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Animal encounters

A golden beach, tropical rainforests and orang-utans galore!

David Foster and Sheryl Drane May 28, 2014

Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort

Just forty minutes - but a world away - from the hustle and bustle of central Kota Kinabalu, we arrived at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort on the beautiful Pantai Dalit Beach. Set among a nature reserve and four hundred acres of tropical forest, just the approach to the resort through the manicured championship golf course made us realise we were in for something special.

 
As soon as we walked into the lobby of the newly refurbished Garden Wing, the open plan views of the sea greeted us. All the spacious rooms here have been upgraded to such a high standard - whether overlooking the rainforest, gardens or sea, they are all split-level with a large daybed, which is perfect for a third person or child. The eco-credentials shine through with the hotel's own in-house bottled complimentary drinking water and other sustainable touches.
 
The grounds of the hotel are so expansive that, if you were in the Garden Wing, you'd have no idea that there was an expansion programme underway elsewhere in the resort. We stayed in the exclusive Ocean Wing, which was right next door to the new rooms but this didn't detract from our stay. In fact, the free virgin cocktails around the Ocean Wing pool soon made us forget all about it! Alternatively, we could lounge on the stunning beach away from the cares of the world or drop the privacy blinds and relax in the bathtub out on the huge balcony.
 
Undoubtedly, the highlight of our stay at this resort was the Orang-utan Education Centre where you can meet Sabah’s iconic primates. Shangri La Rasa Ria Nature Reserve works closely with the State Wildlife Department of Sabah and the Sepilok Centre in Sandakan, where the Orang-utans start the first stage of their rehabilitation. They don’t just stop at Orang-utans at the Nature Reserve, they also have Monkeys, over sixty species of birds, sambar deer, barking deer, mouse deer, civet cat, slow loris, common porcupine and many other species. Since it opened, they have helped rehabilitate dozens of young and baby orangs into the wild. 
 
We walked for about ten minutes through the jungle in intense heat and humidity before reaching a viewing platform. Our friendly guide deposited a bucket of fruit onto another platform a few metres away and after a couple of minutes, we noticed branches swaying in the jungle canopy in the distance. The orang-utan soon swung into view and dived into the fruit pile. He looked ever so happy munching on his banana, while we all clamored to try and get a decent photo. We ended up spending a fascinating hour watching one of the sanctuary's three current residents playing in the trees and chasing off the other opportunistic monkeys at the feeding platform. 
We also got the chance to chat to one of the helpful keepers here, too:
 
What made you want to become a keeper and how long have you worked here? 
I wanted to help save these beautiful animals from extinction from the age of 20 years old; I’ve been a ranger now for 15 years. 
 
What is the most rewarding part of your job? 
Once the Orang-utan is successfully rehabilitated and sent to Sepilok Centre for the second stage of their rehabilitation program. 
 
Have you got a favourite animal and what is it?
A three year old orang-utan named Tenten. She was rescued by the Wildlife Rescue Unit at Keningau. Unfortunately, poachers killed her mother. She was then handed over to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre on the 21 October 2010. TENTEN was named after the date of her being rescued, on 10 October 2010. After successfully undergone a medical check-up, she was trans-located to Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Nature Reserve on the 31 October 2010 for her first stage of Rehabilitation Program.
 
In the evening, the sunset over the bay put on its own spectacular show while we enjoyed reduced-priced Orang Utan Special and Ole Ole cocktails during happy hour at the Sampan Bar. Followed by a delicious dinner at the hawker market styled Tepi Laut Makan Street, one of two restaurants you can enjoy on the half board plan. We could have eaten here every night and never have to duplicate a meal, as we chose the ingredients which are then cooked right in front of you in the open air, just like in the local food markets all over Malaysia.
 
Although we didn't have time to sample them there was a huge range of daily activities for both adults and children, many of which were free and both land and water based sports too. And we’d have been happy to while away many an hour at the Chi Spa village, conveniently open until at 11pm at night.
 
Of all the hotels we visited in Borneo and indeed Malaysia, we would be happiest to return to the Rasa Ria for a much longer stay, sometime soon!