Sabah: Staycation and travel ideas during MCO

So, it has been more than 6 months since I am grounded in KL. My last trip to the airport was end Jan 2020, coming back from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (my hometown) after celebrating Chinese New Year with the family. The last time I was out of the country was end Nov 2019, I was in Singapore for a business trip.

I have been working from home since the start of Movement Control Order (MCO). And while my company has been very generous to provide all the necessary tools we need to work more comfortably at home (external monitor, ergonomic chair etc.), my team and I observed that we having been clocking more hours while working from home. It is difficult to separate personal time from work, given there’s little to none physical boundary (besides the door separating my study from the rest of the house). It is even more challenging for working parents with kids, having to spend extra hours to catch up on work, given the additional responsibilities taking care of the kids at home.


If you find yourself working harder than before MCO, make sure you take time off to rest and recharge. And since we still cannot travel overseas, it is the best time to visit your local travel destinations! Almost all hotels and resorts are giving out good deals, to encourage people to spend. And it is also for a good cause to support local business, and keep people employed.

And so, I was looking for staycation deals in Sabah, and thought I could share the results of my research!


Kota Kinabalu, my hometown, is the capital city of Sabah. It is famous for beach resorts, islands easily accessible from the city, cheap and fresh seafood, noodles (I kid you not, every town has it is own signature noodles), Mount Kinabalu, and the list goes on.


Rasa Ria Resort – Luxury getaway 40 minutes out of city

Rasa Ria Resort (Source: shangri-la.com)

If you are looking for somewhere out of town, but not too much of a hassle to get to, Rasa Ria Resort is for you. Situated in the town of Tuaran, the resort offers beautiful beaches and lush rainforest. It is about 40 minutes drive from town. Taxi would cost you about 10 EUR. The resort offers pick up service from RM 170 (35 EUR).

Tip: It is almost impossible to find metered taxis in KK. Negotiate and agree on a price before hopping in.

Superior Rainforest King Room (Source: shangri-la.com)

With tastefully decorated rooms, Rasa Ria Resort is the luxury retreat you need, whether it is romantic getaway, or a family retreat. Check out the cute family room setup below!

Deluxe Family Room (Source: shangri-la.com)

Ongoing promotion until 20th Dec 2020 has rooms for 2 starting at RM 374 (75 EUR) per night.

Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai – Family retreat 40 minutes out of city

Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai (Source: booking.com)

Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai is another local favourite travel destination, just before Rasa Ria Resort. While at Karambunai, make sure you check out the Lagoon park just 4.2 km away, of which the hotel provides free shuttle service to.

Ongoing promotion until end 2020 is RM 258 nett per night, and top up RM 144 nett for second night.

Manukan Island – Island retreat 15 minutes from city

Manukan Island (Source: agoda.com)

Manukan is one of the few easily accessible islands from the city. It is only about 15 minutes boat ride from KK jetty. Sutera Sanctuary Lodges offers room starting from RM 320 a night.

Gaya Island – Luxury island getaway 10 minutes from city

Gaya Island is the luxury treatment your body and mind need, and it is just 10 minutes boat ride from the city. With only the most luxurious resorts on this island, be ready to be treated like royalties.

Kinabalu villa, Gaya Island Resort (Source: https://www.gayaislandresort.com)

Gaya Island Resort, part of YTL resorts, offers a really good deal for Malaysians. Check out their Residents’ package, starting from RM 1760 per room, 3D2N, all meals inclusive.

The YTL brand is big in the hospitality industry. I had a stay in YTL’s Pangkor Laut Resort, and it was perfect! The room and amenities are heavenly, food was really good, and services were impeccable!

A more budget friendly option on Gaya Island is Gayana Marine Resort. Rainforest villa starts from RM 550 nett per night, and the Ocean villa starts from RM 850 nett per night.

Kudat – 3 hours road trip to Tip of Borneo

If you are up for a road trip, take the 3 hours drive to the tip of Borneo (northernmost part). Check out the beaches (beware of the strong waves) and the native Rungus’ long houses.

Infinity pool, Hibiscus Villa (Source: http://www.hibiscusvillaborneo.com)

This relatively new Hibiscus villa comes with 3 bedrooms, private infinity pool, and a private beach front! Perfect for big family retreats (up to 9 pax)!

Ongoing promotion is 50% off the normal rate, from RM 800 per night for 2, breakfast inclusive, for stay until end September.

A more budget friendly option is Hibiscus chalet, with rates starting from RM 295 per night for 2, breakfast inclusive.

Mantanani Island – The less travelled

Beach chalet, Sutera @ Mantanani (Source: sabahtravel.com)

Mantanani Island has always been on my list. It is not too far from the city, about 90 minutes drive up north. Because of the distance, it is very much less crowded with tourists.

Sutera & Mantanani has an ongoing promotion until end 2020, with rates starting from RM 350 nett on weekdays and RM 395 nett on weekdays. The beach chalet goes for only an additional RM70-80 per night! The best part, it is all meals included!

Semporna – Untouched beauty of Borneo

Semporna (Source: Lesley Derksen on Unsplash)

Semporna is a small town of about 35k population, located in Southeast of Sabah. It is not very popular due to the lack of accessibility.

To get here, you fly in Tawau, and from there you drive another 1.5 to 2 hours to reach Semporna. From Semporna, you can reach a few islands, one notably Sipadan Island!

Note: Sipadan is now only open for day tripping. All resorts have been closed down to preserve the island. There are two island resorts nearby, i.e. Kapalai (15-20 minutes by boat), and Mabul Island (25 minutes by boat).

Kapalai Dive Resort (Source: dive-malaysia.com)

My favourite is Kapalai, this beautiful resort on top of a reef. Locals crown it as “Maldives in Malaysia”. If you can snorkel if you are not a diver. It is almost guaranteed you can swim with turtles! 

Ongoing promotion until end September is 20% of the normal rate, but always check with the resorts for their latest promotion. They charge per head, and all meals are included.

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort (Source: borneodivers.com.my)

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort is offering a really good deal too, with RM 999 per non diver or RM 1199 per diver for 3D2N stay, full board meals.

Mabul Island waters (Source: borneodivers.com.my)

Sunset cruise – Quick & easy sunset fix

If you are looking for a quick & easy, no overnight, break away from work, consider the Sunset cruise which departs from Sutera Harbour.

Ongoing promotion until end 2020 is RM 99 per pax.

TL:DR – Summary for comparison

HotelPrice per pax / nightPromo expiryRemarks
Shangri-la Rasa Ria ResortRM18720th Dec 2020Breakfast included, watersports, bicycle
Nexus Resort & Spa KarambunaiRM129 (RM72 for 2nd night)Book before 30th Sept 2020
Stay valid till 31st Dec 2020
Breakfast included, complimentary 30 minutes boat ride, kayaking, bicycle, tennis
Sutera Sanctuary LodgesRM160OngoingBreakfast not included
Gaya Island Resort (YTL)RM440OngoingAll meals included, boat transfer included
Gayana Marine ResortRM225End 2020Breakfast included, boat transfer included
Hibiscus chaletRM148End Sept 2020Breakfast included
3 hours drive from city
Hibiscus villaRM400End Sept 2020Breakfast included
3 hours drive from city
Sutera @ MantananiRM175End 2020All meals included
90 minutes drive from city
Kapalai Dive ResortRM400-500 (non divers)End Sept 2020All meals included
Need to fly in Tawau, drive 1.5 to 2 hours, and then boat ride
Borneo Divers Mabul ResortRM500 (non diver)
RM600 (diver)
End 2020All meals included
Need to fly in Tawau, drive 1.5 to 2 hours, and then boat ride
Sunset CruiseRM99End 2020Dinner included

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