Sandakan is a small town in east side of Sabah in the northern part of Malaysia, Borneo. There are many things to do around here including seeing the famous orang-utan, proboscis monkeys, diving, river cruises and lots more. Sandakan is a perfect base to explore all these things, whilst still staying in a town with shops and an airport with flights directly to both Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu.
Things to in Sandakan
- The Heritage trail
- English Tea house and Restaurant
- Swimming pool at Four Points Sandakan
- Sandakan Central Market
Where to stay
Things to do around Sandakan
- Orang-utan rehabilitation centre
- Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
- Rainforest discovery centre
- Sun Bear Conservation centre
- Kinabatangan River tour
- Gomantong Cave
- Mount Kinabalu
The Heritage trail
This is a great walk to do around Sandakan which takes you past all the different important monuments in Sandakan. The route is only around 1.5 hour and not that difficult. The most difficult part is going up the 100 steps, but again this isn’t too bad, just go slow. It takes you past all the historic buildings and museums in town, great way to experience the history of Sandakan including: Agnes Keith House, Sandakan Heritage Museum, Sam Sing Kung Temple and many other places. For details of the walk, see here.
English Tea house and restaurant
This is not just an ordinary restaurant, it’s a totally beautiful cute restaurant. At the top of Sandakan lies the English Tea house, with the perfectly mowed lawn and a great view over Sandakan. The restaurant serves both asian and western favourites including high tea. The high tea comes with both scones with clotted cream and small sandwiches, just like in the UK. The place is owned by a man from the UK so he should know what English tea is like. We had the set lunch here and it was delicious. The Tea house is on the Heritage walk, so perfect so have a break and enjoy some good food here.
If getting too hot whilst in Sandakan, the perfect place to cool off is on the 13th floor of Four Points Sandakan hotel. The infinity pool with views of the city will not disappoint. If you are not staying at the hotel then the entrance to the pool is RM50 ($11). The bar by the pool provides both food and drinks which if you are like Jeremy then a nice cold beer in the sun, next to the pool is so good.
Sandakan Central Market
On the harbour front there is a large market, a multi story dry market where you can find lots of different fruits, dried fish, vegetables, delicacies, crafts and more. There is also a large fish market behind, get there early in them morning to watch the fishermen unload the boats. On the top-level you can find a food court.
Where to stay
Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan hotel, we think this is the best option. The hotel has lots of great reviews, for a good reason. Four Points is in the perfect location in the centre of Sandakan by the harbour. There is an entrance to the shopping mall behind, directly into to the mall. If the weather is bad there is no reason to even walk outside, how great is that! The only cinema in Sandakan also happens in be in the mall, so again direct access to this.
Four Points hotel has a restaurant, a brewery and a cafe. The hotel is definitely not lacking food options. The restaurant serves the most amazing buffets. Friday and Saturday night is slightly different to the standard a la cart menu. Friday night is BBQ night with different types of seafood and meat. We decided what food we wanted to eat, put it on a plate and let the chef cook it fresh for us. Saturday night is the steam boat night. On the table there is a small cooker, so we just walk around and collect everything we want to eat and cook it on the table. The food is absolutely fantastic here and the service is just as good as the food.
The cafe on the ground level serves up some delicious treats during the day with cake, sandwiches and hot food.
Of course a good hotel needs to have a good breakfast buffet (being a breakfast lover and all that) and this one is amazing. The buffet is so big, so many options. Everything from hot dishes, eggs, pastries, yoghurt and a whole other gluten free menu. It really is worth staying for the breakfast buffet.
One of the best things about this hotel is definitely the infinity pool on the 13th floor, overlooking the sea and Sandakan. It’s just so beautiful and great place to relax and take a break from the heat in Sabah.
Check them out here to stay when in Sandakan
Things to do around Sandakan
Sepilok Oran-gutan Rehabilitation Centre
Located in the near by Sepilok, the rehabilitation centre is a must do when in the area. The name Orang-utan means “men of the forest”. They’re so cool! Other than seeing these amazing animals there are plenty of nature trails to explore. The different walks range in length but get up to 5km long.
The rehabilitation centre is wild with the orang-utan coming to the feeding platform twice per day for fruit. The aim of the centre is to return orphaned, injured or displaced orang-utans back to the wild. Since this is wild there is no guarantee to see an orang-utan here and so we felt very lucky when we saw a mother arriving with her baby on her back. Feeding happens at 10am and 3pm and the centre closes in the middle of the day.
There is also an indoor nursery here, which is for the young orang-utans than need to learn the skills of the forest and can’t yet look after themselves.
Getting to the Orang-utan rehabilitation centre
If not on a tour, buses (Batu 14) leave from Sandakan outside the Nak hotel to near the centre. A walk of around 1.5km is necessary at the end. The entrance fee is RM 30 ($7.00)
No bags are allowed into the area, there is a free storage locker at the entrance.
For opening time see here
Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
The sanctuary offers a perfect place for anyone wanting to get a closer look of these fascinating monkeys. Its located in the centre of a mangrove forest along the coast.
Feeding here happens twice per day. Like the orang-utan centre this is also in the wild.
How to get to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
There is a shuttle bus that runs to the centre each morning from outside Hotel Sandakan. at 9am, the ticket is RM20 ($4.60). The bus stops at the orang-utan centre for a break and to pick up more people and then continues to the proboscis monkey sanctuary. Return daily at 3pm. The entrance to the Sanctuary is RM60 ($15.00)
For more about the centre, please see here
Rainforest discovery centre
This place is mainly a place to see lots of different types of birds and plants. The best time to go is in the morning, around 5 or 6am. There is a 347m long canopy walk and they are still building on this at the moment. This takes you 25m up in the air to get an awesome view of the forest. There are more than 300 different bird species here so a great place to try to get a glimpse of them from the canopy. If you are lucky you will be able to spot monkeys around here as well.
The location is only 2km from the orang-utan and sun bear centres, so good to do while in the area. Entrance is RM15 ($3.50)
If you are going during the day like most people, you probably won’t actually see much. The tropical bird like the Hornbill are hard to spot and less active in the heat of the day.
Bus (Batu 14) leaves from town outside Nak hotel and will stop at the large RDC sig on your right. You then need to walk for 700m.
For opening times see here
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Home to the smallest bear in the world, only found in south-east Asia. These small bears only grow up to 150cm, which is pretty small for a bear. The centre is around in order to provide to care and rehabilitation to rescued sun bears and to give captive bears a better future. Unlike the other centres, this one, the animals are in captivity. Here the bears can run around and climb trees, however there is a fence around the area. Some of the bears come here due to injury, after bring rescued from people keeping them as a pet, or if their mother dies. People also poach these bears for the bear bile which is really sad. If the young cubs don’t have a mother to learn from the caretakers have to look after them and teach them how to climb in trees. This places serves as a sort of half way house before they get set free in the wild again.
This place is just next door to the orang-utan rehabilitaion centre, so a good place to go after seeing the feeding of the orang-utan and the centre is closed for the midday break. Price for the entrance is RM31.80 ($7.40)
For opening times, see here
Kinabatangan River tour
This is a great place to go, just two hours from Sandakan. Go for an early morning or late afternoon river tour on a small boat cruising to different spots to get a view of some of the different animals around. We saw lots of different monkeys, hornbills, snakes and many more animals. To make the experience even more incredible it’s possible to stay in a lodge in the forest. We stayed at Myne Resort, right down to the water.
There are lots of ways of organising a tour like this, we opted to book through Borneo Sandakan tours, who will make the trip personalised, tell them what you would like and they will organise and customise the trip for you.
These famous caves are not far from the Kinabatangan river. You walk into a very large cave, reaching 90m high, with thousands of birds, bats, cockroaches, centipedes and lots of other small creepy animals. The first thing that hits you is the smell. Once we got over the smell and started walking we realised everything was moving. Every time we took a step all the small insects on the floor scurry away.
We were lucky and saw the red leaf monkeys as well as an orang-utan on the way to cave, so look out for the animals.
This place is also famous for the black and white birds nest. The saliva from the birds stays in the nest and they will be harvested twice per year. This means the licensed workers sleep in here for around two weeks during harvest. The bird’s nest are thought to have many health benefits according to Chinese medicine. At around $4,500 per pound this is some of the most expensive food in the world!
This was part of the tour which we booked through Borneo Sandakan tours however it’s also possible to drive there by yourself.
Entrance to the caves is RM30 ($7.00), it’s a good idea to bring some sort of light to the cave and wear closed shoes, unless you don’t care about the little creeps on the ground. For opening times see here
Sipadan island is rated as one of the best dive spots in the world! If diving is something you like then this is a must. Ensure you book well in advance as there are only certain spots available of a daily basis.
Mount Kinabalu is located in a World Heritage site and is the highest mountain in Malaysia, reaching 4,095m. It’s possible to hike to one of the huts located at 3,200m, sleeping there at night and then hiking to the top in the morning for one of the most spectacular sunrises out there. We opted to do this well as attempt the highest Via ferrata in the world. This can be organised through Mountain Torq, read all about the experience here. This is one of the highlights of Borneo, if you happen to be in the area and want to experience a bit of adrenaline, then this is something for you.
The park is also home to the largest flower in the world. This rare and exotic flower takes 15 months to bud and last for only 7 days. If this is something you want to see make sure you keep an eye out for an announcement of blooming on their facebook page.