IT'S easy to switch to slow mode once you step into Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Beach Resort and Spa in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
Only 10 minutes from the KK International Airport and 15 from the city, the resort is tucked away such that you're cocooned against the hustle and haste associated with both those hubs.
And with sun, sand and the South China Sea beckoning beyond your balcony, it's natural to just kick off your shoes, lie back and succumb to what the place has to offer.
The cue is to indulge, and the ideal place to start is Chi, The Spa, an enclave of eight private island villas - three of them specially designed for couples - where you can surrender your body to gentle hands that work wonders with fragrant oils, aromatic herbs, spices, mud and algae.
|Sunset at Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa is a riot of shifting clouds and colours.
Chi works on the philosophy of helping one's life force flow freely throughout the body and harmonising the Yin and Yang energies. Therapies at Chi are inspired by ancient healing treatments and rituals from the Himalayas, where Shangri-La, the legendary utopia that James Hilton wrote about in his 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, nestles.
As you sit and sip tea at the cosy reception in the spa village, the therapist will determine your element (Earth, Fire, Water, Wood, Metal) by asking some simple questions, before selecting the oils that suit you best.
There is an array of treatments to choose from - body scrubs or wraps, hand and foot care, facials, and even a skincare session specially for men.
For an afternoon of lingering pampering, you can set out on a Chi Journey, which combines bath therapy, scrub and massage. Those who settle for the Pulau Bayu Retreat, for example, will start with a soak in petals and oils (Himalayan Bath Therapy), followed by a foot ritual, a Pearl Cocoa Scrub and Borneo Therapy (an invigorating massage that uses nutmeg, red ginger, betel leaf and four other herbs).
The Pearl Cocoa Scrub combines pulverised pearls from the Semporna Bay in East Sabah, cocoa beans and soya, ginger and pegaga leaf. The blend is poured warm onto your body, after which the therapist proceeds with the soothing scrub, which leaves a lingering scent after you've completed your treatment.
By then, it's time to stroll over to Sunset Bay, where tables and chairs are laid out for guests to watch the splendid swirl of colours and cloud formations as the sun dips into the horizon.
Ringed by lapping waves and the five coral islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park - Gaya, Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi and Sulug - you'll sink into your chair with drink in hand with nary a thought ... except perhaps what to do during the rest of your holiday.
Those who cannot have enough of sun and fun can head for Manukan or Mamutik, where they can swim, snorkel and splash around in the clear waters. Alternatively, there's yoga by the water's edge, with the breeze fanning your efforts to bend and roll.
For something less active, hire a cruise boat and coast around the government-protected isles as you tuck into sandwiches and kuih, and listen to oldies on board.
On shore, first-timers to Sabah will enjoy a ride out to town, where they will be spoilt for choice by the array of crystal trinkets, pearls and handicrafts at the Filipino market in the city centre. Along the same stretch, you can shop for salted fish, dried prawn, cuttlefish, sea cucumber and snacks.
If you subscribe to holidays being best spent relaxing in your own room, then Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort at Pantai Dalit Beach, Tuaran, is the place to be. A roomy bathtub sits invitingly on the balcony of all its Ocean Wing units, and you can soak and watch the sky change from day to night, or vice versa.
|Take a cruise down the Tambalang River in a lepa-lepa, dock at Kak Norfadlina's home and tuck into penampang, hot from the wok.
Rasa Ria has 162ha of sprawling, landscaped greenery that offers privacy in every nook. Even its service staff, from the cleaners to the front office personnel, waiters and pool attendants, are friendly and attentive, without being effusive.
Here, the pace slackens even more as you wander between serene gardens and heated pool, or venture out to sea in a catamaran helmed by the steady hands of boatmen who place guest safety above all else.
After a good soak, or sail, nothing beats a hearty dinner at Naan, Flavours of India Restaurant, which serves refined Northern fare and spicy Goan specialities. Feel like dressing up? Well, there's fine dining at Coast Restaurant, where you can raise a glass to good company and savour Western contemporary cuisine.
Rested and ready for some light activity? Try a cruise down the Tambalang River in the lepa-lepa, a traditional long wooden sailboat that used to serve as home to the Bajaus (sea gypsies).
The boat will dock at Kak Norfadlina's nipah-thatched house, where she has laid out a spread of penjaram (deep-fried sweet rice cakes) and New Zealand green-lipped mussels (which are bred along the river, as well as Australian oysters). As you tuck into these, with fresh coconut juice as quencher, it is easy to appreciate the pleasures of a simple life.
Guests who like more than human company can opt for a morning around Rasa Ria's Nature Reserve, which serves as a halfway home for seven orphaned orang utan that will eventually be placed at the Sepilok Forest Reserve when they can fend for themselves.
At the resort, the furry creatures are constantly up to their antics; watch out for warm showers shooting down from branches as they feed and frolic!
Creating a sustainable environment is a continuous endeavour at the Shangri-La resorts, evident in the mangroves planted along the periphery of Rasa Ria's 18-hole golf course, and workers who wade out into the waters at Tanjung Aru every morning to pick up rubbish that strays from a settlement nearby. These efforts ensure that guests get to enjoy the best Nature has to offer, in a setting that hints of utopia.