10 Things to do in Sandakan Sabah

Sandakan 10 Things To See and Do

This list of 10 things to do in Sandakan is a must for anyone seeking nature and a fun experience on the east side of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

In this list, I have narrowed down the things one can do while visiting Sandakan, and this list is in no order. Generally, I have visited all the places mentioned here, so this is a first-hand experience article.

10 Things to do in Sandakan Sabah

Everything listed below is located around Sandakan, and you can easily visit these places in under five days. The best recommendation would be to spend about 6D/5N to fully experience the sites listed here.

1. Visit Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Sandakan is one of the must-visit places when you are here. This famous world-class centre is well known among nature lovers and is one of the most visited places in Sabah Borneo.

As Sandakan's star attraction, you can see orangutans in the wild as they are rehabilitated to return to nature. This attraction is excellent for all ages, especially kids.

Kinabatangan River Sabah
Watching the wildlife along the Kinabatangan River.

2. Explore the Kinabatangan River

The Kinabatangan River is one of the most fascinating natural nature safaris outside Sandakan. Located two hours out of Sandakan town, it stretches over 560 kilometres and is the second-longest river in Malaysia and the longest in Sabah.

Kinabatangan is also well known for its remarkable wildlife and fascinating natural habitats throughout the sanctuary. See the rare Borneo Pygmy Elephant in its natural surroundings,  while Orangutans, gibbons and Proboscis monkeys are also common sightings.

Birders and photographers also highly recommend birdwatching at the Kinabatangan River, as this is where you can experience boat birding.

Numerous lodges are available along the main river section; therefore, you can always book an overnight tour to fully experience this incredible natural place. 
Sandakan Gomantong Caves
Inside the Gomantong Caves of Sandakan.

3. Visit the Gomantong Caves

The Gomantong Caves are one of the world-renowned caves for bird nest harvesting and are located at Gomantong Hill in the lower Kinabatangan area or Gomantong Rainforest Reserve.

Consisting of two cave complexes, Black Cave (Simud Hitam) and White Cave (Simud Putih), these caves have been harvested for the prized natural bird's nest for many decades and even until today.

Wildlife can also be seen here, as you may spot several red-leaf monkeys around the Gomantong Caves. Bring a perfumed mask for those who dislike the guano smell, as it can get to you. This cave is also best visited by a tour guide. 

4. Try the Canopy Walk at Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC)

Hands down, this has to be one of the most unique canopy walks or rainforest skywalks I have ever experienced. This mega steel structure is located along the Rainforest Discovery Trail at the Rainforest Discovery Center or RDC in Sepilok, Sabah.

For nature lovers or bird watchers, this is the place to experience it, as you will not regret every moment you spend here. The Borneo Bird Festival is also held here annually towards the end of the year.

If you want to try a different rainforest canopy walk, head here. The best time is also in the mornings or late evenings before the sun goes down. At the RDC, many other walking and nature trails are available.

Sandakan Agnes Keith House
Agnes Keith House.

5. Visit Agnes Keith House in Sandakan

For those who love some history, the Agnes Keith House is one of the most popular places in Sandakan and is suitable for mature tourists.

This famous landmark house, Newlands,  was a former British colonial quarter once lived in by Agnes Newton Keith. She was a well-known American writer who penned the famous 'Land Below The Wind' in 1939.

You can spend about one to two hours here and easily walk to the Agnes Keith House from Sandakan town as there s dedicated trails leading up the hill to the house. 

6. Eat at the English Tea House and Restaurant

This stunning place is located on a little hill overlooking the majestic Sandakan Bay and is best visited in the late mornings.

The Sandakan English Tea House and Restaurant is a meticulously renovated colonial-styled house surrounded by 1.5 acres of perfectly manicured lawns, complete with a croquet pitch and outdoor seating.

Anyone visiting Sandakan should visit this place to enjoy good old traditional English cooking. Try the English tea and scones, their speciality here, or just visit for a proper lunch or dinner.

War Memorial Sandakan
Lest We Forget, seen inside the memorial hall in Sandakan.

7. Pay Respect at the Sandakan War Memorial 

The Sandakan Memorial Park is located on the outskirts of Sandakan town. You can take a taxi or use the Grab ride-hailing service to get there.

The site is next to the actual POW (Prisoners of War) camp, set up during the World War Two Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945, and witnessed the death of 2400 Australian and British POWs held by the Japanese here.

The Sandakan War Memorial is one of the essential places for ANZAC Day and attracts many family members and relatives of the POWs every April.

RDC Sandakan
Flora at the Rainforest Discovery Center in Sepilok.

8. See rare Orchids,  Flowers and Plants

For the horticulture or garden lover, head to the RDC, where you can find the Plants Discovery Trail. This is one of the notable highlights at the Rainforest Discovery Centre RDC in Sepilok.

Here, a unique 800-meter-long trail is filled with beautiful rainforest flora and sometimes fauna. If you love flowers and plants, this should be one of your stops, as you will see rare Borneo Orchids and other attractive tropical flowers here. 
9. Stay at one of the Nature Lodges along the Kinabatangan River

The Bukit Melapi Lodge is located along the Sukau Kinabatangan River and is one of the lodges that caters to nature lovers. Most visitors will opt for a two—or three-day stay here to fully experience the wildlife and nature of the Kinabatangan.

Most packages to the Kinabatangan River include wildlife cruises, animal spotting, bird spotting and trekking. The best possible way to enjoy the natural wildlife of Borneo is by staying at one of these nature lodges.

Kinabatangan River Photo
Baby crocodile at Kinabatangan River.

10. Experience a Night River Safari along the Kinabatangan River

A Kinabatangan River Night Cruise will be one of the most exciting and adventurous trips you will take while staying at the Kinabatangan River Lodges. On this cruise, you can spot crocodiles, nocturnal wildlife, pythons, and birds.

The unique night cruise is an optional package at each lodge, so you need to book with your lodge or tour guide to experience this night cruise along the Kinabatangan River. Crocodiles are almost a guaranteed sighting here.

What else to do in Sandakan?

Sandakan is generally an old city; only a little has changed in the last 50 years. Exploring the city on foot is one of the best things to do in Sandakan.

For the food traveller, the main Sandakan city area hosts numerous popular hawker foods, while some other places out of the city include the Mile 1 and 4 Market. Read this list of best places to eat in Sandakan, which I wrote.

The newer part of Sandakan is located from the 4th to 7th Miles, where trendier restaurants and cafes are found. This modern part also has the most nightlife and entertainment for the younger and older generations.

Sandakan is also a gateway to Turtle Island or Pulau Selingan, where visitors spend a night to see turtles come up and lay their eggs.

For scuba divers, Sandakan is the main port to Lankayan Island or Pulau Lankayan, where some of the best diving in Sabah is found.

How to Book Your Tours in Sandakan?

For those interested, I recommend booking your Sandakan tours from any registered tour companies in the city. Only engage licensed tour guides, as that could lead to trouble.

For the general tourist, please note that you can only do so much in the city area, as everything exciting is outside the city. Either rent a car and self-drive to the other places or engage a tour company.

Update February 2018: Sandakan has mostly stayed the same except for the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), located just next to the Sepilok Orangutan Centre.

Several new lodges and resorts have also opened along the Kinabatangan Sukau district. Some are luxury, while others are normal.


The links in each of the 10 Things to do in Sandakan are linked back to each of my original articles, which I personally have visited and experienced at the various places around Sandakan.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. I trust those heading to Sandakan will be in for a surprise, as this incredible city is also known as the nature city of Sabah.

Malaysia Asia

Blogging since 2007, but writing online since 1997. I belong to the 1st generation of worldwide bloggers, which is of course old-school. Since 2008, I created Malaysia Asia and this travel, flood, gadget and lifestyle blog has won numerous physical awards from tourism boards around Malaysia. (Not those online awards). After 12 years of blogging, I have semi-retired and now blog about things I like, do product reviews and enjoy life. My work has been featured in Lonely Planet, CNN Travel, Yahoo Travel, Wall Street Journal, and many other international publications. Find out more about me and thank you.


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