Places of Interest in Sandakan, Sabah: Attractions and Activities

Venture out to the Places of Interest in Sandakan, Sabah and you’ll find yourself in Sandakan. Historically, Sandakan was known for being the capital of British North Borneo during the late 19th century. The city played a pivotal role in the timber and palm oil industries, contributing to the economic development of the region. Nowadays, the city is more known for its rich biodiversity and eco-tourism destinations.

Explore Sandakan deeper however, and you’ll find a thoroughly rewarding experience. Between the city’s blend of historical sites, natural attractions and vibrant local culture, there’s always something interesting to do. Wonderfully colourful vistas and views are abound in its many beaches, and the culinary experience here is to die for! So, without further ado, let’s get into some of the best places of interest in Sandakan.

Must Visit Nature Sanctuaries in Sandakan

Must Visit Nature Sanctuaries in Sandakan
Source: The Island Drum

Many of Sandakan’s best attractions center around the preservation of its stunning and unique biodiversity. Eco-tourism is a huge part of Sandakan’s identity, and it’s not hard to see why that is. Some of the sights you can find in Sandakan can’t be found anywhere else, and if you’re a big fan of trekking through nature, these attractions are breathtaking. Get a true taste of what Sandakan has to offer with the attractions below.

  1. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Image: Amazing Borneo

Embark on a heart-warming journey to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, located approximately 25 kilometres west of Sandakan, a city on Sabah’s east coast that can be reached by a short flight or an overland trip from Kota Kinabalu. This renowned sanctuary offers a unique opportunity to witness the mesmerizing world of orangutans and contribute to their conservation efforts.

Established in 1964, the centre focuses on rescuing orphaned and injured orangutans, rehabilitating them, and preparing them for their eventual return to the wild. During your visit, you’ll have the chance to observe these intelligent primates up close during feeding sessions, learn about their fascinating behaviors, and even participate in a conservation program designed to protect their natural habitat.

Visitors to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre can observe these endearing primates during scheduled feeding times, which take place twice daily at 10 AM and 3 PM. During these sessions, orangutans gather at designated feeding platforms to enjoy a meal of fruits and milk, allowing visitors to witness their unique behaviours and interactions up close. The centre also features a dedicated indoor nursery where younger orangutans can be observed playing and socializing through glass windows, ensuring minimal disturbance to the animals.

2. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

The Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre is part of the wider Sepilok rescue centre and is dedicated to the beautiful but endangered Borneo sun bears.

3. Sandakan Crocodile Farm

Sandakan Crocodile Farm
Sandakan Crocodile Farm

The Sandakan Crocodile Farm, also known as the Sandakan Crocodile Rehabilitation Centre, is a crocodile conservation and breeding facility. The facility allows visitors to observe crocodiles in a controlled and safe environment. You can’t exactly wrestle the crocodiles, but the next best thing, watching them feed, is there. These shows are done by professional handlers of course, but it’s still a thrilling experience.

The crocodile farm is involved in a breeding program to support the population of saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), a species found in the waters of Southeast Asia. So naturally, there’s also a crocodile-based store here that sells crocodile-based merchandise. Bags, wallets and accessories made from crocodile leather are available, contributing to the sustainability of the facility.

4. Turtle Islands Park

Turtle Islands Park
Source: Sabah Tourism Board

Getting to Turtle Islands Park may require you to ride a boat, but it’s well worth the effort. The place is a unique conservation area located in the Sulu Sea, off the coast of Sandakan. The primary focus of Turtle Islands Park is the conservation of sea turtles, particularly the green and hawksbill turtle species. The park comprises three main islands, these being Selingan, Bakungan Kecil, and Gulisan.

The islands within the park serve as important nesting sites for green and hawksbill turtles. Visitors to the park have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness turtle nesting activities. The park also operates hatcheries to protect turtle eggs from predators and poachers. Eco-tourism is a big part of Turtle Islands Parks, with guided tours running you through everything you could want to know about the life cycle and challenges of sea turtles.

5. Kinabatangan River

Kinabatangan River
Kinabatangan River

This list would not be complete without a mention of the Kinabatangan River! Stretching approximately 560 kilometers, the Kinabatangan River is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, orangutans, pygmy elephants, crocodiles, and many different tropical birds. The river and its surrounding floodplains and forests support one of the most diverse and intricate ecosystems in the world.

The Kinabatangan is a paradise for bird watchers, as it’s known for its diverse avian population. Spend enough time here, and you’ll see hornbills, kingfishers, eagles and more. Guided boat tours allow visitors to navigate the river safely, observe wildlife, and enjoy the serene beauty of the surrounding rainforest. For a real exotic experience, try one of the guided night safaris to spot nocturnal wildlife!

6. Rainforest Discovery Centre

Rainforest Discovery Centre
Source: MySabah.com

The Rainforest Discovery Centre is located about 23 kilometers southwest of Sandakan in the Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve. One of the highlights of the Rainforest Discovery Centre is its impressive canopy walkway. The steel structure takes visitors high above the forest floor, providing a unique perspective of the rainforest canopy. From atop the trees, you get wonderful opportunities for bird watching and observing canopy-dwelling wildlife.

The Rainforest Discovery Centre features a botanical garden showcasing a variety of plant species native to Borneo. Visitors can explore different sections, including the orchid garden, ginger garden, and fern garden. The Rainforest Discovery Centre supports research initiatives related to rainforest ecology, wildlife conservation, and biodiversity.

7. Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary

Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary

Proboscis monkeys are found all over Borneo but are also an endangered species, so if you want to see them in their natural environment then a trip to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary is not to be missed.

These cute monkeys are known for their large, prominent noses and this is the best place to learn all about this fascinating species and the efforts being made to get them off the endangered list.

8. Gomantong Cave (Sandakan)

Gomantong Cave (Sandakan)

The Gomantong Caves are an intricate cave system inside Gomantong Hill. The hill is the largest limestone outcrop in the Lower Kinabatangan area. The view is great but be aware, there are thousands of cockroaches and the smell in the cave is unpleasant. However, the view is worth it.

Cultural and Historic Attractions in Sandakan

Miri is in Sarawak, so naturally many of its best dishes are Sarawakian. This means a visit to Miri will involve a lot of the best Sarawak as a state has to offer. But, as a coastal area, Miri also has some incredible seafood to offer to visitors craving a taste of the ocean. Plus, as with anywhere in Malaysia, there’s a ton of cross culture when it comes to food, so eating in Miri is like a great experience for the adventurous.

  1. The Agnes Keith House
The Agnes Keith House
Image by ExpatGo

One of Sandakan’s more fascinating attractions has to be the Agnes Keith House. The Agnes Keith House is a colonial-style house that once belonged to Agnes Newton Keith, an American author known for her books about North Borneo (now Sabah) during the British colonial period. The house was built in the early 1930s, but its gardens, verandas and colonial-era architecture are kept in good condition.

Today, the Agnes Keith House has been turned into a museum, showcasing the life and works of the famous author. The museum displays many of her personal belongings, memorabilia, and artifacts related to her time in North Borneo. On top of the sheer value the house possesses by being a window into North Borneo’s colonial past, the Agnes Keith House also offers a panoramic view of Sandakan town, the Sulu Sea, and nearby islands.

  1. Sim Sim Water Village
Sim Sim Water Village
Source: Shankar S.

Sim Sim Water Village is one of the oldest and most charming water villages in Sandakan. As a water village, the entire locale is built on stilts over the water, creating a picturesque and unique setting. The houses are interconnected by wooden walkways, creating a network of pathways above the water. This all reflects the village’s history, having been established by Chinese immigrants who settled in the area for fishing and trading.

The village is also known for its local handicrafts, and visitors can find shops selling traditional items and souvenirs. If you’re feeling hungry, Sim Sim Water Village is known for its seafood, and visitors can enjoy fresh catches at the village’s seafood restaurants. The floating seafood restaurants all around the village offer a unique dining experience, allowing you to savor local dishes while enjoying views of the sea.

  1. Puh Jih Syh Buddhist Temple
Puh Jih Syh Buddhist Temple
Source: CEphoto

Sat atop a hill overlooking Sandakan town is the Puh Jih Syh Buddhist Temple. It’s well known for its traditional Chinese architectural elements, including colorful roof tiles, intricate carvings, and beautiful decorative details. Its giant Buddha statue, surrounded by lush greenery, is an iconic symbol of the temple and can be seen from a distance. The nine-storey pagoda here is also a phenomenal sight, allowing for breathtaking panoramic views.

Visitors can stroll through the temple’s beautiful gardens, enjoying the serene atmosphere and taking in the scenic views. Puh Jih Syh Temple is an active religious site where Buddhist monks and devotees engage in religious activities and ceremonies. The temple serves as a place of worship and spiritual reflection, so keep this in mind and be respectful when you visit.

4. St. Michael’s and All Angels Church

St. Michael’s and All Angels Church is the oldest stone church in Sabah. The impetus for the construction of the church dates back to the clergyman William Henry Elton, who is also known as the founder of St. Michael’s Secondary School, located next to the church

5. Sandakan Memorial Park

Sandakan Memorial Park (Sandakan)

The Sandakan Memorial Park is a memorial site built in the former grounds of the former Sandakan camp in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The site is dedicated as a memory for all prisoners in the camp who died during the Sandakan Death Marches, and to those died during a march to Ranau.

Best Things to Eat in Sandakan

Sandakan has many fishing villages, and naturally, this means that Sandakan has a ton to offer in the way of seafood. Ocean produce makes up a majority of the town’s specialties, so you definitely don’t want to miss out on the seafood while you’re here! We’ve made a list of some of the best Sandakan has to offer down below.

  1. Fish Noodles
Fish Noodles
Fish Noodles

Fish noodles, also known as fish head noodles, is a popular Malaysian dish that features a flavorful broth made with fish stock and often includes fish slices or fish head. Fish bones and head are simmered to create a fragrant and robust stock. This noodle dish is known for its rich and savory taste and can be served with different types of noodles. In Sandakan however, you can get them with fish paste noodles made from actual fish.

  1. Seafood Bak Kut Teh
Seafood Bak Kut Teh
Seafood Bak Kut Teh

Seafood Bak Kut Teh is a delicious variation of the traditional Bak Kut Teh, a popular Malaysian and Singaporean soup dish known for its herbal broth. In Seafood Bak Kut Teh, the traditional pork ribs are replaced with a medley of seafood, creating a flavorful and aromatic seafood-infused broth. If you visit Sim Sim Water Village, definitely keep an eye out for this delectable dish!

  1. Roti Kahwin
Roti Kahwin
Source: Yik Mun Pau

Roti Kahwin is a local breakfast favorite. It’s a type of sandwich featuring slices of toast with kaya (a sweet coconut and egg jam) and butter. This iconic Sandakan treat is enjoyed for its simplicity, yet it offers a perfect balance of sweetness and richness. While the classic version features plain white bread, there are variations where different types of bread, such as wholemeal or multigrain, are used for a twist.

  1. Nasi Kuning
Nasi Kuning
Nasi Kuning

Nasi Kuning is another huge breakfast favourite over in Sandakan. The rice is cooked with turmeric, giving its namesake vibrant yellow colour, as well as a subtle earthy flavor to the rice. Coconut milk is often used to enhance the richness of the dish. It’s served with accompaniments like sambal, hard-boiled eggs, fish and fried chicken. It’s practically as popular as nasi lemak in Sabah, so don’t miss out!

  1. Sea Prawn Crispy Noodles
Sea Prawn Crispy Noodles
Source: Yahoo News

Yee mee and giants sea prawns make this dish one of the most aesthetically pleasing and delicious dishes in Sandakan. An indulgent, eggy sauce is often drizzled over the crispy noodles and prawns. having savoury hints of umami. These different elements mix with ginger and spring onions to create a masterful combination of textures and tastes.

  1. UFO Tarts
UFO Tarts
Source: Tashcakes

Possibly the most famous snack in Sandakan, though they’re surprisingly difficult to find outside of Sabah. UFO tarts are named for their unique appearance, but despite that, they’re incredibly tasty! UFO tarts are typically vanilla-flavored, with a delicious custard base and whipped cream on top. You can find these all around Sandakan, so be sure to get some to go with tea.

When is the Best Time to Visit Sandakan?

When is the Best Time to Visit Sandakan?
Source: Wikivoyage

Like most nature-based regions, you don’t want to visit Sandakan during the rainy season. Try to time your visit to coincide with the dry season between June and September. It’s ideal time for outdoor activities, sightseeing, and exploring the natural attractions, without things being too hot for comfort. Do keep in mind that Sandakan isn’t exactly packed during school holiday seasons, so you can still have a good time here during peak times.

How Many Days Do You Need In Sandakan?

How Many Days Do You Need In Sandakan?
Source: SabahTravel

Most of your time in Sandakan will be made up of sight-seeing, enjoying the islands and beaches, and enjoying the food. You can spend about 3 days visiting all the attractions you like the most, and you’ll come out of it relaxed and satisfied. You can stay longer if there are more things you’d like to see, but for the most part, the attractions aren’t all too different. Enjoy your time in Sandakan, don’t rush things.

Where to Stay in Sandakan?

Where to Stay in Sandakan?
Source: Sandakan Hotel

Sandakan is surprisingly pristine and not too developed, so there aren’t too many hotels to choose from. We’ve gone through most of the options, and we’ve narrowed things down to some of the best choices for you. Most of the hotels in Sandakan are well-kept, though as per usual, if you aren’t choosing one of the hotels below, then definitely look up reviews before making a decision.

Hotel Sandakan – Comfortable and generally popular 3-star hotel.
Sabah Hotel – Excellent and highly rated 4-star hotel with plenty of amenities.
Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat – A tropical retreat that offers a unique experience.
The Hotel (Sandakan) – Incredibly highly rated budget lodging.
Sepilok Forest Edge Resort – Tranquil resort on the edge of the forest that’s close to nature.
Livingston Hotel Sandakan – High quality 3-star hotel in the city with many different amenities.

How Do You Get Around in Sandakan?

How Do You Get Around in Sandakan?
Driving in Sandakan

Sandakan practically requires a vehicle to get around places. A motorcycle would be ideal because it’s more flexible than other modes of transportation. If you’re here with your family however, then a car is fine too. If you’re visiting during rainy seasons however, definitely go with a car instead. For certain attractions, check in advance if you’ll need to ride a boat to get to them or not!

Conclusion

Conclusion
Source: The Crazy Tourist

Sandakan is one of the only vacation destinations in Malaysia with a focus almost entirely on eco-tourism. It features many different nature-based attractions, making it a haven for fans of jungle trekking and bird watching. The food is also unique, with affordable and delicious takes on seafood that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere. It’s why so many people who visit tend to return to Sandakan, it’s an experience that’s tough to find anywhere else.

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