Es­cape to the great apes and splen­did iso­la­tion in Bor­neo’s Shangri-La

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

THERE is the trill of ex­cited chat­ter as about 40 of us walk along a raised plat­form into the for­est. The rangers have told us all the rules — no touch­ing, no feed­ing — and shown us a short video about the plight of the jun­gle crea­tures we are about to meet.

As we ar­rive, so do they: a small fam­ily of or­phaned orang-utans. For an hour we watch from a view­ing plat­form as they eat pieces of ba­nana, play with each other and the rangers, and tease the macaque mon­keys that try to steal the leftover fruit.

Rang­ing in age from three to five, th­ese seven beau­ti­ful crea­tures, whose nat­u­ral habi­tat is be­ing de­stroyed by palm farm­ing, have been raised by hu­mans who are at­tempt­ing to give them the skills they need to live on their own in a pro­tected for­est.

We are at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Re­sort in the east of Sabah, part of Malaysian Bor­neo. About 10 years ago, the re­sort set aside 25ha of for­est to as­sist in the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of baby orang-utans and to pro­tect other unique rain­for­est species. Now, a max­i­mum of 80 peo­ple a day— most stay­ing at the re­sort but also a few oth­ers who have booked well in ad­vance — pay 50 ring­git ($17.20) to watch the beau­ti­ful crea­tures up close.

The orang-utans are not the only at­trac­tion at this iso­lated re­sort, placed strate­gi­cally be­tween rain­for­est and beach at Pan­tai Dalit. At the end of 2007, the re­sort opened its lux­u­ri­ous Ocean Wing, a low-slung build­ing with 90 deluxe rooms. The in­te­rior de­sign is in­spired by the lo­cal cul­ture — art­work, carved hard­wood par­ti­tions, a nat­u­ral pal­ette — but it is the pri­vate ter­race that ex­cites. An enor­mous daybed and out­door bath (the ho­tel sug­gests it’s for two but I’ve seen smaller back­yard pools) over­look the gar­dens and the South China Sea.

One night, af­ter a su­perb din­ner at the hawker-style Makan Street restau­rant, I or­der a re­vi­tal­is­ing bath from the spa menu. At 9pm, a soft knock at the door sig­nals the ar­rival of a ther­a­pist, who, while fill­ing the bath with sea min­er­als, pep­per­mint oil and fresh flow­ers, kneads my feet and legs for 15 min­utes as I stretch out on the day bed lis­ten­ing to the ocean. She dis­ap­pears, and I im­merse my­self in the deep, warm, sweet-smelling wa­ter and al­most float off to sleep.

Dur­ing the day, there are sev­eral ac­tiv­i­ties, re­lax­ing and oth­er­wise. Chil­dren love the ba­nana boat ride that hur­tles around the calm wa­ter, while larger thrill-seek­ers tend to go for the para­sail­ing. Next door, the Dalit Bay Golf Club and Spa at Dalit Bay are open to Rasa Ria guests. Or (and plenty seem to take this idle op­tion) you can just soak up the calm at­mos­phere by the pool.

At night, Coast restau­rant, lo­cated on the beach, is trans­formed by soft blue light from spec­tac­u­lar fix­tures that re­sem­ble shim­mer­ing jel­ly­fish, hang­ing from the ceil­ing. The menu blends Ital­ian tech­niques with Asian flavours; seafood of­fer­ings are def­i­nitely worth or­der­ing. This is also the place to go for break­fast if you are stay­ing in the Ocean Wing; there’s a buf­fet of just about ev­ery­thing you can imag­ine as well as an ex­cel­lent se­lec­tion of freshly cooked dishes.

If you are looking for action, this stretch of sand prob­a­bly won’t be on your itin­er­ary, but for hol­i­day­mak­ers want­ing some quiet time com­bined with the good things in life, Rasa Ria may be the per­fect des­ti­na­tion. Car­rie Hutchin­son was a guest of Shangri-La Re­sorts.

Check­list

Shangri-La Rasa Ria Re­sort, Pan­tai Dalit, Sabah, Malaysia. Phone: + 60 88 792 888; www.shangri-la.com. Tar­iff: From 1021 ring­git ($351) a dou­ble, in­clud­ing break­fast for two, in the Ocean Wing. Gar­den Wing from 470 ring­git, which in­cludes break­fast for two. Get­ting there: A 45-minute trans­fer from Kota Kin­a­balu air­port. Check­ing in: Cou­ples and fam­i­lies want­ing to get away from ev­ery­thing (ex­cept lux­ury). Wheel­chair ac­cess: All rooms and most restau­rants are ac­ces­si­ble by lift and paths. The beach and the orang-utan re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre are not. Bed­time read­ing: StrangerintheFor­est:On FootAcrossBor­neo by Eric Hansen. Step­ping out: For the en­er­getic, Mt Kin­a­balu is just wait­ing to be climbed (al­low two days). The sur­round­ing na­tional park has much less ex­haust­ing ter­ri­tory to ex­plore. Brick­bats: The re­sort re­ally is iso­lated, which could be a prob­lem for the so­cial trav­eller or if the weather turns bad. Bou­quets: The shut­tle ser­vice to Shangri-La Tan­jung Aru in Kota Kin­a­balu means you can en­joy this sis­ter ho­tel’s fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing snorkelling trips to nearby is­lands and its deca­dent new Chi spa.

Shore thing: Rasa Ria Re­sort

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