Where to Stay in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

By Abi King | South Asia

Jan 13
Where to stay in Sabah text for article on gorgeous boutique hotels in Malaysian Borneo

Where to stay in Sabah: from coral reefs and rainforests to the city and beach

Where to Stay in Sabah

Over on instagram, I know you've been asking questions about where you can stay in Sabah (and, indeed, even asking where Sabah is.) So, here's a quick list of recommendations based solely on our experience:

Heads up!

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently has some travel warnings in place regarding Sabah, so please consider this when planning a trip. At the time of writing, the area around Kota Kinabalu has no restrictions. But please, please always check the latest reports. 

Disclosure -I visited these beautiful places in Sabah as part of a project with iAmbassador and Sabah Tourism.. Regardless of it all, I always keep the right to write whatever I like over here. Because I'm a closet megalomaniac that's the way I think the world should be.

Gaya Island Resort - Paradise Close to Kota Kinabalu

Gaya Island Resort My absolute favourite resort in Borneo. Small, intimate, ridiculously beautiful with one of the best spas I've ever been to in my life. Plus, exquisite Thai food, roaming wild boar and a bona fide turtle sanctuary.

Gaya Island itself is the largest island in the Tunki Abdul Rahman National Park. The Gaya Island Resort can be reached by a short 15 minute boat ride from the ferry terminal, where it blends isolated honeymoon luxury with marine rescue.

Just five minutes by boat from reception takes you to the Gaya Island Marine Centre on its private beach.  Here, you can discover how sea turtles are rescued, treated and cared for by chatting to staff and seeing baby turtles up close. 

The ridiculously serene spa village blends healing traditions from the region with idyllic views and fragrance. The gym allows travellers to keep up with fitness training programmes back home. The amenities here are top notch from the sunbeds on the beach to the gym with a view.

Follow nature trails, kayak along the shore and snorkel amid colourful fish and healthy corals within a protected, buoyed area.  Beyond that, use a guide and be mindful of wildlife at all times.   

Gaya Island Resort has several eco-friendly measures in place. The resort recycles water and all hot air generated in the villas are used to reheat the water in the shower.

The Pacific Suteral Hotel - Extensive Resort near Kota Kinabalu

The Pacific Sutera Hotel Close to the airport, friendly service, teak "colonial style" rooms. It's a behemoth with plenty of restaurants, an expansive beach and golf course.

The Pacific Sutera Hotel is constructed on reclaimed land and is committed to energy conservation and eco-sufficiency.  

It's located within a 5 minute walk into the city centre of Kota Kinabalu and 10 minutes from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport. 

It's also inextricably linked with the Sutera Harbour Marina. The Marina can hold up to 13 mega yachts and 91 smaller yachts.

Its Golf and Country Club incorporates a 27-hole championship golf course.

You'll also find more than 15 restaurants and bars, a 12 lane bowling centre and 100-seat movie theatre, so small is not the name of the game here.

Shangri-La Rasa Ria - International Resort with Local Eco Efforts

Shangri-La Rasa Ria, Kota Kinabalu Also large with a wide range of experiences on hand (Japanese restaurant, looooong sandy beach, a wilderness orangutan sanctuary - and a great golf course for starters.)

The Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort & Spa surrounds itself with 400 acres of lush tropical landscape. It's great for combining the safety of an international chain with a close experience with nature and a slice of local culture.

It's only 35 minutes from the shopping and commercial districts of Kota Kinabalu and is a popular base for the day trip of climbing the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu.

Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort & Spa also has a magnificent 18-hole championship golf course. Other excursions include horseriding,  river rafting and exploring the 64 acre nature reserve, including the orangutan rehabilitation nursery.

The Cool Zone Kids Club has lots of activities, including allowing children to assist the rangers with the preparation of food for the animals under the resort's care.

This resort sits on a beautiful stretch of private beach with a beachfront swimming pool, spa, and water sports centre.

Sepilok Nature Reserve: Hammock Swinging in the Jungle

Sepilok Nature Reserve Hammock swinging, jungle loving nature reserve right besides the Orangutan rehabilitation centre in Sepilok.

The Sepilok Rainforest Lodge nestles into the rainforest on the eastern side of Sabah, offering an unobtrusive glimpse into this natural wonderland. It's just a 5 minute walk to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, possibly the best place in the world to see the orangutan in his (and her) natural habitat. 

It's also very close to a home for the smallest bear in the world: the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

The Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Centre is also located nearby, with private tours available. Here, you can view flying squirrels. 

The lodge itself merges rustic rainforest style with luxury.  Just keep in mind that July is peak season and always book early.

Sukau Rainforest Lodge, Kinabatangan: Nat Geo Unique Lodge of the World

Monkeys from your wildest dreams, wooden boardwalks and still a spot for G&T. Sukau Rainforest Lodge delivers.

The Sukau Rainforest Lodge is an amazing eco-resort that promotes conservation efforts throughout the Kinabatangan lowlands. A portion of all proceeds from every international guest is invested in conservation projects along the Kinabatangan, just one reason that means it's one of National Geographic's Unique Lodges of the World. The Sukau Rainforest Lodge features elevated boardwalk through wildlife and flora as you walk to your room, and dining by candlelight on a riverfront terrace. 

Take a private, naturalist-led night cruise along the Kinabatangan Rover. Look out for pygmy elephants and orangutans throughout the Kinabatangan lowlands, with several tours available. In the nearby Gomantong Cave, watch bats swoop from the cave-mouth each night.

While somehow maintaining a rustic vibe, this lodge also includes a plunge pool, sun-deck and riverside restaurant, as well as a lounge-bar to cool off in.

It's the perfect place for wildlife spotting in the heart of the rainforest.


Beautiful places to stay in Sabah including food drinks and beaches


Getting Around Sabah

It's easiest to take a short flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, connecting to Kinabatangan by boat.

What to know

It's the rainforest, guys, which means that there are plenty of things that can bite. Check with your healthcare provider, ideally 3 months in advance for various vaccinations and antimalarials.


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Looks like a perfect place to spend an anniversary. Fab photos! Love how you started this article. (I am Jane Austen fan!)

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, I am SO glad you picked up on that. That’s one of the things with blogging – you never really know whether or not it’s going to make sense to the outside world!

  • De'Jav says:

    Great photos and yes sunsets are amazing dependent on location then other places sunrises. I try to watch at least 1 sunset a week just so peaceful.

    • Abi King says:

      Well, sunrises are beautiful but it’s a bit spooky getting up in the dark to see them (although, if you’ve been up all night there’s some relief in seeing that pink creep across the sky.) That’s a good goal of having one sunset a week to watch. It brings a certain peace and natural rhythm to the end of the day too.

  • Niamh says:

    Lovely piece, Abi, and such gorgeous photos.

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