Being as one of local who live in the millennia era, I don’t really find the places in Sandakan attractive and I never took an opportunity to learn about my lovely hometown. Until one day, I can’t take it any longer when most of the people that I met told me that there is nothing to do in Sandakan and places to go other than the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre and Labuk Bay Proboscis monkey. I agreed to disagree. That’s why I started grabbing my backpack, walking for miles exploring Sandakan city in the hot weather and visiting to every places in Sandakan with my friends, Juliana Chin and Boey Chin. If you’re decided to stay close near to the nature, instead of dancing to the ultra-techno music, you’ll be dancing to the cricket song. So, get rid of your expectation to have a big ultra-techno party. You’ll only make the monkeys lost their sleep and make them piss off anyway. Trust me, you don’t want to encounter with an angry monkey that will pull off your hair from your head. I’m joking. The night life in Sandakan, especially in the downtown is zero unless there is an event held in the Sandakan Downtown. I have listed Sandakan as the quietest place in my list. There is a few places that you can visit in Sandakan during your short stay before leaving to the other wildlife places such as Kinabatangan, Sukau, Gomantong cave and etc. You can expect wildlife in Sepilok and Labuk Bay area. Bear in mind that you can’t expect the wildlife adventure at the Sandakan downtown. As I have been mentioned in my first page, since 20 years ago, Sandakan have been rapidly changing . The main reason why you’ll see lots of construction projects going on in Sandakan. There is only one small shopping mall in Sandakan. Sandakan city have been mislabeled as a small undeveloped village in the lonely planet of Borneo and most of the people that I had encountered who have never been in Sandakan thought that Sandakan don’t even utilities. So this is the real facts, you don’t have to worry about the utilities and internet connection. There is a internet connection available in the local cafes and you don’t have to take a cold shower from the well. The locals are normally do their purchase through online or go to the boutique which is normally located at the Miles 4 and Miles 6, Tyng Garden. So if you’re one of the flashpackers who are shopaholic, don’t expect to see any big shopping mall that have international brand in Sandakan. You want to find a beautiful sarong or any local products, you can go to the Sandakan market, Level2.
This is the top places that you can visit during your short stay in Sandakan.
- Michael Church and school, Sandakan downtown
if you’re staying in the downtown, you can walk from the downtown to the St. Michael Church. As soon you see the church, you will find it was out place. It’s because you can feel the British legacy as soon you see the church. Normally the church is close except on Sunday. And you will also see the first and the oldest schools in Sandakan, St. Michael Secondary School that was founded in 1888 by Reverend Elton John. This is one of the most infamous historical places in Sandakan as St Michael’s school have been survived from the world war II. St. Michael school is the first school and the oldest school in Sandakan City. In 2016, St. Michael school have been grown up beautifully yet the histories remained in the place. The school might have been modernized but whenever you step your foot in St. Michael Church and School, you can feel the history vibe.
- St. Mary Church, Sandakan downtown.
From St. Michael, you can walk to the St. Mary Church. I don’t know about the opening time of the church as I visited the place during the school break and the church was in the renovation. Me and my travel mate nearly chase by the dog during our little adventure. Luckily our intention was good and our ass have been saved from being bitten by the guard dog. LOL
- Sandakan Museum, Sandakan downtown
The entrance is free and open daily from 9am-5pm. You will see the traditional houses in Sabah, learn more about the Martin and Osa Johnson adventure in. Sandakan and etc. I had been visited the museum on the working days and I was on my own. It’s kinda feel eerie but the museum staff have been so friendly with me. I really enjoyed myself staying in the museum and looking at the traditional houses in the first floor. How I wish that I can take a picture of it!
- Agnes Keith house
What is your plan after visiting Sandakan Museum? You can write this down in your notebook, Agnes Keith House. Sandakan Museum located in the downtown and from there, you can take the infamous thousand stairs to Agnes Keith house. Agnes Keith house was belong to the infamous English writer that had been introduced Borneo to the worldwide through her book, Land below the wind. Because of her title book, Borneo has been called as Sabah di Bawah Tanah Bayu which meant Borneo Land below the wind. There are also story about the house where they said it was also the haunted house. I’ve had been visited the house and it was true that they have wrote the story about the ghost, but I don’t really feel anything. Or maybe it’s because I’m the ghost. Joking! You can’t take photo inside of the house, but as soon you get into the house? You can tell me about it. The entrance fee is MYR 2.00. You can read the writer and her husband life during the world war II. You’re not only gain a history knowledge, you’ll manage to see the furniture and movie theater during the British Era in Borneo. Years have been passed but the feelings remain same. Same goes with the house that have been keep as the way it is.
LYNN’S TIPS: To get to the Agnes Keith house, you can walk or by taking bus. My advice, since it’s not that far, you can walk. But make sure that you have a very good companion.
- Sepilok, Miles 14
Sepilok have been one of the reason why travelers come to Sabah . You might think that there is only Orang Utan Rehabilitation centre, but there is more than that. There are another two places that you can visit in Sepilok and for the wildlife fan? You’ll definitely have one of the most unforgettable memories in Sandakan North Borneo City, Sabah. Are you ready to find out what is the other two places? Keep on reading. 🙂
- Orang Utan Rehabilitation centre. The entrance fee is MYR 30.00 for foreigner. The staff will ask you if you have camera because if you don’t have any, you can rent their camera. You can use your smartphone. Just make sure that you use the HDR and can take a very good shoot at long distance. You’ll be entertain by watching the workers feed the Orang Utan. The orang Utan are so cute especially the baby Orang Utan! I was very fortunate because I saw one the Orang Utan when I was sat down outside of the Orang Utan rehabilitation centre after my visit from Bornean Sun bear rehab facility centre. And guess what?! It was for free. After the free show, I decided to bought a ticket to see the Orang Utan because I became more curious and want to know more about this cute species. I was alone in the Orang Utan Rehabilitation centre, watched the Orang Utan ate Rambutan, coconut and other exotic fruits and what was on my mind during that time was their food made me hungry. They watched me for free and I watched them for MYR 30.00. It was worth it. By paying for MYR 30.00, you’ll help the organisation to protect the Orang Utan. You can do more by registering as their volunteer. You can write an email and they’ll tell you about the volunteering procedure. The Orang Utan is one of the most protected species in the world because it’s listed as one of the endangered species. After you visit the centre, you’ll start have the awareness to protect them from extinction. And you also can use the information that you gained by telling the younger generation about it. It’s good to start at an early age, because it will never too late and at least there is something you can do about it before it’s going too late. People said that it’s never too late to learn, it’s never too late to success in your life, it’s never too late to start something, it’s never too late to start your plan to travel across the globe but it will be always too late if you don’t to start protect animals. Because, the next day when you open your eyes, they might be already gone and their clone will be put in the Museum. And all you can say is , it was too late. So, starting from now on, take an action about it and start play your role.
- Bornean Sun bear
You want to see Bornean Sun bear? You have come to the right place. You can go in the morning and visit the Orang Utan at 3pm because it is their feeding time. You can’t bring food or drinks in the jungle. The staffs are super friendly and one of the staff, Rebecca has been telling me about Bornean Sun bear. I also learned why the people hunting the bear. The main reasons on why people hunt the bear was for a selfish reason and scare the hell out of me. If you want to know for more detail, you can check it out at the Centre.
After you seeing Bornean Sun Bear, you can attend the little awareness seminar about the bear. You think you already know about them? Try to listen to the talk and you’ll be surprise on how much information that you have gained for the short amount of time. They need more volunteer and you can register to be their volunteer. You’ll help to provide the Bornean Sun bear meals, cleaning their places and etc. You can email the centre to get the more details about it. For your information, the Bornean Sun bear is the only Sun Bear rehab facility in the world. So, make sure that you’re stopping by before going to visit the Orang Utan.
- Sepilok Recreation Discovery centre (RDC)
You can do the hiking and watching birds in the RDC. You’ll learn about the trees that grew in Sandakan land. Normally, every year, there will be a free entrance and exhibition. You can check out at the Sandakan Tourism Board website to see on the exact date for the free entrance. There will be a lot of activities during the exhibition, you’ll find a typical local food and you’ll also meet the Sandakanian local people.
LYNN’S TIPS on transportation: If your hostels or hotel is located in the downtown, you can take a public transport, bus and mini bus. The bus fare is around MYR2.50-MYR3.00. If you don’t want to be cheat by the local bus driver (as I had faced the similar situation where I have to paid for double price! I know! ), you can ask the local that ride the bus with you. Or you can consult with your hostel receptionist and ask them if there is any tour bus going to the Sepilok.
- Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey.
My advice, it’s better for you to join the tour bus or rent the car as it is quite far from the main road! There are two places that you can watch the monkey. The last time I checked the entrance ticket was MYR 60.00 per person. You can have your lunch at their resort or bring something to nibble in your backpack.
- Che Siang Khor moral education centre, Sim-Sim road
Che Siang Khor is one of my favourite places in Sandakan. I love the environment in the Buddhist Society centre. You’ll see the Buddha statues and the colourful flowers in front of the temple. The view at Che Siang Khor at early in the morning is magnificent. You can take the bus from the town to go there. Ask the local where you can take BDC bus. Normally the bus driver parked their bus at the Lai Piang Kee Building. Inform them that you’re going to the Chinese temple as they more familiar with the temple compare to Che Siang Khor name. There are two Buddhist tourist spot in Sim-Sim, so make sure that you inform the bus ticket inspector them that you’re going to the second place. When you’ll see the large Buddha statue at the entrance, you know that you’re at the right place. The bus fare is MRY 0.70 and don’t give them more than that. If you don’t want to have heavy coins with you, you can pay MYR 1.00. And there is no entrance fee.
LYNN’S TIPS: Opposite of the Che Siang Khor, there is local markets that have variety choices on Malays food. The infamous grilled fish was located at the market. If you’re famished, haven’t take the lunch, you find the perfect spot to eat seafood. And that’s if you’re seafood lovers. If you have an allergic on seafood, you’ll be tempted and trust me; I had done it and ate prawns. The consequence for my indulgence was my body feel itchy and red spots on my forehead that looks like acne on my forehead that lasted for a year.
2nd tips: You can take the sunrise photo from the Sim-Sim village in early of morning. You can ask the bus driver to drop you at the Tanjung Papat Sim-Sim.
- Puh Jih Sih temple, Tanah Merah.
Puh Jih Sih temple is the biggest and largest temple in Sandakan. If you had been visited to the other temple in Sabah, Borneo, you can ask them about the Puh Jih Sih temple. The view from the Puh Jih Sih temple was spectacular and I have been visited the temple twice. One was at noon and second was at 7am. The temple only opens to the public at 8am until 6pm. I guess I was lucky because I was accompanied by my former classmate for the Morning Prayer in the temple. There are two building in that area. One of temple is where the praying ceremony held at. And the other one was for the place where the deceased ashes located at. I don’t really know what it’s called. Both of the building was beautifully built by the Chinese Society. From the Puh Jih Sih temple, you will get the perfect view to meditate, to soak up the calmness and taking picture. I’m very talkative but as soon I see the view, I managed to keep quiet for an hour or so. LOL: P How to get there? You can take taxi or bus. If you plan to take bus, you can go to the Gentingmas Mall supermarket and from there; you’ll find the bus that heading to the Puh Jih Sih temple. You can ask the local or the bus driver that you’re heading to the temple that located at the Tanah Merah and they’ll tell you which bus leaving first. Take a note that each bus depart at certain hour. The bus fare is MYR1.20. The bus driver didn’t wait for the bus until the bus filled with the passenger. Don’t forget to take water with you because you have to walk for a mile from the bus stops that the bus driver drop you at. Remind the bus driver that you’re heading to the temple. You don’t want to miss the place. Beware of the dogs if you’re walking to the temple. They can be scary though. But I was so lucky because on my first time, I had visited the temple with my traveller friend and when we leave the temple, the lady at the temple was very kind person whom letting us to ride with her and dropped us at the bus stop.
- Sandakan War Memorial Park
You can pay a visit and put flowers at the Sandakan Memorial park as a sign to respect to the soldiers. In my opinion, the best time to visit the Sandakan Memorial park is on the ANZAC day. You’ll read about the death march during the World War II when Japanese taking over Borneo from the British. In Australia, there is a holiday and parade to celebrate the ANZAC day. The bravest group of soldier in the past that we will never forget and will never fade through the time. The entrance was free and you can go there by taking bus that going to the miles 7. The other second option to get there is by taking taxi. The bus fare is around MYR1.50 per person. You have to ask the local people for confirmation about the bus fare!
- Sandakan zoo, Gum-Gum
I don’t know if you are the type of who can watch the animals in the cage, nevertheless you still can visit it. You can go there by taking miles 16 buses and the bus fare is MYR4.00 per person. In the zoo, there’ll be an animal show. You can see the Koi fish pond, the birds and even the monkey! But they’re in the cage. Take note on that.
LYNN’S: Since you’re in the miles 16, you can explore the place. If you’re into vintage clothes or looking for second hand clothes, the miles 16 is one of the infamous spot for the local to find any vintage or second hand clothes. Most of the villagers are those Indonesian that have been stayed in this country since their ancestors. So, you can get the typical of Indonesian mainly Bugis meals in miles 16.
- Sandakan Crocodile farm.
Want to see the crocodile even though you’re not in the Australia? Don’t worry. You can watch live crocodile in the cage. You can go there by taking miles 14 bus. And again, yeh. Ask the local about the bus fare!
- Selingan Turtle Island
You can go to the island by joining the tour company. There are no hostels available as you need to join the tour company or you can register yourself at the SeaQuest. You can go to the office by walking from the downtown. It’s cheaper to register on your own instead of joining the tour company. Don’t bother to write an email or call the SeaQuest. You need to go in person, bring cash with you and you can ask them about the trip to the island. Take note if you’re going during the monsoon season, they might cancel the trip. In 2014, my friend have been signed up and she paid MYR 480.00.Today, the price for overnight stay in the island is offered at a whopping MYR 600.00 per person The meals, transportation and accommodation have been included in the fee. In that island, you’ll see the turtles laying eggs and turtle conservation at work.
- Berhala Island.
Berhala Island is the place in Sandakan that you can do the rock climbing. You can take the boat from jetty and the boat fare is MYR 2.00. You can contact the Sandakan Climbing Recreation club to ask them if they’re going to do the rock climbing at Berhala Island. The last time I checked, the club had been organised the Santaian Hammock Borneo where they do the rock climbing, slack lining sessions, hiking and etc. You can go with your own group, but take precaution on your safety. Take tons of DEET spray with you if you’re plan to stay overnight on the island, you better inform the army that located on the island. Be safe from the mosquitoes please!
- Kim Fung Night market. ( or normally call as the Chinatown night market)
You can go to the night market at 5pm by taking Miles 4 bus. If you haven’t taken your lunch, looking for a place to have a cup of coffee, the Miles 4 are the perfect place for you. You can find lot of local coffee shop in Miles 4. There are variety choices for you to choose. You’ll see that mostly of the local in the miles 4 are normally Chinese, and during the weekdays, you can see lots of Chinese student. It’s because one of the biggest private Chinese school is located in miles 4. Night market is just another typical market in Borneo. I never see the chocolate corn until I go to the night market. That was my first experience in going to the night market. I don’t eat or drink in the night market as I was preoccupied taking pictures of the market. It’s a very small market compare to the other places in Borneo.
- Sandakan town. LOL
If you’re too lazy want to explore Sandakan and just want to sit down and do nothing because you probably have one day or one night to stay before leaving to the Kinabatangan, Gomantong Cave or Sukau, you can take a walk in Sandakan. Take a note that Sandakan town is a very small town and in within two hour (if you’re a fast walker) you already explored the town. The day time is the busiest time in Sandakan town but after 7pm? Mostly of the shops already close and you can take that as a cue for you, to get into bed earlier.
Ps: If you’re in the town on weekend, you can go to the Sandakan Sunday market.
I’m done talking about the places that you can visit in Sandakan. And now another interesting topic which is FOOD! I’m a food lover. We need food to survive. And we do need coffee to survive. Only for the coffee junkie : P Travellers, locals or expat always asking this question, where is the best restaurant in town? Where is the best coffee place in town? Want to more? Check out my next page that will cover about Sandakan foods. I’ll see you on my next page about the foodie little adventure in Sandakan.
Have a wonderful day wherever you are!
Lynn R.Amdan @ Amdana