Aching, exhausted, filthy, and a little disoriented, our shuttle bus churns us out on the immaculate steps of the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru. For a devastating second, I think that we’re in the wrong place, and maybe we just dreamed we had a reservation here. I mean, it looked perfect. The staff’s smiles were not just pearly and beautiful, they were genuine. The decor was elegant, and the open-air lobby was welcoming, yet refined. Did we belong here?
My friend and I looked at each other, caked in sweat and mud, with our shaking leg muscles, and expressions of disbelief that in the matter of two hours we’d gone from conquering Mt. Kinabalu to checking in at the city’s nicest resort. Only 24 hours before, I was sitting halfway up Mt. Kinabalu, speechless, propelled by the light at the end of the tunnel – a stay at the Shangri-La.
I’m not lying when I say that envisioning the Shangri-La was what got me through the Kinabalu climb.
I knew the Shangri-La had a spa, where a massage was just waiting for me. That quieted my increasingly angry muscles, and they were not disappointed by the Rescue Release massage that soothed them back to health.
I also knew the Shangri-La had a bar. Several, in fact, but one of them had my attention from the minute I saw its portraits on the Tanjung Aru website. The Sunset Bar was everything I ever wanted in my true paradise: a dramatic, all-encompassing sunset, accompanied by champagne and cocktails.
I know it’s a bit blurry, but forgive me, I was giddy at the sight of sunset at the Sunset Bar
Our first night, the Sunset Bar showed off a truly remarkable Borneo sunset. The next night, it was as though the Sunset Bar was really putting the moves on me, because it played host to a thunderstorm like I have never seen before. The rain stayed out over the water, so we remained dry as lightning forked down over the islands, and flashed through the sky like a strobe light, illuminating the islands and the sea. The Sunset Bar’s vantage point is one of sky and sea. It was commanding and compelling, and it completely pulled me in.
The thunderstorm drama begins, and we get prime seats at the Sunset Bar
During the climb, it was too much for me to imagine an actual shangri-la, but I have to wonder how much harder I would have pushed had I thought about the luxurious guestrooms, the pleasant and welcoming staff, the delicious food, and my constant forays into the infinity pool. It was all there, though. The crab and lobster bisque, with its accompanying soft shell crab ornament, is a food memory I will always revisit, salivating, and the morning lengths of the infinity pool are an idyll I hope to have the chance to relive.
Crab and lobster bisque at Tatu, the Shangri-La’s casual dining room
Although we spent only three days and two nights at the Shangri-La, our stay felt as though it lasted an eternity. We were so absorbed with relaxation, and relished the novelty of our tough decision making: pool, or beach? Daiquiri, or margarita? I have no doubt the memories of our arduous climb would have been evaporated completely, had we not still been utterly sore and extremely uneasy at the sight of a flight of stairs.
The infinity pool at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa
Back home, I recounted my adventure to my family, friends, peers, anyone who would listen, really. The memories were fresh, and I wanted to hang onto them as long as I could. I hadn’t taken the time to reflect, or to really absorb my experience, until my dad asked me,
“So. What was the best part of your trip?”
I thought about it for a moment, and hastily replied,
“When I got to the top of the mountain.”
But as soon as I said it, I knew there was actually something better.
“No. I’m lying.”
The best part of the trip was at 7am, the morning after the climb. I had the infinity pool at the Shangri-La all to myself, and as I perched on the edge, blissfully devouring the view, I looked up to my right and saw it. The beast. Mt. Kinabalu. I saw it and thought, “exactly twenty-four hours ago I had conquered its summit”. That was immensely satisfying to me.
To sit, in paradise, and see the ridiculous challenge I had overcome felt so rewarding.
I sat there and thought, “this is both why and how I travel”.
*Please note that I did not receive any type of compensation or benefit for this post. We booked and paid as any other guests there, I simply wanted to share my experience with you. All opinions are entirely my own.