Gaya Island, Malaysia



The Haze

Yep … It’s a lovely pool, pity you can’t see the beach or into the distance. The haze. Palm oil plantations conduct vast amounts of burning off each year. The two biggest producers, Malaysia and Indonesia, account for 84% of the world’s palm oil production worth a staggering US$11 billion annually. The result is a haze that hangs over south east Asia for weeks. Rain helps I’m told, but that’s not much good to me in dry season.


I had gone and added the extra expense of booking a room with a view of Mt Kinabalu … Well you can see from this photo that was worth the extra cash! You can’t even see the beach below!

A luxury island getaway

We wanted an island getaway that was not a million more hours to get to.   Gaya Island is a quick 15 minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu. From the moment you arrive at the jetty you couldn’t be better taken care of. The staff are professional, organised and kind. The island is managed by YTL Hotels who managed a number of resorts in different countries throughout Asia. As a group, I would choose them over other brands. The hotel is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. I prefer small and the added attention of a smaller resort. I trust this hotel group. I’ve worked with them in a previous life and they have integrity which transfers in the service you receive.

The rooms are luxuriously spacious with great views (granted no haze) the bathroom was the size of my bedroom at home!

Dining options on the island 

If you read Trip Advisor there a mixed reviews in relation to the food. It’s an island and I think they are trying really hard. I will say this- if you stick to the ‘family’ restaurant (Feast Village) at the main building the food is average. They are trying to add variety and to make things fresh. The pool bar has great quick eats and the service is attentive and quick. The food at Tavajun Bay is by far the best I ate throughout my stay.

The other restaurants require bookings and if you’re not quick during your stay you won’t get in. I was travelling alone with my son and one of these restaurants has a ‘no children under*’ policy so I couldn’t go. However, I did speak to people at the pool and they raved about it. I read through the menu and they really did look much better than the buffet style restaurant.


Gaya Island is home to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. There are nature trails, mangrove forests and a marine centre. They are truely conscious of their conservation efforts. They have created a turtle rehabilitation centre (Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre) on the island. The week before we arrived a turtle had been rescued so I was hoping to see it. Unfortunately it hadn’t survived so we didn’t get the chance.

Issues turtles face 

It’s estimated 100 million turtles are harmed through ingestion or entanglement each year. A turtle can’t tell the difference between a plastic bag and a jellyfish, so, they eat them. Once ingested the turtle floats and can’t dive. They are then at risk of being hit by a boat and can’t get food as they can’t dive. Of course, trawlers and people killing them for food or turtle shell are others issues. At Gaya they are in the current from the eastern shore of Pulau Gaya where a well-known illegal Filipino colony, called Kampung Lok Urai, is built. The houses are built over the water on stilts, with little regard to sanitation or waste disposal. The waste ends up on the secluded beach of Gaya Resort.


Plastic bottles and other single use plastics

We took a kayak out and for 15 minutes pulled in this haul of plastics photographed below. I didn’t want to swim in this so collected it. There were staff on the beach sweeping the leaves (as they do in Asia) and I couldn’t think why that would be of value when there is all this in the water. The problem is constant because of the illegal settlement’s location. The current carries their waste directly to the Tavajun Bay. The government has proposed moving them to their own island but this was met with public opposition. Once the water was cleared it truly was beautiful!


Snorkelling on the far side of the island had clear, cleaner water and full of coral fish. We took a mangrove kayak tour which greatly because of the knowledgeable and passionate guide, incredibly informative.

Having forgotten at one stage to remove the dry biscuits from our beach basket (provided by the hotel) we very quickly had monkeys eating them- locked in our room and monkeys snarling at us until they ate their biscuits! My son left them a message – see below.

Lazing by the pool. Swimming in the moderate water in front of the resort. Enjoying the spa. What’s not to like?


Would I go back? Absolutely. If you have small children – I recommend asking for a room down the hill! Pushing or even carrying a child up and down wouldn’t be easy. The swim up bar is where I will be after I make my reservations at either Omakase or Fisherman’s Cove.



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