We’ve now explored 3 YTL resorts in Malaysia, and even by the first experience at Cameron Highlands Resort, we pretty much knew that this was a brand that is unlikely to let us down. There are only 4 YTL resorts in Malaysia and the most famous one is Pangkor Laut Resort, which is the one we haven’t been to. YTL offers a combination of impeccable service, beautifully designed properties usually inspired by the local culture and a rich spa experience (usually) through their reputable Spa Village. While not cheap, it is also not stratospherically high aka Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton in Langkawi. Because it always delivers a memorable stay, you definitely feel that it’s worth it.
Our holiday here took place in 2019. This was the third YTL Resort we tried and it’s possible that our expectations at this point was sky high. I wonder if my impressions would have been different if it was our first or even second foray into the YTL Resort universe. Starting with the positives – the resort has one feature which Tanjong Jara, Cameron Highlands and Pangkor Last can never have – the majestic view of Mount Kinabalu. We got the Kinabalu villa which pitches views of the said Mount as it’s unique feature (the Bayu and Canopy villas do not have the same view). Here are some photos from the balcony of our room.
Gaya Island Resort is perhaps the most nature-conserving establishment compared to the other two. There are no vehicles within the premises, not even a buggy to ferry guests around the vast property, so as to keep the carbon footprint down. The property itself embeds itself in nature – the Spa Village and Omakasa, the Japanese restaurant is set in a glasshouse property with dense forests/ view of the South China Sea being it’s main feature.
As always, the service is reliable. We were taken care of especially well by the F&B Manager, Mr. Ramesh. I had to cancel our Japanese dinner on the second night because I was feeling poorly and he kindly arranged for a meal from the Fishermen’s Cove to be delivered to us (Omakasa only does set dinners which couldn’t be delivered). The attentive and thoughtful touches in YTL resorts are something we noticed to be a trademark in all three resorts.
The property itself is as always, traditional and elegant with gorgeous dining and eating corners.
There was also plenty of excursions and things to do at the resort. A trip to Coral Garden for snorkelling and daily boat rides to Tavajun Bay which is supposed to have not just a beautiful beach but also a turtle rehabilitation centre. Unfortunately, in this trip I felt unwell right from the get go so I had to forego all of those excursions. The resort is also a short 15 minute boat ride away from KK’s city centre (Jesselton Point is where you take the Gaya Island Resort speedboat) so not a huge trek if you are already in the city.
Now for the slightly less flattering. Firstly, the beach wasn’t quite problem free. While there were some parts of it which were nice to relax on, the parts nearer to the Spa Village (and where we had initially gone to try snorkelling) was a bit of a mess. Plastic bottles swept up on the sand, the water itself was dirty, and overall the space just seemed a little neglected so I probably wouldn’t recommend it for snorkelling. We were also warned of sandflies at the beach at night and early in the morning so we avoided the beach during such times. Secondly, the massage at Spa Village was kind of mediocre. I was surprised as I had read that it was voted as one of the best spas in a recent write-up. But I enjoyed my lomi-lomi massage in Cameron Highlands Resort and also the traditional massage in Tanjong Jara so was a tad disappointed with this experience – it wasn’t horrible but just very average. And finally – this could be a good or a bad, it really depends on your fitness levels. While it is so commendable that they want to reduce the carbon footprint of the area, I did find walking up 50 wooden steps to get to our villa a bit harsh after a full day out under the sun. It also takes about 10 minutes to walk from villa to the spa or Omakasa and at night, with the anxiety of sandflies biting you and worried of tumbling down the wooden staircase, all made me a little.. tense both emotionally and physically which isn’t quite the inner state one is going for when on vacation.
Despite these misgivings though, the parts I enjoyed about Gaya Island Resort still took precedence over all else. Overall, a recommended holiday experience but be mindful of the issues highlighted so you won’t be surprised once you’re there. (For instance, I probably won’t suggest this for a big family holiday with elderly parents).
Our holiday here took place in 2017 and so far, is my favourite resort of YTL’s. Pros:- the local concept was pitched very well from architecture, spa (which began with refreshing flower bath) activities for the day, the interior design, menu at Di Atas sungai, ambiance and little touches (loved the dinnerware for breakfast buffet which were laid out in a traditional teak cupboard). Service was generally good and what we hoped for- when one of the staff members asked if we came for a special occasion, I shared that it was my husbands birthday in a few days. They took note of this and offered up a complimentary small cake after our dinner, decked the room with a pretty towel deco and ensured that there was a warm bath waiting when we returned after dinner.
The resort had lots of lounging spaces dotted around by the beach such as hammocks and deck chairs, I constantly fell asleep listening to the waves (best to visit starting from March till September perhaps because we pretty much had one full day of sunshine and two days of rain and cloudiness in the third week of Jan). The Spa Villa was beautiful and intricate (better than other five stars in Thailand, neck to neck with the same in Bali) and my masseuse had strong hands. The peacocks, a regular feature at Di Atas Sungai were a visual treat.
The slight negatives: Dining on the outdoor terrace at the breakfast buffet was quite hot, it would have been ideal to have more fans in the space. The rooms are also situated quite far from the lobby. The internet was free and provided via a dongle but a deposit of 450rm was requested at check-in, not sure what the reason for this policy was. Finally, the food was good but not excellent (Malay dishes for dinner was good but wouldn’t be able to rival say Bijan in KL though it was double the price).
These were minor issues and the positives definitely outweighed the negatives and we would still recommend it to all our friends and family. A perfect place to unwind in the beautiful east coast of the Peninsula.
Our holiday here took place in 2014 (hence no photos of my own as I wasn’t big on taking photos back then) and my first introduction to the YTL Resort universe. First, a reminder: for those traveling with elderly guests, there is no lift in this hotel, so if your room is above the ground floor, then be prepared for some logistics relating to moving around the hotel. Similarly, at the main entrance, it is not on a flat ground but instead you would have to climb up a long flight of stairs. Thirdly, there is a little bit of noise outside the hotel owing to motorcyclists racing at night but this was noted during a stay back in 2014 – it seems that the hotel has since invested in window-proofing.
However, the positives again, outweigh the negatives. The service was really excellent – there is something special and personalised about the staff here. Special reference to Jim at the reception, who was pro-active, professional and always went out of his way to indulge our needs. He personally helped purchase a birthday cake for my nephew from town and arranged for the piano to be playing when my nephew arrived and the cake lit by the fireplace. He also arranged for my family to have breakfast in the private room given that we came in a big group, and responded to any query or request with incredible speed and generosity. These extra touches really made a difference in our stay here. Service by the dining staff too was also very polished and attentive, and the spa was marvellous – the lomi-lomi massage here was truly truly uplifting.
The property is really beautiful and well furnished – high ceilings, classical colonial style with lots of places in the hotel to relax in – by the fireplace, the library, piano area. In addition the cool weather of course enhanced the mood and ambience of the place.
Cameron Highlands is really quite a trek for us and unlikely that we would return, but should we do so, we would definitely stay at this resort again.
While Malaysia has a lot to offer, one can say that the hotel industry hasn’t fully explored the boutique-luxury options in the way that Thailand and Indonesia has done so well, and which is still priced within an attainable range. For instance, our 2 favourite resorts in this bracket is the Aleenta at Hua Hin (I wrote about it here) and Puri Sebali at Ubud (I wrote about it here). There is nothing equal to these options in Malaysia in terms of accommodation luxuries (traditional meets contemporary design and furnishings elegantly put together, spectacular view of nature with private pool options), exquisite soft touches (complementary evening snacks or afternoon teas or souvenirs, blissful spas) and all capped at a certain price point (less than RM1k/ USD250). YTL Resorts are the only ones which comes close to these experiences and when booking a holiday with them, we pretty much know that it will be the best that Malaysia has to offer.