Thursday, May 24, 2012

MICE Paradise in Kota Kinabalu

One of the most beautiful sunsets in the world

Today I reluctantly packed my bags to head back to the reality of Manila, after a wonderful week-long stay in Kota Kinabalu for Travelife Magazine’s annual team-building exercise. In between all the teambuilding meetings, I’d spent a couple of very nice days editing articles by the beach, taking long sunset walks and having philosophical conversations over dinner at the Shangri-la Rasa Ria resort, which is at the other end of Kota Kinabalu, about 45 minutes by car from the city.
An Ocean Wing terrace

And when I wasn’t on the beach, I was on the lovely terrace of my top-floor room, where I could write on a large daybed with an encompassing view of the resort and the sea, and a jacuzzi for two on the same terrace. Our entire Travelife team flew to Kota Kinabalu together and we decided to try out both Shangri-la hotels in KK: the Shangri-la Tanjung Aru resort near the city for the first half of our stay and then the Shangri-la Rasa Ria for the latter half.

Shangri-la Rasa Ria's Sampan Bar

So you might say that the Shangri-la hotels in Kota Kinabalu were Travelife Magazine’s summer offices this year as we did our team building, annual planning and June-July issue all in one, working by the beach, in the gardens or on our terraces.

I’m traveling all the time so packing and unpacking should be pretty SOP. In fact, in a week or so I’m flying out again to somewhere in Asia and then to Europe with two good friends. But today I seriously didn’t want to leave Kota Kinabalu – separation anxiety, as one my companions put it.


Anyway, Kota Kinabalu is a great place to unwind as it’s so stress-free. Beautiful sunsets, no traffic, great seafood and lovely hotels. What a great combination. And the Shangri-la Rasa Ria actually offers two options: they have the large Garden Wing with five-star deluxe facilities that is excellent for MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) and company outings like the Travelife Magazine KK summer outing; and the more understated Ocean Wing with a separate entrance and its own facilities for private holidays.

MICE Heaven

Of course those staying at the Ocean Wing have full run of the house here, but they also have the option of a private swimming pool and private breakfast facilities. As for the beach, it’s big enough for everyone so no need to divide it into MICE and private holidaygoers. In fact, it’s so big that at any one time you’ll only see a couple of people anywhere near you.

Shangri-la Rasa Ria's wide beachfront


So at Travelife, we decided to try both. We booked the Garden Wing for everyone on our team and then I booked the top-floor room of the Ocean Wing for myself. We conducted all our team-building exercises and work for our upcoming June-July issue by the pool or in one of the terraces of the Garden Wing, and then after work was done for the day, I walked to the other side of the resort, to the Ocean Wing, for my own R&R. It was the perfect arrangement.

The private entrance of the Ocean Wing


Meanwhile, for food, we tried all the good restaurants in Kota Kinabalu, but one of our favorites in an entire week of eating very well was the Coast restaurant of the Shangri-la Rasa Ria. It’s a beautiful restaurant made to look like an underwater paradise with jellyfishes and corals. I had breakfast here and it offered a great view of the beach from here. But at night, it’s truly magical.

Shangri-la's Coast restaurant
We were lucky as they've just gotten a new and talented Indonesian chef who'd won culinary awards everywhere for his creative cooking, and he'd literally just created a new menu. On our first night at the Shangri-la Rasa Ria, we headed for a dressy dinner at Coast and this was also the very first night that Chef Alvrie Manangka had put out his debut menu at the hotel. He'd arrived less than a month ago.

The beautiful Coast restaurant

When I looked at the three-course tasting menu Chef Manangka suggested, it looked pretty much like regular good food: a mango and crab roulade, followed by a salmon gravlax, and then roast chicken and a black forest cake. However nothing actually looked like what they were supposed to be. The roast chicken came as a ballotine with crispy skin around it, while the black forest cake was deconstructed and served as five different ingredients on a plate. Everything was absolutely delicious.

Mango and crab roulade

Roast chicken -- would you believe?
"I don't want to return to Manila," someone on the Travelife team suddenly said, while another suggested: "Maybe we can just continue putting out the magazine from Kota Kinabalu? And specifically from a Shangri-la resort?"

I smiled and then sighed. In a perfect world, that would have been a done deal a long time ago.


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