In late 1880s, Sandakan was one of the largest towns in Sabah since traders from around the world namely Europe, Africa, China as well as Arab conduct business within the vicinity. Today, Sandakan has become one of the major tourists’ hubs in Malaysia with famous Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary. The sanctuary was once featured in Amazing Race as one of their pit-stops.
Before World War II, Sandakan was the capital for British North Borneo but Jesselton later took over the role as state capital after WW II. Sandakan was formerly known as ‘Little Hong Kong’ considering the large numbers of Chinese traders settling down in the town.
Sandakan was once rich with various foreign cultures since traders from around the world came through the port before continuing their journey. Tourists, backpackers or holiday makers can now easily travel to Sandakan by taking MAS or Air Asia daily flight. Getting around town is rather easy since the town is small or you can even take a bus to get around town.
Besides Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, tourists can visit Turtle Islands Park, Sandakan Crocodile Farm, Gomantong Caves or even Rainforest Discovery Centre. With the availability of such places of interest, Sandakan is best known as the gateway for ecotourism.
For Buddhist devotees, remember to visit the magnificent temple atop a hill that offers you scenic view of Sandakan Bay – Puu Gih Jih Temple. Also, another picturesque architecture is the oldest stone building in Sabah – St Michael and All Angels.
Other places of interest around town are Sandakan Memorial Park, Buli Sim Sim and Agnes Keith House and Museum. Sandakan Memorial Park is a must visit destination since it is situated on the former Japanese Prisoner of War camp. An educational trip to the small museum right in the heart of the park is great for holiday makers with kids.
Meanwhile, Buli Sim Sim is a scenic water village on stilts located about 3 kilometres east of Sandakan. Agnes Keith House and Museum used to be the official residence of Agnes Newton Keith and has now been refurbished as a museum.
If you prefer other famous places of interest, you’ll need to travel further afield to Gomantong Caves and Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. You can book the trip to these two attractions from a local tour operator. It is difficult to get to Gomantong Caves via public transport. Be well-prepared if you plan to get to the monkey sanctuary since the road to the destination is rough but the sight of monkeys in the wooden balcony built right in the heart of the mangrove forest will definitely mesmerize you.
A visit to Sandakan is never complete without buying some local handicrafts. The best bargain hunting shopping is Borneo Trading Post. Besides that, you can also check out one-stop handicraft centre located on the third floor of Karamunsing Complex. Lastly, remember to buy and try out famous local products such as salted fish, prawn crackers, dried ikan bilis (Anchovy) and dried shrimps.