Sabah’s Luxury Resort and Orangutan Sanctuary

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Malaysia’s emergence as a premier tourist destination has led to the establishment of some world class resorts like the Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort, a 30-minute drive from the bustling Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu. With Dalit Bay’s long white sandy beachfront and the surrounding lush tropical forest, the Five-Star Rasa Ria is one of those resorts where you just don’t feel an urge to leave because you have everything at your fingertips. Although Rasa Ria offers the standard luxury amenities and activities, its additional attractions are what make it stand out from others in the region. Where else can you leave your room and take a walk into the adjoining forest to watch orangutans eating less than twenty meters away?

On our second morning, we met at 10 am to watch a video about the resort’s rehabilitation program at its sanctuary for young orangutans that have been unable to fend for themselves in the wild. Here, the orangutans are trained with the skills necessary to survive and then eventually released into the jungle. After the video, we hiked about a half-mile into the forest to a viewing platform set on a hillside and waited silently for the orangutans to appear. Soon we saw treetops waving in the distance and a family of orangutans swung gracefully into sight, from tree to tree. The three apes sat down for their breakfast by a large pile of fruit on a wooden platform about 20 meters from us, occasionally glancing over at us with mild curiosity. These gentle creatures appear so human-like that it’s easy to see why their name, translated from Indonesian, means “person of the forest”. In fact, orangutans are considered one of the most intelligent of all primates and use sophisticated tools and build elaborate sleeping nests.

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The baby orangutan puts on a fine display of coordination as he climbs along ropes and up trees, while the mother climbs onto a tree branch within a few feet of us to hang out. She watches us intensely. Up close I can see her coarse orange/red fur is long and frizzy and her muscular outstretched arms span about two meters—longer than 6 feet! We’re all getting up close to take photos of the mother and our cameras click and whir like machine guns. After viewing the orangutans for a half-hour or so, a smaller group walks up the hill to a viewpoint 95 meters above sea level where we look out over the jungle canopy to the South China Sea. The resort is set in a gorgeous spot where sea, sand and forest harmoniously converge.

Our guide tells us that this Nature Reserve we’re trekking through is 15 years old, spreads over 64 acres and has over 60 species of birds and many different plants and butterflies. It’s run jointly between the resort and the Sabah State Wildlife Department. Children staying at the resort can spend a day with the rangers, feeding the animals and helping with daily activities. We tread carefully, one at a time, across swinging wire and rope walkways, from treetop to treetop, looking down on the jungle canopy 10 meters below. Occasionally a startled deer bursts out of the bushes. After descending and hiking over hill and dale and through some muddy spots, we arrive back at the resort. Time to cool off in the large pool! Bliss!

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Other activities at Rasa Ria include the Dalit Spa with a menu of 30 different treatments including massage, body scrubs and wraps, facials, and pedicures. The 18-hole  golf course is a 5-minute golf cart ride from the resort and is known for the occasional 5-foot long monitor lizard strolling across it.

Rasa Ria Resort water sports consist of catamaran sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, fishing, and boat tours. Guests can also go horseback riding, cycling, play tennis, and take jungle treks and go white water rafting in season. Nocturnal animal watching and bird watching tours are also available. Rasa Ria means, in Malay, “A Taste of Happiness” and their restaurants certainly live up to this name. Our favorite restaurant is Tepi Laut, a series of recreated Malaysian hawker food stalls set along “Makan Street”. We enjoyed sampling the different Malaysian foods from each of these stalls including delicious chicken curries, beef rendangs, satays, soups, and sweet desserts. We also dined at Naan, the resort’s Indian restaurant trying their tandoor favorites, and vindaloo, masala and tikka dishes. Another night we ate hot grilled teppanyaki at the Kozan restaurant. The Coast Restaurant is a beachfront restaurant featuring contemporary western cuisine and ultramodern design.

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With a raised central bar accented by Mother of Pearl and shimmering phosphorescent fiber optic jellyfish chandeliers, dining here seems quite surreal. Breakfast buffet selections at Rasa Ria are awesome, offering everything from western dishes like Eggs Benedict to a raft of Malaysian favorites, and everything in between. If you prefer complete privacy for your fine dining you can book one of the three beachside gazebos, romantic private dining pavilions that offer spectacular ocean and sunset views.

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The resort’s rooms are spacious and range from Premier to Executive Suites, and from 36 square meters to a whopping 108 square meters. All rooms have broadband Internet access, cable TV, and the standard trimmings, and are fashionably and tastefully decorated. With all of these amenities and facilities, its no wonder the resort hosts a lot of weddings every year. The resort’s packed gift shop offers a nice variety of Malaysian arts and crafts, plus the usual tourist vacation clothing.

Our time at Rasa Ria was wonderful. The staff, from the girls who brought us tropical drinks as we arrived, to the bag carriers, was delightful, and eager to please the guests, and accommodated our needs promptly. We could not fault their service or the relaxed atmosphere hat Rasa Ria. You’ve got to love a place where you can see orangutans every day!

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