Whether you are visiting Sandakan for the bulk of your trip, or just passing through, you will want to maximise your time in the city. So much travel time can be wasted by lack of planning when it comes to places like Sandakan. While it’s great to have an excuse to return to a place, you will kick yourself for missing any of what Sandakan has to offer simply from lack of planning. So get clued up with our top 5 guides.
Where is Sandakan?
Sandakan is the capital city of the Sandakan district in the Malaysian state of Sabah. It is nestled on the northeast coast of Borneo and is the second largest town in Sabah after Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Western Sabah region. Long established as the main port for such exports as tobacco and coffee, it is also a fishing and eco-tourism destination.
Sandakan is a hub of cultural activity and historic and ecological destinations, not to mention a variety of festivals. So when you’re listing your must-visit places in Sandakan, make sure you include these top 5 destinations in Sandakan and its surrounds:
Around 45 minutes from Sandakan, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is 43 square kilometres of protected land at the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. It was founded in 1964 to rehabilitate orphan orangutans. Today, up to 80 orangutans live free within the reserve, with about 25 infants being cared for in nurseries on site.
The dedicated keepers at the sanctuary leave out food twice a day on wooden platforms within the trees, supplementing the orangutans’ natural diet. These feeding times and the guaranteed observation that it offers to mean that the orang-utan rehabilitation centre is one of the biggest draws of tourists to Sandakan. But it’s not just the orangutans who bring in the crowds. There is a wealth of other wildlife which inhabit the grounds.
- 2. Sandakan Heritage Trail
There are eleven official stops on the Sandakan Heritage Trail. The walk is well signposted – look out for the white concrete tiles on the ground showing a red footprint and “Heritage Trail” written in either black or gold. This walk covers the town’s important and interesting sites which have contributed to its rich and varied historical and cultural past.
- Sandakan Jamek Mosque
Dating back to 1890, this is the oldest mosque in Sandakan.
- MPS Square
This is home to the William Pryer Monument, the Chartered Company Monument, the Sandakan War Monument and the Sandakan Liberation Monument.
- Sandakan Japanese Cemetery
Located on a hill, this is accessed by a 100-step staircase.
- Agnes Keith House
This historic museum is named after American author Agnes Newton Keith.
- Historic Staircase
The remains of an ancient pre-war staircase.
- Goddess of Mercy Temple
A Chinese temple dating from the 1880’s.
- Singapore Road
Marking your route to between cultural destinations.
- St. Michael’s and All Angels Church
Built in the English gothic style, this stone church dates from the 1890’s.
- Sam Sing Kung Temple
One of the oldest structures in Sandakan, this temple features an ancient bronze bell.
- Malaysia Fountain
Marking a return to the heart of town.
- Tourist Information Centre and Sandakan Heritage Museum
The trail ends with this museum of historical Sandakan.
- 3. Gomantong Cave
These limestone caves sit on the Kinabatangan River and are home to colonies of wrinkle-lipped free-tailed bat as well as millions of swiftlets. Ideal to visit as part of a river cruise on the Kinabatangan there is some wonderful wildlife to appreciate as well as the structure of the caves themselves. The names of the two parts of the cave system: the lower Simud Hitam (Black Cave), and above this the Simud Putih (White Cave) refer to the main type of nests produced by the swiftlets. Public access is only to the lower of the caves.
Clearly, the bats and swiftlets are a popular sight for many tourists. When the bats leave the cave en masse each night, the sight is spectacular. However, the dung that this number of animals leaves behind is also something of note! Consequently, the cockroach population of the caves is also rather considerable!
- 4. Rainforest Discovery Centre
This eco-education resource sits at the edge of the Sepilok Forest Reserve, about 23km from Sandakan town. From its incarnation in the late 1990’s as a purely education facility it is now a fully equipped tourist destination. Whether your interest is flora or fauna, mammal or birdlife, you will find it here. Established trails make the navigation of this part of lowland rainforest extremely accessible. Or go high; the canopy walkway and observation tower are ideal for those seeking a glimpse of the many bird species to be found in this area.
Don’t forget to check out any events taking place at the Rainforest Discovery Centre. From fishing to the bird festival, all of wildlife is celebrated at this wonderful resource. This is a real favourite for birdwatchers. Indeed, birders are welcomed to enter the reserve before 8am when the ticket office opens.
- 5. Turtle Island
Situated north of Sandakan, off the coast of Borneo, Selingan Island (nicknamed Turtle Island) is around 45 minutes by boat. This island is a relaxing destination which gives tourists a glimpse of turtle life. The coast of the island is free for you to snorkel, and excursions will include education about turtle conservation efforts too.
The full time rangers on turtle island are employed to support and protect turtle breeding and the local populations. Two main breeds of turtle frequent the island – the Green Turtle and the Hawksbill. Both of these breeds lay their eggs on the island all year round. So there is a huge potential for visitors to witness turtle nesting, but also a clear requirement to behave conscientiously. Never more so relevant is the diving motto to ‘Take only photographs and leave nothing but footprints’.
Whether your interest is birding or diving, relaxation or exploration, heritage or conservation, Sandakan has something to offer. With access to all of these wonderful sights and resources, it makes an ideal base for excursions. If you want to talk about how you’re going to fit it all in, just contact us!