Pulau Gaya, Malaysia

Photo: YTL Luxury Resorts
Photo: YTL Luxury Resorts

It’s getting harder and harder to watch the news every day. Paris, San Bernardino, Istanbul, and now Brussels. And that’s just in the last few months. These attacks make you want to hide under the covers one minute and run as far away as you possibly can the next. A remote island sounds ideal.

How about an island in Southeast Asia? Maybe the South China Sea. Borneo sounds good. No one would ever think to look for you there. Or, better yet, a tiny island off the coast of Borneo. Bonus points if it’s part of a remote national park.

Pulau Gaya (Gaya Island) fits all of these criteria perfectly. The largest island in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park sits 10 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu off Borneo’s northwest coast. The island is home to a virgin tropical rainforest. More than 20 miles of hiking trails weave through the dense forest. Stilted villages emerge from the thick mangroves along the coast. White-sand beaches gently slope into crystal-clear water. Plus a peaceful resort is tucked in between more mangroves and a sheltered coral reef on Malohom Bay.

Photo: YTL Luxury Resorts
Photo: YTL Luxury Resorts

That resort is the Gaya Island Resort. It features everything you expect in a tropical island resort. Villas include platform beds, oversized bathtubs, and large verandas—all with ocean views, of course. Wooden furniture, brightened with orange fabric, is perfectly positioned around the property to frame views of Mount Kinabalu. Stairs lead through the mangroves to the open-air Spa Village, where vanilla bean and coffee body scrubs will provide you a healthy glow. While fruity cocktails are served in the pool that looks like it runs right into the sea.

But there’s more to the Gaya Island Resort than the pampering extras you’ve come to expect, make that demand, on beach vacations. After settling in and spending time in the sun the first day, you quickly realize how much there is to see and do, despite being on such a remote island. Your first stop will undoubtedly be the Marine Center, where sea turtles are rescued, treated, and eventually returned to the wild.

From there, follow the Jungle Trail to the observation platform to scan the forest for long-nosed proboscis monkeys. Search for monitor lizards and oriental pied hornbills as you paddle a kayak around 100-year-old mangrove branches. Keep an eye out for a huge elephant foot yam. Go fishing for amberjacks and black groupers, which the chefs will happily cook for you later in the evening. Learn the deep-breathing techniques of yahai pupuan, a gentle workout inspired by local fauna. Then listen for red giant flying squirrels and a Bornean bearded pig from a hidden hammock on the beach as the sun starts to sink toward the horizon. There’s plenty to keep you busy until the chaos dies down.

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