Where to stay on a luxury trip on Borneo

5 first-class hotels in the Malaysian states of Sarawak & Sabah

The northern part of Borneo was the destination of a trip of two befriended families with an adult son each. What to do in the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah was the subject of my last post. In this post, you find the reviews of the hotels we stayed at during our tour from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu.

As we booked this vacation with a Swiss tour operator (Tour Asia), the hotels of our trip were fixed, however we made sure that we had first-class resorts. At least we were able to pick out our beach hotel ourselves (Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria), although the choice of luxury resorts on the beach in the area is limited. A good alternative may also be the Gaya Island Resort on a small island near Kota Kinabalu.

Sunset at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort

Hotel 1: Pullman Hotel, Kuching/Sarawak

Our two nights’ stay at the Pullman Hotel was certainly not the highlight of our trip. The hotel, situated on the hillside overlooking the city of Kuching, is advertised as five-star resort, which is hard to believe. There are modern amenities, but neither is the Pullman well maintained nor kept especially clean. Also the breakfast has to be called subpar, with quite many choices, but of an underwhelming quality. The staff is neither friendly nor well trained. At least, we did not overpay our stay at this hotel as prices are low.

Overall, Pullman is cheaply run, it feels more like a small local business hotel than a luxury hotel suitable for demanding international travelers.

Exterior of Pullman Hotel (photo credit by hotel)

Hotel 2: Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort, nowAiman Batang Ai Resort, Batang Ai/Sarawak

Aiman Batang Ai Resort is a replica of a longhouse. When we stayed there for one night, it was managed by Hilton, now it is a Aiman hotel. It already needed renovation when we were there and it seems that not much has been done in terms of remodeling in the meantime. While the setting on a lake and the ambiance in the isolation of the rainforest are favorable, the rooms are simple and the dining facilities are nothing to write home about.

All in all, a nicely located resort that serves as a springboard for a trip to the Iban people, but in need of a thorough refurbishment.

Setting of Aiman Batang Ai Resort

Hotel 3: Marriot Resort & Spa, Mulu/Sarawak

Our stay at the Marriot was the first and only real highlight in terms of accommodations when touring on Borneo.

This resort offers luxury in the middle of the jungle. It is in near proximity to the Gunung mule National Park and has a comfortable shuttle to it. Rooms are newly renovated in a contemporary style and have all the amenities also for discerning travelers. There is quite a good restaurant and the pool area is nice. Everything is well maintained and the staff is friendly and helpful.

In balance, The Marriot is the spot in Sarawak to experience luxury in the rainforest.

Pool at The Marriot Hotel

Hotel 4: Le Meridien, Kota Kinabalu/Sabah

We experienced a pleasant enough stay at the Meridien, which is favorably located on the waterfront and has all the amenities of a first class hotel. When staying there, the lobby had been renovated, but the rooms not yet. Notwithstanding that, we felt comfortable in our Deluxe Sea View Room. In the meantime, it seems that the refurbishment of all the accommodations has been completed. We did not have dinner at the hotel, only breakfast and found it pretty good. Staff is nice and helpful.

On the whole, Meridien is quite a good choice when looking for an accommodation in the city of Kota Kinabalu.

Lobby at Le Meridian Hotel

Hotel 5: Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort & Spa,Tuaran/Sabah

After the tour through the states of Sarawak and Sabah on Borneo, we spent some quiet days on the beach about 45 minutes north of Kota Kinablau at the hotel Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria. While the resort is located in a secluded, idyllic area, we had to note with displeasure that it faces a sandfly problem.

Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort (Ocean Wing on the right side)

Out of the two wings of the hotel, we opted for the more expensive Ocean Wing because it is more upscale and newer. When choosing the other Wing (Garden Wing) you are likely to encounter many families. We had an Ocean Wing Premier Room, which was gorgeous. It is huge (95 sqm), well appointed and contemporarily furnished featuring a private outdoor bathtub, an exclusive breakfast venue with a good selection, a separate, nicely landscaped pool area for Ocean Wing guests only and complimentary pre-dinner drinks & canap├ęs (new feature, we were not treated to this on the occasion of our stay). As far as dining is concerned, there is quite a selection, my favorite venues are the Japanese and the Italian restaurant. In terms of service there is nothing to fault.

Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort from hotel room (Ocean Wing)

In sum, the Ocean Wing at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria is a good place for relaxation with great rooms and first-class amenities. The beach is beautiful, but unfortunately facing a sandfly problem.

Orangutan at Semenggoh Nature Reserve

Overall picture

When touring the northern part of Borneo as a luxury traveler - which is a thing worthwile doing, and not only for meeting orangutans -, you are in the position to find adequate hotels, although they do not always meet the requirements of demanding travelers.

Out of the hotels we stayed at during our vacation in Sarawak and Sabah following ones are   recommended for travelers looking for luxury accommodations:

  • Marriot Resort & Spa, Mulu/Sarawak: beautiful location, newly renovated, friendly staff
  • Le Meridian, Kota Kinabalu/Sabah: waterfront setting (but not necessarily idyllic), recently refurbished, good service
  • Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort & Spa, Tuaran/Sabah near Kota Kinabalu: amazingly located on secluded beach (but sandfly problem), newly constructed Ocean Wing, kind and helpful staff

Date of stay: July 2015

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