Paradise in Borneo: Bunga Raya Island Resort and Spa

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If crystal clear turquoise water and empty powdery sand beaches are your thing, along with caring about low impact and ecologically conscious travel, then Bunga Raya should definitely be on your list. Jungle meets ocean on the luxurious Gaya island just a 20-minute speed boat ride away from Kota Kinabalu. The Bunga Raya Island Resort is named after the Malaysian national flower, the hibiscus flower, in Malay, with over 30 species blooming throughout the resort. 

View of the pier from the main beach

The check in process begins at the Jesselton Pier in Kota Kinabalu in an air-conditioned office at the end of the pier. They collect your bags and send you off on their complimentary scheduled speed boats (13:30 and 15:30 for departure and 9:00 and 11:00 return, at the time of writing this). If you need to travel outside of those times, you can pay a fee for a private transfer. 

Rooms at Bunga Raya resort

We stayed in the Deluxe Villa which we were told was the perfect family villa. Indeed, it was extremely spacious with an additional annex (not attached to the main house) that could be used for older children or teenagers to have space of their own, or as a private indoor air-conditioned area (with TV) to use while your children are sleeping in the main room.

With our two small children, this was actually much larger than we needed and I would have been equally satisfied with the Superior Villa. Additional child beds can easily be put into any of the villas. As an added bonus for families with kids like mine who like to climb into bed with you, we had the biggest bed I have ever slept in!

There are a number of bigger and more luxurious villas, some with their own private plunge pools, but honestly, even the most basic is quite luxurious and all villas have large balconies and plenty of space. Note that there is no WiFi in the rooms but only in the main area and restaurants.

The resort is actually quite spread out climbing up the side of the mountain. Our villa happened to be at the top of the hill, but fortunately, if you don’t feel like making the trek up by foot with kids in tow, they shuttle you around in their electric golf carts whenever you want. However, if you do feel like walking (we generally walked down the hill), there are beautiful landscaped gardens and ponds to explore.

Food at Bunga Raya

There are two restaurants, The Pantai which offers western style food and The Longhouse focused on Asia cuisine. The food was decent at both, but as with many expensive resorts, I felt the food was overpriced for the quality. You can also have lunch at the restaurant of their sister resort, on Gayana Eco Resort, which we found to be of slightly higher standard. All restaurants have a kids menu with all the usual suspects to make the kids happy including chicken nuggets, fries, spaghetti and fish fingers. 

Every evening between 5-7pm the Pantai Restaurant offers a happy hour which includes a free cocktail or mocktail for all guests. Buffet breakfast is also served in the Pantai Restaurant from 7.30am, including a nice spread of cereals, homemade breads, pastries, fruits, yogurts and some Asian style noodles. There is also an omelette bar and they make fresh waffles daily which my boys loved!

Pantai restaurant Bunga Raya Hotel
Lounge at the Pantai restaurant for morning coffee and afternoon Happy Hour

If you have a special occasion, the restaurant can arrange to serve you dinner in on one of the beautiful little huts located on their main pier. I think it would make for a beautiful romantic setting and you can take advantage of the hotel’s babysitting service if you want it adults only. Note that you need to book the babysitting service at least one day in advance, and it doesn’t come cheap at 100 RM per child per hour.

Fish at Bunga Raya

Activities at Bunga Raya Island Resort

If sitting at the beautiful beach or infinity pool (with a shallow kids’ section) isn’t enough to keep your little ones entertained, the resort offers a number of activities, both free and paid. The beach itself is beautiful, well maintained and rather secluded. We usually had the beach all to ourselves. The water is also beautiful and crystal clear filled with marine life which you can spot from the pier. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the season, there were many jellyfish in the water and we didn’t feel comfortable swimming too far in.

Swimming pool at the Bunga Raya Hotel

The recreation centre on the beach lends out beach toys, soccer balls and volleyballs. Kayaks, Stand Up Paddle boards (SUPs) and snorkeling equipment are all available for use free of charge. The kayaks and SUPs are a perfect way to see some of the marine life if your little ones are too young to snorkel. They also have clear bottom kayaks and small boats available to rent.

They offer two daily canopy walks with a guide (45 minutes) at 10am and 2pm for free. And there are daily fitness classes provided free of charge. Just check the activity schedule daily and sign up for both at the reception. 

Marine Ecology Research Center 

The highlight activity for the whole family for us was a visit to their Marine Ecology Research Center (MERC) which is located at their sister resort, the Gayana Eco Resort, also on Gaya island, both of which belong to the Echo Resorts group. Free scheduled boats can shuttle you between the two resorts.

Once at Gayana, all facilities, including their beautiful infinity pool and restaurants are available to use. You can even charge any consumption at the restaurant straight to your room. The Gayana Resort also has a dive center for anyone wanting to dive or get certified.

Infinity pool at Gayana Eco Resort

The MERC has free tours twice daily from 11-12 and from 4-5pm. The tour starts with a film about their work to fight the extinction of the seven giant clam species native to Malaysian waters. Their programme works to propagate these giant clams in their facilities and eventually, after three years, release them back into the ocean. So far they have successfully propagated 3,500 giant clams!

Coral planting at Bunga Raya

You then move on to a mini walk through their display and ‘touch tank’ where the kids can touch different species of star fish and sea cucumbers. The staff are very dedicated and passionate about sharing their work and my kids were totally enthralled. The best part of the visit for the boys was the option to replant broken fragments of coral. For 15 RM you can plant a piece of coral in a cement base, which they then tag, monitor for two weeks and then return to the ocean to allow it to grow. The children then get a photo certificate to take home with them.

There are also full day programs for children 4+ to get hands on experience and work alongside the marine biologists for the day including assisting to make the phytoplankton to feed the clams, collecting the coral fragments, and actually returning the fragments that have been replanted back to the sea!

Some options are restricted to older kids who have a diving license. Programmes range from 350-450 RM for the day and include boat transfers and lunch. You must book three days in advance and they require a min of two participants. You can ask about the programs while booking, or contact the MERC directly.

Sustainable policies & practices

This is probably the most legitimate ecologically conscious hotel I have ever stayed at. Particularly with their incredible work at the MERC. You will not be served any plastic at either resort. Instead you will find jugs of water in the rooms with  complimentary reusable water bottles which you can refill at any of the restaurants or public areas. All toiletries are biodegradable and no plastic (with the exception of the shampoo bottles). They also have a to-go special offer for any coffee or healthy drinks that you can take with you (in your bottles) and all proceeds go to the MERC programmes to rehabilitate the coral reef and care for the baby giant clams. 

The losing battle against plastic waste in the oceans has never been more evident to me. At the resort, crews sweep the beaches daily collecting garbage that washes up from Kota Kinabalu, but unfortunately, even that is not enough. As the tide receded, more and more garbage washed back up and we spent an hour every afternoon collecting garbage with the bags they have on hand for anyone to help. We were very surprised when the staff treated us all to lovely fresh juice mocktails as a ‘thank you’ for caring for the earth. When we departed, we were gifted with traditional batik sarongs and a personal thank you from the manager who saw us out there cleaning with the kids. It was a lovely gesture and shows the level of care the staff have for their island.

We were also told that staff have been chosen from less advantaged backgrounds and they have received extensive training to work at the two resorts. The attachment and commitment that the staff have to this hotel is very evident as it is definitely the most friendly staff I have encountered in Malaysia to date.

Bunga Raya in a nutshell

I cannot recommend this place enough. While it is generally above the price range I would typically pay for a weekend getaway (Superior Villa starts at RM1120), I think it is a perfect option for a special occasion to celebrate time with the family. Plus, in terms of value for money, I feel that a lot more is included in the price than is the norm (boat transfers, free activities, free daily happy hour drinks, shuttles between the sister resorts, touring and supporting the MERC, etc.). The attention to detail at this resort goes beyond what is expected.

Note that the sister resort to the Bunga Raya, the Gayana Eco Resort, is also a beautiful option, however, the accommodation is all stilt houses and there is no beach on site for the kids to play. As such, the Bunga Raya is a definitely the more child friendly option. Check the latest prices here!

Read also our review of Gaya Island Resort here.

We received a special rate to stay in Bunga Raya. All opinions, as always, are our own and honest! This post contains affiliate links – if you book through them, we get a small commission at no cost to you!

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