Getting the opportunity to travel to Sandakan remains one of the best ways to enjoy eco-friendly and culturally rewarding adventures. Sandakan, is the jewel of the northeast coast of Sabah in Borneo and it is the second largest town after Kota Kinabalu.
Also known as little Hong Kong in the earlier days, when there used to be many who travel from Hong Kong to Sandakan during the invasion of the Japanese army during the World War II.
The town was completely destroyed in World War II, although now it has been rebuilt and is thriving. Sandakan is not very Westernised, so if you’re after shopping centres, luxury hotels and restaurants then you won’t find them easily in Sandakan. What you will find, however, is a an authentic experience and a town that’s in a great position for you to explore a part of Borneo.
Sandakan is a gateway town to some of the densest forests in Borneo and it is popular primarily because it is home for conservation projects protecting orang utans, proboscis monkeys, and sun bears. You can experience two of the Borneon’s exotic wildlife at Orang Utan Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre and Sepilok Borneon Sunbear Centre, located just 26km from the seaside town of Sandakan. The Sun Bear is the world's smallest type of bear, and each bear’s chest mark is unique — like fingerprints. The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre at Sepilok is the only sun bear conservation centre in the world to provide care and rehabilitation to orphaned sun bears. Learn more about this beautiful creature and experience an educational session at the centre. Meanwhile, the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is one of the world's oldest and largest orang utan sanctuary. Voted as one of the must visit in Sandakan, Sabah , the Orang Utan sanctuary is located just next to The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. It is an excellent opportunity for the visitors to be upclose with the wildlife and the friendly Orang Utans at their natural habitat. And not to be missed, Labuk Bay is one of the most famous habitat for the proboscis monkeys, an endemic species in Borneo Island. Located in the midst of Semawang mangrove forest, observe these friendly creatures up close from a special platform and interact with them when they are fed. You can also enjoy some bird watching and other wildlife spotting at the sanctuary.
Take a river cruise down to the best place to watch wildlife in Asia. Feel the sense of mystic and wonder as you cruise along the Kinabatangan wetlands. Expect to see just about anything: Crocodiles, Hawks, Eagles, Hornbills, Kingfishers and much more. If you are very lucky you may catch a glimpse of the newly discovered Bornean 'Pygmy' Elephant feeding on the edge of the Kinabatangan River. As well as the animals and bird life you can also spot many insects, reptiles and amphibians including snakes, frogs and stick insects.
Sabah also has an astounding array of breathtaking islands off its eastern and western coastlines. This is why Sabah is regularly sought after by divers, as the seas are abundant in coral reefs and marine life. The islands also make a fantastic gateway for those who want an exciting vacation on the beach. Lankayan Island, located in the Sulu Sea North West of Sandakan is a small piece of paradise, complete with white powdery beaches, casuarina trees and beautiful sunsets. The surrounding reefs attract a variety of fish such as leopard sharks, marbled stingrays and giant groupers. This makes the island a fantastic place for diving with magnificent shipwreck to explore in the vicinity.
Discover the Turtle Island Park, a safe haven for the endangered green and hawksbill turtles that gives you the rare opportunity to watch turtle landings. It is located 40km at the north of Sandakan in the heart of Sulu Sea and consists of Selingan, Bakungan Kecil and Gulisan islands. Selingan, the largest of the islands, houses the park's headquarters, a turtle hatchery, tourist accommodation and basic facilities while the other two islands are more for conservation activities. The island gives visitors the opportunity to witness turtle landings, watch mother turtles lay their eggs on shore and observe the collection of their eggs, the tagging of the mother turtles and finally, the releasing of baby turtles into the sea! It will be nothing short of a beautiful experience.
Sandakan town also boasts significant architectural landmarks dating back to the colonial era, an impressive place of worship providing a glimpse into their beliefs and traditions. Known for being the oldest stone church in Sabah, St. Michael’s and All Angels Church is part of the Sandakan Heritage Trails. The Anglican church itself is a piece of history from the British Colonisation period in Borneo. Founded by clergyman William Henry Elton, the church took over 30 years to build, finally being completed in 1925. One of its beautiful attraction is its stained glass window donated by the Australians to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the World War II. Also part of the Sandakan Heritage Trail, the Agnes Keith House holds much history within its walls. The famous American writer herself lived there together with her husband Henry/Harry and their son George. Today the house had turned into a heritage house, providing interesting insights to life during British North Borneo. It is furnished with a reproduction of colonial furniture and antiques. A gallery on the first floor tells the story of this remarkable woman, her books and her family.
Being the site of tragic events during World War II, Sandakan features memorials and museums detailing that devastating chapter in the Borneo history. The Sandakan War Memorial was established to honour those who served and fought in the war, especially those who were captured and kept as prisoners during WWII by the Japanese. The site was infamously known as the Prisoner of War Camp (POW) and witnessed the death of 2,400 Australian and British soldiers. Today, it is a park with beautiful green landscapes for easy-going exploring. Every year on Anzac Day, many from near and far come to the park to commemorate those who served and died during the war in Sandakan.