the Spa Village, and the treatment (which used only the finest fresh local ingredients) was an hour and a half of pure bliss.
Nothing is more romantic than watching a sunset with that special someone and Sabah’s sunsets are truly magical. There are a few reasons for this – the unpolluted air offers a better clarity of sunset viewing, the sun always appears to look bigger near equator and the high humidity and dense cloud of Sabah’s tropical climate helps to paint a more colourful sky. Kota Kinabalu has several excellent vantage points from which to see the beautiful sunset in all its splendour.
The diverse range of things to do
A honeymoon in Sabah offers so much more than just relaxing on the beach. Rich in diverse landscapes and fascinating wildlife, you can encounter playful orang-utans at the world-famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, explore an underwater world of corals and caverns, learn about Borneo’s tribal history at a culture village or even climb the slopes of the imposing Mount Kinabalu.
Sabah’s incredible rainforest deserves a special mention of its own. This is where the oldest undisturbed rainforest on the planet resides and here you can immerse yourself in forest life and get a chance to meet its many inhabitants – the rare birds, primates (including the unique looking Proboscis Monkey), Orang-utans and herds of Borneo Pygmy Elephants. Up the romance factor and stay at the award-winning Sukau Rainforest Lodge and opt for an enchanting night safari.
Good food is always important on a honeymoon and whether you decide to eat local at the market (where they prepare your meal while you watch) or dine a top-class restaurant, Sabah has plenty of options to choose from. Fresh fish, plump succulent fruits and lashings of chilli feature heavily, and of course, so do rice and noodles. Dishes to watch out for include Pinasakan which is a braised basung fish mixed with a tangy wild fruit and Hinava, a raw fish marinated with lime juice and herbs.
The idyllic islands
Sabah has an astounding array of beautiful islands which make an idyllic setting for a honeymoon. We visited Gaya Island (just a 10-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu) where visitors can dive, snorkel, swim, hike through the numerous inland trails or take an exhilarating ride on the longest island-to-island zip line. Visitors can also learn about the fantastic conservation work being carried out at the island’s Marine Ecology Research Centre – keep an eye out for the very cute baby turtles!
Borneo has a very laid back culture where the citizens have a reputation for being relaxed, eager to please and quick to laugh. The locals are indeed extremely friendly and attentive – I’ve personally never seen so many smiling, welcoming faces. If you choose a honeymoon in Sabah, you can expect excellent standards of hospitality and service and even little personal touches (toy orang-utan anyone?), especially in Sabah’s exceptional hotel resorts.