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. Sandakan has it all! There are so many options of activities here that your first trip may not be sufficient to take everything in. 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, and 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 isn’t the only reason why it is the main attraction in Sandakan, though. As its name suggests, it is a sanctuary for orangutans that have been poached or captured illegally from their natural habitat. It is truly a fun experience as 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 there are many others that are interested in watching these amazing apes!
Imagine visiting a centre dedicated entirely to bears…well, you don’t have to, as the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre is exactly that! The Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre is part of an organization that seeks out these beautiful but endangered creatures and is actually a part of the Sepilok Rescue Center. Similar to the orangutans, these innocent bears are popular poaching targets due to how small they are. The Borneo Sun Bear Conservation is a safe haven for them, besides ensuring their return to nature.
These adorable proboscis monkeys are teetering on the brink of extinction due to logging activities. The Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary is not one that should be missed, as it strives towards the protection of these fascinating creatures through breeding and releases 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. With vibrant red and gold decorations and elegant lanterns lighting up the courtyard, it is distinctive from other buildings. Because of its enchanting beauty, this temple appeared in The Amazing Race 4 in 2003. Visitors are not just treated to the fascinating craftwork, they are also treated to a panoramic view of Sandakan bay due to it being located high on a hill. There are stairs leading down from where there will then be another staircase turn left towards what seemed 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 that was 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 World War II-era Japan occupation (1942–1945). The house, built in colonial style with wood from trees cut down around Sandakan Bay, is now open to the public. The museum displays her famous works and provides insight into Sandakan’s history. Bear in mind though, that you’ll need at least 100 steps to climb up through narrow winding stairs before reaching this historical site, so make sure your legs are strong!
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’s an amazing hatchery where you can see baby sea-going creatures as they emerge from eggs and grow up in captivity before being released at sea. This happens in late July or early August, so make sure to not get here too early else, you will miss out on this wonderful experience. This is a good initiative to preserve these gentle creatures as only 2 percent would have survived reaching adulthood. Separately, there are also basic accommodations on-site if you wish to stay longer than just one day.
Gomantong Cave has claimed its spot as one of the largest cave systems in all of Sabah, and with that in mind, it is one more reason to not miss this in your itinerary! The cave is noted for its bat population, which is reported to number in the millions, and is especially visible at night when the cave is filled with these darting swiftlets. Over the centuries, the cave became famous for the nests left behind by the swiftlets that can be made into edible bird’s nest soup. There are actually two main cave chambers — the Black Cave and the White Cave. Only the former is accessible to the public, as the latter is difficult to enter unless you’re an avid cave fan.
In Sandakan, you might not expect to find a traditional English cafe, yet that is precisely what you will find at the English Tea House and Restaurant. Modeled after a gorgeous colonial-style villa, the cafe is encircled by pretty gardens and shady trees, perfect for those who want some downtime. Visitors can relax on their private terrace overlooking both bay views as well as beautiful inland sceneries while sipping a tasty beverage from the cafe’s selection. English snacks like fish & chips and stewed meats are also available.
The sounds of waves crashing against rocks can be heard in the background as you stroll along the skirts of Buli Sim Sim Water Village along Sandakan’s coast, making for a perfect spot to go if one is looking for some time alone with nature. The village is unique as it stands on stilts over the water and features delicious seafood restaurants with signature dishes like prawn noodles, dumplings, and laksa that line its waterfront.
The Sandakan Memorial Park is a haunting yet moving memorial to the thousands who lost their lives in captivity during World War II. The park lies within Sabah, an area that was once forest land but has since been divided into different lush gardens with many floral exhibits and ponds filled with colourful fish that compliments their surroundings. A large part of what makes it so interesting is the feature of all the different types of trees from around Asia, such Oricon Cedar (though they don’t call them cedars) and Banyan Trees. It is an important historical site in Sabah as it lies near the Japanese prison camp where prisoners were forced to perform the death march from Sandakan to Ranau.
Sandakan is an unnervingly beautiful place with an abundance of natural resources and experiences. If you’re not sure where to start your journey in Malaysia but want something truly special, Sandakan is sure to fulfil that!