By Jeremy Khalil on May 11, 2017
Located on the east coast of Borneo Island, Sandakan is a town that is rich in history and the gateway to many eco-tourism destinations due to its proximity to unique wildlife attractions. As a matter of fact, the richness of wildlife and nature here is one of the major reasons why travellers from all around the world flock to Sandakan. Read on to find out about this quaint city that is dubbed as ‘Little Hong Kong’.
Sukau is situated within the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and requires a two-hour-and-a-half speedboat ride to get there from Sandakan jetty. It is a village that has abundance of natural wonders that are bound to excite ecologically minded travellers. Travellers should take the opportunity to get on the boat cruise along the Kinabatangan River (one of the longest rivers in Borneo), which offers nothing but a remarkable experience for travellers to observe unique Bornean wildlife including proboscis monkey, pygmy elephant and orangutan.
A visit to Sandakan is not complete without a trip to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. For most travellers, the forest of Sepilok is synonymous with the species of primate that can be found only in Borneo and Sumatra called orangutan. Less than half an hour’s drive from Sandakan city, this centre serves as a natural classroom and treatment sanctuary for the orangutans – taking care and teaching the orangutans, especially the young, on ways to live in the wild.
Please be informed that the sanctuary does not allow visitors to carry their bag, food, drinks and insect repellent. The mentioned items will be kept in a provided locker.
Entrance fee: Above 17 years old (Malaysian RM5 per person and Non-Malaysian RM30), 17 Years old and below (Malaysian RM2 per person and Non-Malaysian RM15) | GPS: 5.865338, 117.948990 | Contact: +6 089 531 180
Located next to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (SBCC) that allows wildlife lovers to see the world’s smallest sun bear, a species that is under threat due to massive deforestation and illegal hunting activity for their body parts, erroneously believed to be medicinal. This rehabilitation centre is established to conserve these sun bears and increase public awareness towards their plight.
The facilities of the conservation centre include a boardwalk, observation platforms and visitor centre. These bears more slowly, especially when they climbing up the towering trees, making them easy to photograph. Kindly refrain from using flash when photographing the animals.
Entrance fee: Malaysians pay RM5 per adult and RM2 per teenager (12 – 17); Non-Malaysians pay RM30 per adult and RM15 per teenager (aged 12 – 17) | GPS: 5.865004, 117.949876 | Website: www.bsbcc.org.my
A one-hour and half drive from Sandakan leads travellers to a place where one of the largest cave systems in Sabah is located. Gomantong Caves is another tourism offering in Sandakan, renowned as the source of swiftlets’ nests, considered as an exotic delicacy for the Chinese. These nests are so heavily in demand that the raw ones easily worth around RM7,000 per kilogram.
Naturally, large numbers are exported to China, Hong Kong and Singapore. Birds’ nest is not actually made of twigs but of the dried saliva of certain swiftlet species. According to Chinese belief, birds’ nest has medicinal and rejuvenating properties.
Entrance fee: Malaysians pay RM5 per adult and RM2 per child (aged below 18). Non-Malaysians pay RM30 per adult and RM 15 per child (aged below 18). RM 10 will be charged for the use of cameras, camcorders and phone camera | GPS: 5.530279, 118.074955
This sanctuary is located deep within the Yet Hing oil palm plantation and takes one hour and a half to get there from Sandakan. Opened since 2001, the Labuk Bay Probosics Monkey Sanctuary serves as an interesting spot for travellers who want to continue getting up close and personal with wildlife.
The sanctuary grants every traveller the chance to observe the famous proboscis monkeys within a close distance. The facilities of this sanctuary include Observation Area A (a long wooden walkway that allows visitors to see proboscis monkeys in close proximity), and Observation Area B (where adorable silver leaf monkeys often climb in in search for greens to snack on). Travellers also get to see the oriental pied hornbills at the sanctuary.
For the best viewing experience, travellers should come during the feeding sessions which are at 9.30 a.m. / 2.30 p.m. (platform A) and 11.30 a.m. / 4.30 p.m. (platform B).
Entrance fee: Malaysians pay RM15 per adult and RM5 per child. Non-Malaysians pay RM60 per adult and RM30 per child. RM 10 will be charged for the use of cameras, camcorders and phone camera | GPS: 5.924158, 117.815261 | Contact: +60 89-672 133
Sandakan city centre itself boasts a variety of attractions due to it being the capital of North Borneo during the British era. Following the Sandakan Heritage trail, travellers may start their Journey from Agnes Keith House to marvel at the edifice and its interiors, which stores memories of life during the British administration, restored to its glory on 16 April 2001 and managed by Sabah Museum since 5 August 2002.
Cap off the trail by visiting St. Michael’s Church of All Angels, the first Anglican Church in Sandakan (built in 1888 and finished about 20 years later), made from limestone that gives it a formidable look, which we truly adore, reminiscent of the quaint churches of England. Travellers may also proceed to the Sandakan Memorial Park to learn and understand the tribulations faced by the British and Australian soldiers who were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese force during WWII on the very site.
Tip: Map of Sandakan Heritage Trail can be obtained at travellers’ lodgings or at the Tourist Centre.
Travellers are highly recommended to stay at the award-winning and ecologically friendly Sukau Rainforest Lodge. This lodge allows guests to stay in a peaceful environment amidst the richness of Sandakan nature and wildlife. Sukau Rainforest Lodge gained its popularity among foreign travellers when it was ranked as one of the Unique Lodges of The World by National Geographic.
Located few kilometres away from Sandakan town, Sim Sim Market is ideal for those who wish to savour fresh seafood menu. This market is a must-visit place among local and foreign visitors due to the mouth-watering ikan bakar (grilled fish). The market opens daily from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
GPS: 5.854204, 118.129596
At Borneo Ethnic Cuisine Restaurant, travellers can feast on authentic food from one of the main ethnic groups in Sabah: the Kadazan. Located at Mile 4 in Sandakan, this restaurant has been only started operating since early October 2016.
We highly recommend travellers to the local set called nasi linopot (rice with mashed yam wrapped in leaf) served with ikan basung pinasakan (mackerel-type fish), hinava (fish mixed with lime juice, sliced shallots and grated ginger), bambangan (wild mango mix with salt, grated bambangan seed and slices of chili), salted fish, sambal tuhau (wild ginger mixed with diced chili and scallion) and Sabah vegetables.
This restaurant opens daily from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. It is closed on Tuesdays | GPS: 5.854197, 118.074549
Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude to Sabah Tourism Board for making our trip to Sandakan a reality.