Sandakan has a lot to offer its visitors, as there is something for everyone here. With a year-round temperate climate, you could opt to enjoy the scenery from your veranda or go jungle trekking. There are so many options of activities here that your first trip may not be sufficient to take in everything. Nonetheless, there is always ample time to relax and appreciate life’s slower moments as well as the hectic ones.
The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a unique facility located on an island near Gunung Malipo National Park in Sabah, Malaysia. It is home to some truly breathtaking natural wonders like caves filled with stalactites and other prehistoric-looking formations that are more than 4 million years old. This centre is a sanctuary for orangutans that have been poached or captured illegally from their natural habitat, and you get to see it up close, observing them in their most authentic state. Be sure to come early, though, because it tends to get crowded, as many others are interested in watching these fantastic orangutans.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is an organisation that seeks out these beautiful but endangered creatures and is a part of the Sepilok Rescue Centre. Like the orangutans, these innocent bears are popular poaching targets due to how small they are. The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a haven for them, besides ensuring their return to nature.
Due to logging activities, these adorable proboscis monkeys are teetering on the brink of extinction. The Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary strives towards protecting these fascinating creatures through breeding and releases them back into reserves or other areas untouched by humans. Not only does the sanctuary have a feeding platform for Proboscis Monkeys, but it also has Silver Leaf Monkeys. In addition to these primates – a visitor can see Oriental Pied Hornbills as well.
One of the most beautiful temples in Sandakan is Puu Jih Shih Temple. It is distinctive from other buildings, with vibrant red and gold decorations and elegant lanterns lighting up the courtyard. The enchanting beauty also led this temple to appear in The Amazing Race 4 in 2003.
When you visit this temple, not only will you be able to witness the fascinating craftwork, you will also get to enjoy the panoramic view of Sandakan bay due to it being located high on a hill. There are also stairs leading down to what seems like endless vast beauty: lush greens surrounded by blue waters below yet higher mountains beyond – every photographer’s dream. It is also said that visitors are allowed (but not obliged) to wander around and take pictures, though it is generally understood that respect should be given to those performing prayers.
The Agnes Keith House is a two-storey museum once the home of an American writer, Agnès Foka-Keith, who lived here from 1935 to 1952 while writing about Sandakan’s natural beauty during the World War 2-era. This museum, built in colonial style with wood from trees cut down around Sandakan Bay, displays her famous works and insights into Sandakan’s history. To get to this historical site, you’ll need to climb at least 100 steps of narrow winding stairs.
The Selingan Turtle Island is a conservation area off the coast of Sandakan that is dedicated to releasing turtles back into their natural habitat. There is an excellent hatchery where you can see the baby turtles as they emerge from eggs and grow up in captivity before being released at sea. This is an initiative to preserve these gentle creatures as only 2% would have survived reaching adulthood without assistance.
The release of the turtles to the sea happens in late July or early August, so make sure not to miss out on this beautiful experience. There are also basic accommodations on-site for those who wish to stay longer.
Gomantong Cave is one of the largest cave systems in all of Sabah, and for that, you should include this in your travel itinerary. You will find two main cave complexes in this cave – the Black Cave (as high as 90 metres) and the White Cave (where valuable swiftlets’ nests are located). Only the former is accessible to the general public, while the latter requires some serious caving.
Apart from that, you will also get to see bats with a population in the millions in this cave, which is evident at night when they come out hunting for food. You can also find swiftlets here whose valuable nests are eventually processed into edible bird’s nest soup once they are left behind.
If you are looking for a traditional English cafe in Sandakan, you should visit the English Tea House and Restaurant. This cafe is modelled after a gorgeous colonial-style villa encircled by pretty gardens and shady trees, perfect for those who want some downtime. Visitors can relax on the private terrace, enjoying the beautiful scenery while sipping a tasty beverage from the cafe’s selection and enjoying some English meals like fish and chips and stewed meats.
For those who want to get close to nature, Buli Sim Sim Water Village is one of the best options out there. This Sandakan attraction is so unique because it stands on stilts over the water and features delicious seafood restaurants with signature dishes. Once you are done filling your stomach with the delicious food, you can walk along the village to enjoy the sounds of waves.
The Sandakan Memorial Park is an important historical site in Sabah built to remember prisoners who died during a forced march from Sandakan to Ranau during World War 2. This park is well-maintained and beautifully divided into lush gardens with floral exhibits and ponds filled with colourful fish. A large part of what makes it so interesting is the feature of all different trees from around Asia, such as Oricon Cedar and Banyan Trees.
Sandakan is an unnervingly beautiful place with abundant natural resources and experiences. If you’re not sure where to start your journey in Malaysia but want something extraordinary, Sandakan is sure to fulfil that.