A honeymoon is something to be remembered for a lifetime. It just has to be special. Having been married and honeymooned aboard, we can recommend the benefits of flying off for your big day and heading to one of the world’s top honeymoon destinations.
When people think destination weddings it’s often places like the Caribbean that come to mind. But after visiting the region of Sabah, in Borneo, it struck us that there can be so much more to starting married life than merely white beaches.
How and where you spend your honeymoon, will be different for every couple. You may even find you want to do different things to your partner. In fact, before you go any further read our tips to travelling as a couple to ensure you enjoy “us time”.
But no matter how you enjoy spending your time, we found that there was something for every couple in Sabah.
It’s a region that’s home to wildlife like orangutans and proboscis monkeys, it has spectacular weather, remarkable sunsets, inviting beaches, and fantastic adventures.
You will easily fill your days, your camera and your first days of married life.
Sabah’s top honeymoon destinations
Our trip took us to various areas of Malaysian Borneo and we discovered the many faces of this little-known region. It’s these great experiences that are set to make Sabah a honeymoon hotspot.
Culture in the city of sunsets
It’s rare to go to a city for its sunsets. But then Sabah’s capital Kota Kinabalu isn’t like other cities. It is blessed with natural attractions – from Mount Kinabalu that punctures the sky at 4,095 metres, to the beaches that line its coastline.
And it was the sunset – proclaimed to be one of the best in the world by Lonely Planet – that greeted us as we arrived at Pacific Sutera Harbour Hotel, on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu.
There’s a lot of hype employed when people speak of sunsets, especially when it’s linked to weddings and honeymoons. But the sunsets from this part of the island are worth travelling for, especially when it’s with the one you love. So go on – hold hands, look into each other’s eyes, and look out across the sea and contemplate your future at the close of your first days together.
But if full-on slushy romance isn’t your thing, don’t fear. This area of Sabah isn’t just for hand-holding sunset-bathed lovers.
The Pacific Sutera Harbour is well-located, a five-minute fly-and-flop drive from Kota Kinabalu’s airport – accessible by Royal Brunei flights from London, Dubai and Melbourne. And it’s a five-minute drive in the other direction to Kota Kinabalu’s centre.
We tried dinner one night at Philippines Market, a fairly rustic experience, but interesting and with a large selection of local dishes, another time we visited a Chinese market for a freshly cooked meal amid the hubbub of local life.
A culinary highlight though was a fish feast at Alu Alu Seafood Restaurant. Here fish comes fresh from Borneo Eco-Fish, an organisation dedicated to harvesting and distributing seafood from sustainable sources. It is served in a multitude of mouth-watering sauces and it’s delicious!
During the day we took in some of the main tourist attractions such as Sabah State Mosque which almost seems to float in the middle of a reflective lake, and Puh Toh Tze Chinese temple – the two perfectly reflecting Malaysia’s cultural and religious melting pot.
What we loved most about it was the colour. Kota Kinabalu is a kaleidoscopic shape-shifter. The riotous clash of colour and cacophony of trade at Philippines Market, blending with the brash, bold gold and red of the Chinese temple and melding into the elegant pastel hues of Kota Kinabalu’s mosque. And of course, at the end of each day, they were bathed in the glorious buttery-yellow, magenta and violet of a Sabah sunset.
When not exploring Kota Kinabalu we relaxed at the five-star Pacific Sutera Harbour. It’s a big resort, with a huge choice of recreational facilities including a championship golf course, sun-soaked swimming pools and a marina offering a multitude of boat trips.
Get away from it all island paradise
It may sound a cliché, but Sabah has an island escape with your name on it. Well it’s actually called Gaya Island Resort. But we reckon you’ll make yourself at home there.
It’s rare that we ever truly manage to get away from the pressures of life, work and more. And if there’s ever a time when you should find space for you as a couple, it’s in your first few days of married life.
Set in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, about 15 minutes by speed boat off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, Gaya Island Resort has 120 rooms and suites surrounded by nothing but the blue of Malohom Bay, and ancient rainforest.
The main island beach isn’t the best for snorkelling, instead we were ferried by boat to another part of the island.
The hotel also takes seriously marine conservation, and this area is home to the fascinating Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre. The centre focuses on turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release, coral reef restoration and conservation education.
After a Thai lunch – one of the best meals we had in Sabah – we watched wild boar come through the forest to forage, and monitor lizards soak up the afternoon sun.
The warm sea was wonderful for swimming, and, if you’re up for a little more adventure, you can take the world’s longest island to island zip-wire from neighbouring Sapi Island.
As a honeymoon destination Gaya Island would be hard to beat.
We enjoyed the natural feel of the place – not at all rustic, but a little back to nature with the rainforest backdrop, not to mention the opportunities to get close to animals in and around the marine centre. The facilities and services also stood out. Gaya Island Resort has an extensive spa and the indigenous massages we had there (a combination of age-old healing traditions from various Bornean tribes) were among the best we’ve had.
Book now with this exclusive special offer from Premier Holidays: 10 nights at the Gaya Island Resort from £1,199 per person, incl. flights with Royal Brunei Airlines. Available for booking until March 31, 2015.
Borneo’s star of the wild – the orangutan, is loved the world over. And though orangutans are wonderful and worth a trip to Sabah just to spend time up close watching these endangered species, there’s yet more to discover of Sabah’s wildlife.
After flying up to Sandakan, on Sabah’s north-eastern coast, we journeyed by speedboat for two-and-a-half hours into the jungle, heading inland on the wide Kinabatangan River. There was endless vegetation, first palm plantations, then more varied trees and shrubs, intermixed with a few hamlets. On this journey alone we spotted crocodiles, monkeys and birds. We were excited and fascinated by the journey and what lay before us.
Soon we were at Sukau Rainforest Lodge. Not a five-star hotel, but a truly captivating eco-lodge, right on the river.
Here we stayed in the rainforest overnight. A serene, isolated, back to nature location. The sounds of the jungle drifting through the hot, clinging night air. It is a real, wild experience.
From the lodge we took a couple of river cruises, one in daylight and another under the dark cloak of the early evening.
Both were fascinating in differing ways. In daylight we captured wildlife going about their daily activities. Proboscis monkeys, macaques, crocodiles, silver leaf monkeys and a variety of birds. Unfortunately the Bornean pygmy elephants, which we most wanted to see, were too far upstream for us to catch them.
But on the evening cruise, with the aid of a powerful torch and an eagle-eyed guide, we spotted many creatures that had settled for the night. High on branches overhanging the river, monkeys huddled together facing into the jungle, so they could spot any predators coming their way during the night. Among the riverside vegetation we glimpsed owls, kingfishers, frogs and more crocodiles. Further along the river a large monitor lizard slumbered on a branch.
Sukau Lodge is not a glitzy honeymoon stay, but for its jungle setting the accommodation was great, and it even has a plunge pool – no swimming in crocodile infested waters there. Most importantly though, it provided us a unique opportunity to fall in love with Borneo’s wildlife while spending time together.
Book now with this exclusive special offer from Skytrak Travel: 10 nights in Sabah, Borneo, from £1,108 per person, incl. flights with Royal Brunei Airlines. Available for booking until March 31, 2015.
Feet in the sand, heads in the clouds
We ended our stay at the award-winning Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort & Spa where the choices for honeymooners are endless.
The Rasa Ria is a destination in itself, and rightly so, it’s a 45 minute drive from Kota Kinabalu. It has a championship golf course, a spa, two swimming pools, horse riding, deep-sea fishing, jet-skiing, all-terrain vehicle safaris and its own wildlife project including an orangutan education centre and 259 square-metre nature reserve. Just a few minutes walk from our suite we saw playful orangutans in their natural environment.
One unforgettable morning, we walked along the very deep, three kilometre private beach and were the only people on it. It was a divine place to relax and swim.
Another day we managed to pull ourselves away from the luxury of the hotel for a day trip to Kinabalu National Park. We spotted the world’s biggest flower – the rafflesia, visited a tea plantation, the hot springs at Poring, and strolled a canopy treetop walk, all the time watched over by the imposing presence of Mount Kinabalu.
It’s no secret that we love luxury, so it’s little surprise that the Shangri-La Rasa Ria, was our kind of place, from our luxurious suite to the spa, delicious choice of restaurants and the whole feel of this secluded escape.
Whatever your preference in a honeymoon we think you will find it in this corner of Borneo.
Book now with this exclusive special offer from Premier Holidays: 12 nights at the Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria from £1,199 per person, incl. flights with Royal Brunei Airlines. Available for booking until March 31, 2015.
Sabah also helps couples realise romantic and unforgettable wedding ceremonies in a colourful and exotic destination. Bespoke wedding packages can be found at the Sutera Harbour, Shangri-La Rasa Ria and Gaya Island hotels.
Here’s a video of our time in Sabah…
Map of Kota Kinabalu