Sandakan Travel Guide
A popular stop for tourists travelling between Kota Kinabalu and Semporna, Sandakan is a remote city on the eastern coast of Malaysian Borneo which makes its proximity to nature its calling card.
Whether you want to watch turtles hatch, spend a night in the Borneo rainforest, or observe orangutans in their natural environment, you can do it all here. It is also home to Malayan war history, documenting the suffering and sacrifice by those called to fight for the cause of peace and liberty.
Either way, you won’t be short of things to do during your time in Sandakan.
Start your time in this remote city in Sabah on a sombre note by visiting Sandakan Memorial Park. Situated where a massive POW camp was located during the Second World War, it was the starting point for a series of notorious marches where prisoners from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Malaya were forced to march through the jungles of Borneo until they died.
Featuring a garden surrounded by lush jungle, its beauty is a fitting tribute to those who bore unimaginable suffering to avoid compromising the Allied war effort.
While a majority of Malaysians practice Islam, Buddhism is one of the most prominent minority religions in this diverse country. While in the Sandakan area, make time to check out the Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple.
Located about five kilometres outside the town centre, it is an easy place to visit on a quick day trip – with sweeping, panoramic views of Sandakan Bay beneath, it is easy to see why producers picked this site as a meeting place during the 4th season of the hit TV show, The Amazing Race.
Fans of historic houses will want to check out Agnes Newton Keith Home during their time in Sandakan. Calling Borneo her home starting in 1925, she fell in love with a place she called The Land Below The Wind, a moniker which was also the title of her first best selling book, which was released in 1939.
Within her home (which they were forced from during the Second World War after being imprisoned by the Japanese), you’ll find antique furniture and other period items common in Malaya’s British Colonial Era, as well as a tea room where refreshments can be enjoyed.
Get a taste of what life is like for those who make their living from the South China Sea by dropping by Kg Pukat Fisherman Village. While it may look rickety and a touch sketchy at first glance, the pathways and pilings upon which the houses are built are sturdy, and the neighbourhood is filled with humble, friendly families living their lives in peace.
Help maintain the vibe of this atmospheric place by being a good tourist – refrain from gawking into or walking through open doors unless you have permission from the owner to enter. This way, authentic spots like this will continue to remain open to curious visitors seeking insight into the lives of ordinary Borneans.
Those wanting to take in one of the most beautiful islands in the Sandakan area will want to buy a boat ticket to and from Turtle Island Park during their visit to the area. Covering three islands situated 40 kilometres off the coast, not only will you find amazing dream beaches, but also wide expanses where protected sea turtles lay their eggs. Time your visit right, and you may get to witness their babies hatch by the light of the moon.
Prefer to stay on land? Learn about the dense interior wilderness of Borneo by spending quality time at the Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Centre. Embedded deep in the bush 23 kilometres from town, there are numerous exhibits here which will teach you about the diverse flora and fauna which call this threatened ecosystem home. Home to a famed birding centre and with 250 species of orchid found within its borders, it is a park naturalists won’t want to miss.
Learn more about the deep, dark heart of Borneo by making the Deramakot Forest Reserve your next stop. Comprising over 55,000 hectares of land, those wanting to stay within the rainforest during their stay in Sandakan will want to book a multi-day tour within its bounds.
Along with its wild trails, you’ll commonly sight several species of primate (including orangutans), pygmy elephants, flying squirrels, and clouded leopards, so keep your extended lens camera within quick reach during your days wandering this lively jungle.
Sandakan is also home to a number of outstanding wildlife conservation centres that are well worth your time during a visit to the area. Make the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre your first stop, as it takes care of orphans and the injured, studies, and advocates for one of the world’s most intriguing and threatened species of primate.
With viewing platforms available to witness twice daily feedings and amazing night walks which reveal the nocturnal habits of this beautiful creature, make time for this place in your busy schedule.