The Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort & Spa is a large luxury beach resort in Kota Kinabalu, in Malaysian Borneo. 499 rooms are split between two wings – the Garden Wing and Ocean Wing – and set amongst beautifully landscaped tropical gardens, which border a stunning and expansive white sand beach.
There is a huge range of recreational facilities, including two swimming pools (one with water slides for the kids), tennis court, watersports activities, a nature reserve, spa and 18-hole championship golf course. A fabulous kids club has a comprehensive itinerary of activities to keep the kids happy, while five restaurants and two bars mean you have plenty of choice for your meals.
But above all, what sets this hotel apart from many other beach resorts around Asia is its beautiful natural environment. The rainforest sweeps right down to the beach (and what a beach!), so don’t be surprised to see a monitor lizard sunbathing next to you at the pool!
Bedtime at the Shangri-La
The Shangri-La Rasa Ria is divided into two wings – the Garden Wing and the Ocean Wing. There are 326 guest rooms in the Garden Wing, ranging from Superior Rainforest View rooms to Executive and Specialty Suites, which feature large living/dining areas. These suites are extremely popular with families, due to the extra space they offer – and their proximity to the child-friendly facilities, such as the pool and kids’ club.
The Ocean Wing is designed to be the more luxurious of the two wings and features 173 Premier Rooms (no other room types available). An additional hotel lobby, swimming pool/jacuzzi and breakfast restaurant are dedicated exclusively to Ocean Wing guests.
We opted for two Ocean Wing rooms (one King, one Twin) with interconnecting doors to accommodate all the family. Note that we could have had both children (aged 5 and 3) in the room with us – using a rollaway bed and there would have been plenty of room for this.
The rooms were beautifully decorated with sofa, writing desk, dressing area and large bathroom, and featuring LCD TV with DVD player and coffee machine. The balconies were enormous, with an oversized bathtub and large circular daybed. All rooms in the Ocean Wing are sea facing, meaning fabulous views over the ocean, beach and/or swimming pool.
Be aware that the bathtubs on some balconies are visible from other rooms and public areas – so check before you strip off and jump in! The bathtubs are enormous so may not be practical for bathing your kids every night, although they make for great fun bath time! However, the showers in the bathroom are also sizeable making it easy for the kids to all jump in together.
Playtime at the Shangri-La
The Rasa Ria benefits from acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and a majestic sweeping white sandy beach. There are two swimming pools in the resort. The main swimming pool at the Garden Wing boasts a children’s pool with water slides, which were a great hit with my kids.
The pool at the Ocean Wing is exclusively for Ocean Wing guests and offers a more sedate experience than the main pool. This pool has a large shallow area with sloping bank perfect for small kids to play in – my 3-year old could stand in the whole of the kids’ area, meaning we could supervise from the sunloungers when we tired of being ‘mummy and daddy shark’. A gorgeous Jacuzzi is surrounded by tropical flowers, with views out across the beach to the sea.
The Kids Club is excellent, and complimentary for ages 5 to 11. For younger children, you need to pay for a babysitter to accompany them in the kids club (this worked out at around $7.50 USD per hour). Within the kids club is an outdoor garden with small playground, flying fox, sandpit and pirate ship, while indoor activities include various arts and crafts, games and competitions, in addition to organized outings for shell collecting or pony riding.
Once a week the kids club host a themed party in the evening. A full schedule of activities is available as a printed timetable to ensure your kids don’t miss out on their favourite activity.
There is also a full itinerary of activities available for older kids and adults. These include archery, tai chi, beach volleyball, table tennis, petanque and croquet. In addition, sea kayaks, boogie boards and catamarans are available to use free of charge, with chargeable activities such as jet skiing, banana boats and windsurfing and pony riding on the beach all on offer too. There is never a dull moment at the Rasa Ria!
I know that many families have been left disappointed to learn that the orangutans are no longer housed within the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Nature Reserve. However, the 64-acre nature reserve remains open and plans are in place to enhance the nature trails within the reserve to allow for guided walks to learn about the coastal jungle vegetation and medicinal plants, and to look for other native wildlife such as Western Tarsiers, Slow Loris, Pangolins and more.
My 5-year old daughter took part in the Ranger Experience program within the reserve, which she loved. This involved learning about the symbiosis of plants, insects and animals living in the nature reserve, and helping the rangers to prepare food for the animals. They then fed the goats, deer and other domesticated animals in the Nature Interpretation Centre, before ending at the orangutan viewing platform.
Although the big draw of the Ranger Experience was the orangutans, in reality this was only a small part of the program, and the orangutan viewing took up just the last 10-minutes. The Ranger Experience will continue to run for children aged 5 and above, and will evolve to include native tree planting.
The resort also boasts its very own Dalit Bay Golf & Country Club, with a stunning 18-hole championship golf course. This challenging course benefits from beautiful surrounding jungle scenery, with the 10th and 11th holes bordering the South China Sea. The clubhouse, with its views over the golf course, is the perfect spot for a post-game beer.
Also housed within the Dalit Bay Golf & Country Club is the Spa. We enjoyed a fabulous couple’s massage here, while the kids happily played in the kids club – bliss!
Dinnertime at the Shangri-La
There are plenty of options when it comes to eating and drinking at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria, with a choice of five restaurants and two bars, offering a huge range of Western, Asian and local dishes.
As Ocean Wing guests, we enjoyed a buffet breakfast in Oceano every morning – a generous buffet of international breakfast favourites, with several live stations of chefs cooking up a storm of pancakes, omelettes and noodle soups.
By night Oceano transforms in to a high-end Italian restaurant serving delicious pasta dishes and main courses. Our only disappointment (for the kids) was that Oceano doesn’t serve pizza in the evenings, although they allowed us to order this from the room service menu and have it delivered to the table.
For Garden Wing guests, breakfast is held in the Coffee Terrace, an all day restaurant serving a range of western and local dishes.
Our favourite restaurant for lunch was the poolside/beachside Tepi Laut, a relaxed open-air restaurant with a selection of Western and Asian snacks. By night Tepi Laut becomes ‘Makan Street’ – a selection of street food stalls serving up Malaysian favourites such as Satay, Roti Canai and Laksa.
The two remaining restaurants we enjoyed are the Japanese Kozan Teppan-Yaki, with its theatrical Teppanyaki counter, and Naan Flavours of India with its selection of dishes from Northern India and Coastal Goa.
One of my favourite memories of the Shangri-La Rasa Ria is sunset cocktails at the Sampan Bar, which benefits from some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. The Sampan Bar is right on the beach, meaning the kids can happily play, while mum and dad tuck into margaritas. Another bar, the Lobby Lounge, remains open until midnight and has live entertainment.
A great bonus of staying at a Shangri-La as a family is their Children’s Meal Plan. At the Shangri-La Rasa Ria, children under the age of 12 can enjoy complimentary buffet breakfasts at Oceano (Ocean Wing guests only) and Coffee Terrace and complimentary buffet dinners at Coffee Terrace and Tepi Laut when accompanied by a paying adult (maximum of 2 children per adult).
In the ‘hood
There is so much to do in Kota Kinabalu with kids and we took several daytrips to explore the surrounding area. Island hopping and snorkeling trips to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, a marine park consisting of five islands just off Kota Kinabalu, can be arranged through the hotel and set off from sister hotel the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru.
Other fun trips we took around Kota Kinabalu included a river boat trip to view proboscis monkeys and fireflies (can also be arranged through the hotel), a visit to the Mari Mari Cultural Village to learn about traditional life in Sabah, and a trip to Kinabalu National Park to walk the canopy walkways.
Other options include white water rafting, diving, deep sea fishing, visiting the Sunday markets in Kota Kinabalu – and it is also possible to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Reserve as a day trip (requires a flight to Sandakan).
When booking tours, bear in mind that the Shangri-La Rasa Ria is around a 40 minutes (1 hour in bad traffic) drive from Kota Kinabalu. For some tours this works in your favour – such as those to Kinabalu National Park, but for others – such as boat trips to the Abdul Rahman Marine Park, this can add a couple of hours to your trip.
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The Shangri-La Rasa Ria is a great option if you are looking for a family-friendly hotel in Kota Kinabalu with lots of activities and fun. The beach is fabulous, there is a good choice of restaurants, the kids club is brilliant, and the grounds are beautiful. My kids particularly loved the two swimming pools – both the waterslides in the kids’ pool and the shallow wading area in the Ocean Wing pool were a big hit. Although it is disappointing that the orangutans will no longer be in the nature reserve, this is still an amazing facility, and a great way to introduce the importance of environmental conservation to your kids.
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Note: Mum on the Move paid for our own stay at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria hotel. However, we were gifted some experiences during our stay for the purposes of writing this review. This did not influence my review in any way, and all opinions expressed are honest, and my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you book a hotel through the affiliate website, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.