Review: Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort, Sabah, Malaysia – a trip to Borneo
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This is our review of the Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort in Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo.
It is part of my recent visit to Malaysia with Malaysia Airlines, following the reopening of Malaysia’s borders to tourists and visitors. You can read my review of Malaysia Airlines business class on the A350 here.
On my last trip I went to Langkawi, where I reviewed the Four Seasons, so I was excited to explore another of Malaysia’s islands: Borneo. This is the largest island in Asia and is shared between Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Malaysia occupies the majority of the northern coast, with the exception of a small enclave for Brunei.
Where is the Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort?
To avoid confusion, there are actually two Shangri-La Resorts in Sabah: the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru, in Kotu Kinabalu itself, and Shangri-La Rasa Ria, north of the city. This is a review of Rasa Ria.
The Shangri-La Rasa Ria is about 40 minutes away by car from Kota Kinabulu International Airport, depending on traffic. It is located on a little peninsula:
Garden Wing vs Ocean Wing: what’s the difference?
Rasa Ria is split into two sides with just shy of 500 rooms in total. 326 are in the original Garden Wing, part of the original development that opened just over 25 years ago (although since refurbished!)
The balance (173) are in the newer Ocean Wing, added in 2008 and further extended in 2015.
Despite their names, both wings – and all the rooms – face the beach, with open air corridors to the rear of the wings.
Garden Wing rooms are the entry-level guest rooms. These are smaller, at 36 square meters, whereas all the rooms (actually Junior Suites) in the Ocean Wing are a huge 90 square meters. As you will see below, Ocean Wing suites also have gigantic balconies with huge outdoor bathtubs.
Other privileges that Ocean Wing guests get are:
- Private swimming pool and infinity jacuzzi
- Breakfast buffet in Oceano Modern Grill
- Separate arrival and check-in
- Dedicated concierge serices
- Complimentary mini bar
- Pillow menu
Checking in to the Ocean Wing at Rasa Ria
Check in is conducted in a large open air lobby on the ground floor of the Ocean Wing:
Rooms at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Ocean Wing
I was given one of the frankly palatial sea view Junior Suites in the Ocean Wing. At 90 square meters, including the balcony, it is quite a bit larger than my two-bedroom London flat.
As you can already see, it is massive. Let’s start in the bedroom bit, which has enough open floor that you can probably do a three-person yoga class.
To the right is the mini bar:
This featured the most bizarre hot water machine I have ever seen (the gadget you see on the work surface), plus a mini fridge stocked mostly with soft drinks and some snacks including dried mango. This is all complimentary for guests, I believe. I couldn’t find a coffee machine.
To the left of the mini bar is a really decent sized desk with a lamp and some plug sockets:
Finally, to the left of that, a dining table set up for three people:
On the opposite side is the king bed:
There are good sized bedside tables on both sides. Rather than providing single-use plastic bottles, Rasa Ria provides 1l glass bottles filled with purified water from the resort. These are replenished when necessary; the bottles have a small paper seal as well to ensure they are fresh. I thought this was very well done.
At least on the right of the bed there is a UK style plug socket, although no USB sockets.
In the window, as you can see, is a green sofa, although the window does get fogged up a bit (on the outside):
To the left of the bed is a large TV. It’s a bit of an awkward position but is semi-flexible.
The balcony is equally palatial, accessible via sliding French doors. On the right is a large daybed:
On the left is the large bath tub, which the staff will come and fill for you on request:
…. and when full:
You get some lovely views across the resort and beach:
…. plus some spectacular sunsets, too:
Back inside, and behind the bedroom is the walk-in wardrobe and bathroom:
There’s loads of storage space here, plus a dressing table:
And a luggage rack / open wardrobe:
Opposite the dessing table is the bathroom:
The toilet is on the left, whilst the shower is on the right:
The shower features handheld and rainfall shower heads, although I felt the water pressure could have been marginally stronger.
Toiletries are Jasmin & Bergamot by L’Occitane which are nice, although I found the mini bottles quite firm and it wasn’t so easy to get the liquids out! I believe Rasa Ria is moving to larger pump bottles to reduce plastic waste in the near future.
As you can see, the rooms at Rasa Ria feature beige and brown Asian-inspired luxury designs with teak furniture and panelling throughout. It’s not quite as design-forward or modern as other resorts but otherwise a very solid product.
Shangri-La Rasa Ria beach and pool
The resort is huge, covering over 400 acres including a hefty chunk of Dalit beach:
Surprisingly, the beach doesn’t feature that many loungers – there are just a couple.
There is also a watersports centre where you can try your hand at various activities including kayaking, jetski and something called an ‘eFoil’ which is effectively a surfboard with a electric motor and hydrofoil on it.
I managed to give the eFoil a try and really enjoyed it. I’ve never surfed before so it took a while for me to get my balance but after thirty minutes I was able to do five to ten second stints floating above the water using the hydrofoil which is quite fun.
The jetski is also fun, of course, although there’s less of a sense of accomplishment with that!
The water sports staff are excellent and a real asset to the hotel. They really coached me throughout the eFoil experience.
There are two main pools at the hotel, one for each of the wings. These are set in the lush tropical gardens and feature plenty of loungers:
There is a dedicated children’s pool on the Garden Wing side with a water slide:
Despite the hotel being fairly busy the poolsides were never crowded, particularly on the Ocean Wing side:
On this side you also get an infinity jacuzzi. This is a similar temperature to the pool, so not a hot tub, but features air jets etc:
The only thing I would mention is that the pool staff could be a bit more proactive in offering towels etc when you arrive, as I had to walk around.
Rasa Ria Reserve
In addition to the usual resort facilities the Shangri-La Rasa Ria is also home to a small nature reserve, formally home to a group of rescued orangutans undergoing rehabilitation who have now been relocated to Sarawak where they have a larger area to roam.
The resort has now turned it into the Rasa Ria Reserve, a 64-acre piece of tropical jungle that includes rope bridges and a spectacular 90m high view point with great sunrise views:
The resort will also arrange for a sunset hike with breakfast at the top:
For some visitors, the key selling point of the hotel will be its 18-hole championship golf course. I know nothing about golf so cannot advise but it looked alright and seemed to have some nice holes.
Breakfast and dinner at Shangri-La Rasa Ria
As I mentioned above, one of the benefits of staying in the Ocean Wing is that you get to enjoy breakfast at the Oceano grill. This is a buffet style breakfast with both indoor and outdoor seating:
The buffet is pretty good, and features three stations: toast, pastries, yoghurts and fruit; noodle soup, congee, paratha and other Asian hot items; and finally freshly made pancakes, churros and waffles.
In addition to this you can also order of an a la carte menu which includes eggs in any possible permutation, a breakfast burger (!), salad, nasi lemak, fried rice, more noodle soup and more.
Soft drinks, juices, teas and coffees are all included although you’ll have to pay for alcohol.
I went for my standard eggs royale plus some of the fresh juices which were delicious:
There are nine restaurants, bars or cafes in total across the resort, with the majority of them on the Garden Wing side. These are currently open for dinner on a rotating basis but will likely open more as the hotel starts to get busier.
The biggest of these is Tepi Laut, which offers a buffet. Whilst I didn’t eat here, I was impressed with what I saw. During covid, the hotel made the decision to move away from a buffet and towards more of a hawker/food-truck style situation where all the food is made to order.
The quality of the food looked really good and I think I could happily have eaten here every night and had something different, from curries, noodles, satay (of course), pizza, burgers, sushi, sea food and more.
As this was a press trip we were served a special menu that combined dishes from both Kozan Teppen-yaki and Chinese The Eight restaurant, including a delicious amuse bouche of breaded prawn, chicken roll and tuna tataki:
Local Sabah lobster:
Australian beef rib-eye:
…. and Satay. This wasn’t originally on the menu but after I mentioned it the chef kindly rustled some up and it was delicious. The satay recipe is based on Chef Ben’s grandmother’s recipe which I have politely pinched to try at home!
Dessert was a very delicious mini yam ring:
During our stay we met a couple who have stayed at the resort virtually every year for the past twenty years and I can see why: the Shangri-La Rasa Ria has a huge amount of space and never felt crowded despite the Eid holidays in Sabah.
Although it’s 45 minutes from Kota Kinabulu it certainly feels out of the way and you could very easily never leave the resort thanks to an excellent food offering and plenty of activities. With the dedicated pool, beach and kids facilities I can also see why it is popular with families whilst the Ocean Wing offers a quieter, more adult-focussed area.
Rates start at a ludicrously cheap £75 per night (including breakfast) for some of the promotions currently running although I expect this to increase as tourists return to Malaysia. Junior Suites in the Ocean Wing start from £150 per night.
It’s likely that many HfP readers will still have Jade status in the Shangri-La Circle loyalty programme, from when it was an American Express Platinum hotel partner, which would get you extra benefits.
You can find out more, and book, on the hotel website here.
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