Introduction: Welcome to Sandakan city

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Located in the North Borneo and the second largest city in Sabah after Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan the nature city is well known for it’s Orang Utan Rehabilitation centre and the only the only Bornean Sun bear rehab facility in the world.  From the wildlife to the historical places, Sandakan is one of the lonely planet in the world that still haven’t affected by the fast pace world. The locals can mingle with each other no matter what are their religion, race and social status. One of the famous thing about Sandakan people, they are so friendly and down to earth people. Born and grew up in the place where I’m proud to call my hometown doesn’t meant that I know very well about my own city. And that’s why I have taken the opportunity during my break from the corporate world to explore my hometown using two ways, the travellers and local way. Surprisingly, I started learning more about my little hometown.


Sandakan locals.


How to describe Sandakan people? What is their main characteristic? Are they friendly like Thai people? The answer is, it will be always depending on the people that you will meet or had met. Are they friendly? Yes they can be super friendly and some of the local will say hi to you and tell you, have a nice day. They can be overreacting when they were star struck with the traveller and will ask you if they can take a photo with you. The chances of them for doing that is 90% .If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be the infamous celebrity in Sandakan during your short stay. Your will never know which one is the tycoon business as Sandakan people isn’t really into formality. What are the chances for you to see the big boss wearing formal tuxedo and rushing into their meeting? The answer is ZERO. Sandakan is the slow pace place and normally around 8pm-10pm, the most shops and restaurant have been closed. Only local cafes, bistro and bar open until 1am. While in the other part in the world, the rich will sit and have their coffee at the country club or the fine dining restaurant. Be prepared to be surprise. You will be surprise to see a group of business owner sit in the local coffee shops that don’t even have air-conditioning. The millionaire will sit in the local coffee shop, wearing a typical local shirts, sitting down with their newspapers and instead of having $8dollar for a cup of coffee, they’ll drink $0.80 for a cup of coffee. If you ever plan to make a business research in Sandakan, you better have a connection with someone that belongs to the Sandakan business society. It can be tricky to detect rich people in Sandakan because they are practising the humility attitude. When you speak with Sandakan people, always use the friendly tone. If you managed to capture their heart, you’ll find long-time bff or family. The elderly in Sandakan can freak you out by suddenly welcoming you to the family and adopted you as their own children although you’re a stranger. You might say that they just meet me and as for them, they already accepted you in the family on the first day you won their heart. Most of the Sandakan people only travel domestically and some of them are the people who never travel at all. They like to listen to travellers stories and will look at you using the goo goo eyes. Don’t take it as a flirting look because they just curious and want to know about the world. Take note to be not so full of yourself. : P  They can very shy towards the stranger, especially to the traveller. Maybe you will find there is local who won’t smile at you and you feel they were being rude, but behind your back, they will say something, ooh ahh. He’s handsome. She’s so pretty. Don’t take it personally and just walk away. But if they’re in a group, prepare yourself to be greeted with the welcoming greeting.  And they probably will have a small talk with you. Hmm. Once they have courage to greet you, one thing to another will lead you to the question, “Can we take a selfie with you?”. 😀


LYNN’S TIPS :  They acknowledged their job although they worked as waitress or taxi driver. They are so proud in whatever their do because they find their income legally. So, when you say thank you to the waiter/waitress or give them a small tips? They will really appreciate you and let’s say you just help your country by promoting and give a good publicity on your country name to the Sandakanian. Not too many people give tips to the waitress. When you reply to their greeting, they’ll smile with happiness, jumping like a child behind your back and you just make a good deed by bringing joy into their life. Even it’s only for a fleeting moment and believe me, that’s feel good. Not only you make them smile, but you also make your day ended with a big smile on your face!


Decide to visit Sandakan and looking for an information on how to get there?

There are two ways to get into Sandakan City.

  1. Bus
  2. Flights

Located approximately 6 hours from the main capital city, Kota Kinabalu, you can go to Sandakan by taking bus or short flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sabah.

If you decided to take bus to go to Sandakan, bear in mind that the time taken to arrive in Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu is around 6 hours to 7 hours. And sometimes its can be longer than that during the landslides that normally happen during the raining season or maybe cause by the congestion road in Kota Kinabalu. Prepare yourself for any possibility with facing any difficulty.  You better have something to nibble in the bus and make sure that your power bank was with you to charge your mobile phone.  The bus fare to Sandakan since the last time I checked was MYR43.00 whereas the flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan is approximately around 45 minutes and the price of flight ticket is depending on which of the airline company that you’re going to take. You can choose Air Asia or Malaysia Airlines. Warning, if you plan to go to Sandakan during the festive season especially during Eid Mubarak Celebration, you have to buy your ticket at least a day or a week before you leaving. This is because the Sandakan people who have been working in the Peninsular and around Sabah will going back to their hometown to celebrate the Eid Mubarak day. Therefore, normally the seat will be always full and last minute buying flight ticket can be so expensive. You also can buy the right on the Eid day as most of the locals already go home during that time.


If you have decided to go to Sandakan 3 days before the Eid day, take my advice, buy bus ticket at least one week earlier before you’re going to Sandakan or you can buy ticket on the first Eid day and take a note to have to be careful because the cashier at the ticket counter will make an error and don’t be surprised if there are people who have the same bus number seat with you. It’s better for you to buy your ticket at the counter instead of with random people who sell the ticket to you. It’s much safer and if you ever encountered with the problem that I have mentioned before, the error of copy paste bus seat number, the ticket inspector will solve the problem for you, just be calm during the chaotic moment, and you will not lose your seat to the other people. I had encountered with the same situation and it had happened to me twice. The situation back then was chaotic but instead of panicking, all I did was  sat down on my seat and don’t move when another person showed me his ticket. I showed my ticket to the person who have the same number with me and also to the ticket inspector, I don’t get up from my seat and let the ticket inspector solve the problem. That is why I always go to the bus station right before 3 hours before the bus leaving. Be creative when dealing with the problem that you have encountered. It’s because you’re dealing with a local that don’t have any formality in their procedure. They also might have limited English knowledge and you should use the basic English words that they can understand and you won’t have any difficulty in communicating with them. Complaining, cursing, make a negative comment about their procedure and act like they should respect you because you’re customer? We’re not dealing with top airbus company that will take your complain about their procedure seriously. So, my advice, is be calm and welcome to Asia. When you arrived in the Sandakan terminal bus, you can take a public bus if you arrive in daylight but if you arrive in late night? The only option for you is by taking taxi or maybe hitchhiking. Try to negotiate if they can take MYR15.00 to go to your hostel. Always start the bargain at the lowest price. If you take a flight, you shouldn’t drink coffee because it’s only a short flight and you don’t have enough time to enjoy your brewed coffee anyway: P

PS: If you’re going to stay in Labuk Bay resort or Sepilok Resort, you can tell the ticket inspector to drop you by at there.

Decided to take flight as it’s the fastest and convenient way for you to travel? Don’t worry; you won’t have any problem with the copy paste bus seat number. And oh! Don’t be surprised as soon you landed at Sandakan Airport. Sandakan was the small town that was rapidly changing since 20 years ago. The infrastructure have been improved, the market drastically change from the traditional market to organized market. Get rid of your expectation on Sandakan traditional market because you won’t manage to see another typical Asian market in Sandakan. You’ll just disappoint yourself about it but I’ll tell on the next page about the hidden gem in Sandakan Market.














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