If I were to chronicle my hotel disasters of yesteryear, pen would flow on reams to invoke memories of a blood-stained floor in a Bangkok 2* and the reception staff, who seemed bewildered that I had even raised the issue. I would tell you of the 2* Barcelona hotel that I resided in as a 20 year-old, the one with barely any light and a toilet seat stuck down with sellotape – a place which could have made a prison cell seem inviting.
But today, I put those memories behind me and breathe a sigh of relief because after a decade of hard work and penny pinching, I earned my reward and made it to a Shangri La property in 2013. I confess I may not have forked out unless I had found this bargain so when Travelzoo UK teamed up with Kuoni to put together an irresistible offer, we felt compelled to book. Permitting it to fall like powdery sand through our wanderlusting fingers would have been our equivalent of losing a winning lottery ticket. My excitement about our impending 9 night stay at the Shangri La Tanjung Aru resort in Malaysian Borneo was beyond explosive and the 5 months between booking and departing couldn’t have gone any slower.
I looked a particularly pasty shade of tired when we arrived at the resort after a 16 hour journey. My make up was smudged, my clothes, well to be honest, they stank. You leave England in January – you are dressed for winter. You arrive in Borneo in 27 degree heat in your winter clothes – you are going to sweat. The enormous pool stood out first with a huge central island in the middle. I wanted to dive straight in to cool myself down and get this holiday started.
The resort was lined with palm trees, the sun was tickling my skin with strokes of tan and the sky was bright blue. We had finally arrived and we were Shangri-loving every minute. When I wasn’t in the pool, I was spoilt for choice about activities. I have been to other resorts, which have offered a similar array of activities but mostly with a charge. This is easily the most generous resort I’ve stayed in when it comes to free classes. I dabbled in pilates, yoga and the one I gelled least with – Tai Chi (perhaps because it involved me actually standing up – beach holidays are not for standing.)
The yoga instructor was nearly twice my age, half my size and 8 times as flexible. I opted for the 8am classes, when it felt invigorating to be meditating, stretching and exercising in an airy seafront room with large, glass full-length windows opening up to the sound of the waves. I parted from my Pumpkin – he could not be persuaded to join after a previous experience with a yoga class on honeymoon proved just how stiff his joints were. Felling sorry for him? No need – he rapidly found himself in an alternative comfort zone – the cocktail making class!
However, I was perhaps pushing my luck one step too far when I coaxed him into trying aqua aerobics on the assurance that there would be other men there. I expect you can see where this is going……there were no men (other than the instructor) I don’t know what was more embarrassing – the sight of Pumpkin doing aqua-aerobics or the fact that he was more coordinated than I was.
The service at the hotel was exemplary at every occasion. Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived and we were welcomed into a huge comfortable lounge with delicious chocolate desserts, a large television and free internet access. We actually booked bed and breakfast only but the a la carte options at breakfast were generous and varied. We learned after the first day that we only needed to order one a la carte breakfast between us. A dose of dragon fruit, watermelon and papaya washed down with fresh watermelon juice became our thirst-quenching, morning ritual. If you are here for a honeymoon or anniversary or if you are just a couple in need of some pampering, you may wish to splash out on a couple’s spa experience at the Chi Spa, located on its own island. We were treated to a cold scented towels, herbal tea from a sleek, bamboo-handled pot, and a dip in a warm bath before shutting our eyes and letting the masseuses work their magic on our tense backs.
Borneo is famed for its glorious sunsets and although ours were mostly interrupted by clouds, we still felt compelled to make daily visits to the laid-back sunset bar where we cocooned our feet in the sand, ordered cocktails (and mocktails) and followed in the footsteps of our fellow travellers, getting tripods ready to capture the colours of sundown.
As if I wasn’t already a Shangri-La convert, the Cool Box Ice Cream Bar sealed the deal. A colourful, American diner-style bar, set up right by the pool and with local specialty ice creams as quirky as Yam and Sweetcorn. I could have done it with it being a bit more rich in flavour but this didn’t stop me becoming something of a regular there. For most meals, we did stick to the buffet as the food was outstanding but we dabbled in one lunch at the Chinese restaurant, which I had no complaints about but was much the same as most other Chinese restaurants one goes to. The real highlight for us though, was the a la carte Italian meal we treated ourselves to on our final night, when we sat on the outdoor decking, underneath the stars. It was more formal here, it felt like a special occasion restaurant and it was my moment (or rather excuse) to pull out a pretty dress after days of sporting a Cath Kidston polka dot mac (Pumpkin bought me a more practical one in preparation for monsoons but when I left it at home, this was all that could be found at the airport at 6am).
We came here with just each other but quickly learned this would be an ideal place to bring a family. There were plenty of poolside games near the shallow pool to keep children occupied (and us evidently, as we waited till the crowds had settled before we embarked on a water-balloon fight.) Peter-Pan complex much?
I got the impression that the Shangri La Rasa Ria may be a bit more suited to the honeymoon market and this one better suited to families but that said, we witnessed such a beautiful wedding happening at sundown that I’ve now decided that renewal of vows is a must-do ceremony and I’ve not even been married 2 years.
I am totally converted to the Shangri La experience and perhaps one day, if the budgets allow or if Pumpkin feels overcome with generosity, then we shall be staying in another Shangri La again.