If you are looking for a destination that will turn heads amongst your friends, tell them you are off to Sabah in Malaysia.
Every travelling family craves world–class resorts, beautiful beaches and super–inventive kids’ clubs. In Sabah this goes without saying. But throw in a group of islands just out of town, tropical rainforests, south–east Asia’s largest mountain, rivers to raft, jungle animals to spot and a whole new culture to explore, and this place has successfully fused together the idea of family fun.
We chose to stay at the Shangri–La Rasa–Ria Resort, nestled into 400 acres of tropical vegetation that merges with a beautiful stretch of sand, Dalit Beach.
My two girls, aged two and six, spent endless hours in the sprawling swimming pools, waterslide and adventure playground complete with in–ground trampoline. Sunsets on horseback were stunning and Mogilly, a baby orphaned orang–utan in the resort’s own Nature Reserve, was another firm favourite.
Culturally, there was a lot to learn and admire. Entire villages built on stilts over water reflected their character in the morning light. We wandered cautiously along the narrow, rickety, wooden planks of the Mengkabong Water Village as local children sprinted past us, laughing, squealing and waving.
For something adventurous I journeyed by local train into what felt like the untrodden heart of Sabah. Here the Padas River runs swiftly. Rushing down the walls of boiling waves on a white–water rafting trip was the best fun I’d had in a long time. Those under 10yrs may have to stay at home in a kids’ club, but the teenagers onboard loved it.
Snorkelling and coral reefs are something everyone can enjoy. As we gazed across the clear waters to Sabah’s capital of Kota Kinabalu, we found it quite incredible that we were swimming amongst tropical fish and lazing on sandy coves just 20 minutes by boat from the mainland. If you love nature, a trip to the Sepilok Orang–utan Centre in Sandakan will melt your heart. We watched as the orang–utans went about their mischief, rolling, hugging and teasing each other with their long lanky arms. The odd–looking proboscis monkey also inhabits Sabah forests, so you can take to the river in search of their protruding red noses.
My two girls left Sabah with red cheeks from the sun. Every local that passed them smiled hugely, pulled their cheeks and said hello. The red noses came when we had to say our goodbyes!