11 May 2013

Pulau Gaya - A Wellness Sanctuary

Date of Exploration : 24 - 28 Apr 2013

An oasis within an oasis, YTL Hotels' signature Spa Village at Gaya Island Resort offers a holistic approach to wellness that goes beyond just a deeply relaxing massage but encompasses a sensory journey that rejuvenates the mind, body and spirit.

During my stay at the resort, I sampled activities available at the Spa Village as well as tried the Aki Nabalu massage and the unique experiences left me with delights that I continue to relish.

Stepping past the entrance of the Spa Village is like entering a rustic Zen dimension.
Nestled at the meeting point where the songs of birds greet the symphonic sea, the Spa Village has that keen partnership with nature that many city spas attempt to recreate through piped soundtracks of the rainforest and sea. Nature unlocks the subconscious sense of inner calm and the Spa Village has got the real deal.

This being my first visit to Pulau Gaya and the resort, I was pleasantly surprised by the commitment YTL Hotels has in providing a premium spa experience. I thought spa meant just a massage in a private room within the resort's main building until I saw the separate development of a village dedicated solely to tune one's well-being.

At the Spa Village, guests can join a free yoga class, learn more about aromatherapy at the Sabah Scent Adventures, and of course, enjoy foot and body massages by skilled therapists. This blog entry documents my experiences at the Spa Village starting with a browse of the interior to the yoga session to the Aki Nabalu massage I had and the formulation of my very own spa scent...

Clean lines and open spaces... the reception and welcome lounge are fashioned with hints of ethnic elements and contemporary design.  

A surface pond teeming with koi added a soothing focal point to the interior d├ęcor. 

Nature within and all around the Spa Village.

We were served this delicious welcome drink that donned the complex flavour of lime, pineapple and guava juice warmed with undertones of chilli, ginger and star anise. Excellent for digestion and detoxifying the body we were told.

The Spa Village holds yoga sessions that are free on alternate mornings at 7.45am (during the period of my stay) that guests can sign up by making a reservation with the resort reception. Space is limited so do check the schedule and book a spot early.

I've attended a few yoga classes conducted by the gym I'm with back home and have taken a shining to this form of exercise but because I'm about as flexible as my grandmother, I gave up on going to save myself the embarrassment of constantly falling over. But I was curious what's it like doing yoga at the Spa Village so I grew a hide overnight.

Thankfully, the instructress was really good in that she observed the standard and level of flexibility of the participants and taught poses that were achievable for stiffies like me yet allowed the more flexible to improve their postures. It was also very refreshing to do yoga in an outdoor setting with greenery all around.

When the number of participants is small and the weather smiling, yoga sessions are held outdoors. Else, it would be held inside an air-conditioned studio. Having always done yoga indoors with speaker music, I much enjoyed the outdoor variation. 

Birds chirped busily while Cicadas buzzed their constant song, the surrounding felt so alive! They made struggling with the yoga poses less painful.

Fail! Both the pose and the floral beach shorts.

This was the scene I look up to as I lay on the yoga mat for lying poses. The bunch of yellow florets in the palm tree were ripe and they kept sprinkling on me. "Flower shower!" I thought to myself. My senses were more engaged with the surrounding than what the yoga teacher was saying.
At one point, a large black-and-white bird sat atop the palm fronds and looked down at us. It was yoga for the mind for me at that moment.

What better way to relax after sweating it out at a yoga session than a nice massage? Spa Village has an extensive menu of herbal and traditional treatments to choose from. Sourced from nature and perfected by the age-old wisdom of indigenous people, the spa pamperings use fresh local ingredients and tap into the ancient healing arts of the Kadazan and Bajau tribes. How very exotic!

I was booked for the 2-hour Aki Nabalu massage which is inspired by Mount Kinabalu and comprises a foot scrub followed by body steaming and a deep tissue massage. Cost of the massage is RM555 (excluding prevailing taxes).

Picturesque pavilions invite tired soles for an invigorating scrub and massage.

Perched amidst coastal mangroves, I imagined that getting a foot massage here would be an experience like no other. But it could feel kinda hot without a breeze and mozzies may just be waiting to feed.

The Spa Village has a number of private treatment suites that can accommodate couple or individual spa therapies.

My treatment suite. Love the large picture windows that let nature in.

Fresh ingredients and refreshing views.

My Aki Nabalu massage started with a salt foot scrub, a warm herbal bath, followed by a cool orchid soak. That's my therapist, Saroj, from Thailand. He's the master trainer of therapists at the resort so I'm in for a real treat! Guests have a choice of male and female therapists.

Dim sum time! After the foot scrub, I'm 'cooked' in this steamer infused with a herbal blend of different gingers found in the rainforests of the world. I could literally feel the fats and bodily toxins oozing out! Felt so light after the steaming. 

After steaming, I showered and practically limboed between consciousness for the next 1.5 hours. I don't recall the massage. In a good way.

As someone with a shelf lined with essential oils and owning no less than 5 burners at home, aromatherapy is one of my areas of interest so I was excited to go on the Spa Village's Sabah Scent Adventures. The 1-hour session gave me an opportunity to test my sense of smell in identifying aromatic essences and to concoct a personalized aroma blend.

The Sabah Scent Adventures session was held in an air-conditioned studio that is used for yoga and meditation sessions as well. A dish of coffee beans at the table is not for brewing but to neutralise the smell receptors in-between scents. Does this mean people with strong B.O. should hang around Starbucks more often?

A traditional scent laboratory.

Irene, the Scent Artist who guided our noses on the ABCs to N of essential oils. Her friendly disposition and calm demeanour made listening to her a very soothing experience.

Smelling strips tested our ability to identify aromatherapeutic scents. There were peppermint, tea tree, sandalwood, rose, lemongrass, mandarin and lavender among other unfamiliar smells.

After the smell test, we selected scents we liked to create a personalized blend.

As most pure essential oils are too potent to be used directly on the skin, we diluted it with a base oil made from rice before adding drops of our preferred scents to custom our very own roll-on spa on-the-go! 

My special Explore Life Lah! blend - Peppermint with Germanium, Patchouli and Lavender to bring on my travels for a moment of Zen wherever I am.
The Sabah Scent Adventures had been an unusual experience but costing RM255 excluding taxes per person, I felt more could have been included in the session. Perhaps a visit to a garden containing live plants where the essential oils come from would help us identify the plants and their characteristics. For example, I have no idea what Patchouli looks like until I Googled after the session. If not a garden, perhaps a pictorial chart to show the plants would do.

Another interesting topic during the Sabah Scent Adventures could be educating guests on how to identify real essential oils from fake ones (if that knowledge is available) and even an explanation on the distillation / extraction processes of the oils. Or maybe include a little history and background on the discovery of aromatherapy.

While contents for the Sabah Scent Adventures could benefit from some beefing up, the Spa Village provided a truly memorable spa experience that engaged all the 5 senses :

1. Sight - handsome design of the spa premises and lush forestry
2. Sound - natural orchestration of the mangrove dwellers and sea
3. Taste - that deliciously fruity and spicy welcome drink
4. Smell - Sabah Scent Adventures
5. Touch - relaxing foot scrubs, facials and massage therapies

For a comprehensive all-in-one spa experience that's at the heart of nature, Gaya Island Resort's Spa Village is THE place to be!


  1. Dear Darren
    I can't seem to find any information on your blog as to whether you are paid / getting discounts from the places you blog about?
    This particular Resort has received very good recommendations on all counts from you, and it would be nice to know for sure if its paid or earned.

    Best regards,

  2. Hi Simon... thank you for visiting my blog and interest in the objectivity of the posts. I'm not paid to talk about the places and most of the trips are self-financed. Some of the trips are sponsored and I would include a mention within the article or a line at the end of the blog post to state the collaboration. Some examples...




    My stay at Pulau Gaya has been a mix of self-paid and invited experiences. All opinions and photos are of my own and stem from what I've seen and experienced.

    Hope this addresses your concern.

    Wishing you happy travels...



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