The buzzing shipping hub of Sandakan is a scenic introduction to the mysterious and myth-laden country of Borneo. If you’re not here to breathe in the salty whiffs of sea life and gorge on fish so fresh it almost flaps off the plate, you’d better reconsider your options.
Or perhaps you’re in Sandakan to check out the beautiful cityscape from the viewing decks on the Puu Gih Jih Chinese Temple, which provides stunning views of Labuk Bay. For a taste of real Sandakan life, visit Buli Sim Sim, a village perched precariously on carefully crafted stilts. And if you’re beginning to think Sandakan’s residents are limited to fisherman, fish and monkeys, make a quick trip out to Turtle Islands Park. Hopefully you’re sufficiently tired out by now – because when the anchors and shop shutters go down after dark, Sandakan is not quite so exciting.
Sandakan's TOP 10
10. Sepilok Nature Resort If trekking through a tropical jungle is your idea of fun, this is the resort for you.
5. Sandakan Heritage Museum This old British colonial building holds artefacts from Sandakan’s indigenous cultures.
9. Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Centre Set in the middle of the rainforest, this place allows you to get lost in your own Tarzan fantasy.
4. Sandakan Prison Camp Memorial A memorial to the Australian, American and British prisoners of war who were kept here during WWII.
8. Agnes Newton Keith Home Home of the American author, who wrote of her time as a prisoner during WWII.
3. Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary This private sanctuary allows you to get up close to these weird-schnozzed creatures.
7. Sandakan Rainforest Park Unleash your inner botanist and get exploring. There’s over 110 species of plants here.
2. The Sandakan Crocodile Farm Malaysia’s largest reptile park boasts over 3,000 specimens of these dinosaur-like creatures.
6. Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre Orphaned orang-utans are housed here as they are nursed back to health. Take a packet of tissues – things may get teary.
1. Masjid Jamek Sandakan Constructed over 120 years ago, this beautifully handcrafted mosque was also a refuge for Muslims during WWII.
- Sandakan Memorial Park – Once a Japanese POW camp, approximately 1,800 Australian and 600 British troops were kept there.
- St Michael’s and All Angels Church – Built in the 19th century, prison labourers hauled stone through the mountains to build this church.
- Agnes Keith House – The home of the famous author was built in the 1930s. It has been renovated into a museum.
- Sam Sing Kung Temple – Also known as the Three Saints Temple, the building dates back to 1887. It is home to three saints: Kwan Woon Cheung, Tin Hou and Emperor Min Cheong.
- Pryer Memorial – A 100-year-old memorial that honours the town’s founder, William B Pryer.
Sandakan Art & Culture
- Sandakan Heritage Trail – A trail that hits all the town’s historical sites and discusses its colourful past.
- Mooncake Festival – A historical festival held annually in August, marking the 14th-century rebellion against the Mongols.
- Merdeka Day – Held in Sabah, this is the celebration of Malaysia’s independence on August 31, 1957.
- Sandakan Memorial Day – Held annually on August 15 to remember the prisoners held in the war camp during World War II.
- Sandakan Festival – An annual festival that celebrates Sandakan as a nature preserve. Locals dress in Turkish costumes and perform colourful dances.
- Gentingmas Mall – A three-storey shopping mall with a variety of stores that sell household goods, clothing and food.
- Parkwell – A large store that sells a variety of household and grocery goods.
- Central Market – An area in downtown Sandakan where locals sell shirts, local handicrafts, crystal and other items.
- Servay Hypermarket – Get clothing, toys and other housewares.
- Sandakan Harbour Square – A massive complex containing a central market, town square, a shopping mall and other tourist attractions.
Gay & Lesbian Sandakan
- 7 Heaven – A Sandakan dessert parlour that welcomes gays and lesbians.
- Sabah Hotel – A gay-friendly hotel. Many gays and lesbians socialize around the pool area.
- Code1069 – A mixed bar in Tawau that welcomes gays and lesbians.
- Q Bar – Located in Kota Kinabalu, this is a world-class gay and lesbian bar with lounge music and Thai-style corner dens.
- Magma Sports Club – A mixed bar with karaoke and a pool table.
- Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary – See monkeys in their near-natural habitat.
- Orang Utan Sanctuary – A sanctuary that saves and cares for orangutans. The animals are very friendly and will approach visitors.
- Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Centre – A fantastic hike through lush a lush forest. See an assortment of fauna and flora, including the Giant Sepilok tree.
- Sandakan Rainforest Park – Features 148 hectares of flora as well as jogging trails and an exhibition gallery.
- Turtle Island Park – An untouched part of the island where the endangered green turtle comes to lay eggs.
- Take a jog around the Sandakan Rainforest Park.
- Play golf at the Sandakan Golf and Country Club.
- Watch a rugby match at the Sandakan Rugby Club.
- See a football game at the Sibuga Sports Complex.
- Participate or observe the yearly fishing tournament organized every fall by the Sandakan Club for Freshwater Fishing.
In January, dance troupes from across the country join together in acrobatic and athletic displays of their prowess for the Lion and Dragon Dance Festival.
Raising funds for sustainable development projects, March’s Kota Kinabalu Twestival is a combination of performance art and art that challenges and engages the Sandakan public.
July brings the Kota Kinabalu Food Fest. Dedicated to local flavours and international interpretations of native produce, it’s a tasty insight into the local cuisine.
Hindus around Sandakan decorate their houses and fill the skies with fireworks in October for Deepavali Day.
The Islamic new year falls in November, and the streets of Sandakan are filled with festivities and decorations for Awal Muharram.
When To Go
- July and August are the driest seasons.
- May is a great time to visit as the weather is pleasant and there are not too many tourists. It is also the month of incredible harvest festivals.
- If you would like to stay dry, February experiences the least rainfall.
- All the main attractions of Sandakan are within walking distance of each other.
- Buses are a great way to get from the airport to the city, but within Sandakan they are only really useful for venturing into the suburbs.
- Taxis are a great way to travel to the major nature sanctuaries. If you are travelling in a large group, a set fare can usually be negotiated.
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