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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 all of 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 the star attraction of Sandakan, 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 available outside Sandakan. Located two hours out of Sandakan town, the Kinabatangan River 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.

Birdwatching at Kinabatangan River is also high on the list of birders and bird photographers as this is one place where you get to 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 this very day.

There is also wildlife to 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 kind of rainforest canopy walk, head over here, and 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. 

5. Visit Agnes Keith House in Sandakan

The Agnes Keith House is one of the popular places to visit in the city area of Sandakan and is suitable for all types of tourists.

This famous landmark house called Newlands was a former British colonial quarter and was once lived 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 for 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. To get here, you can take a taxi or use the private car services of Grab and UBER.

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 all things 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 cater to nature lovers. Most visitors will opt for a two or three-day stay here to fully see 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 you stay at the Kinabatangan River Lodges. On this cruise, you have the opportunity to 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?

Generally, Sandakan is an old city; hence not much 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 food, 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 found at the 4th and 6th Mile, where trendier restaurants and cafes are found. Most nightlife and entertainment are also located in this modern part of Sandakan.

Sandakan is also a gateway to Turtle Island or Pulau Selingan, where visitors head to spend a night on this island 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 you book your Sandakan tours from any of the registered tour companies operating in the city. Do not engage any unlicensed 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 located out of the city area. Either rent a car and self-drive to the other places or engage a tour company.

Update February 2018 - Nothing much has changed around Sandakan except the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre or BSBCC which is located just next to Sepilok Orangutan Centre.

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

Conclusion

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.

Post a Comment

19 Comments

shazia said…
thanks ..very useful..im going there next Feb!
Malaysia Asia said…
Alutzu, which one looks dangerous? I'm curious now.

Shazia, that's great to know you are heading there. Don't forget to try to wonderful seafood there too.

Regards,
David
patra316 said…
Interesting Place for Eco-Tourism. Like it!
gabybali said…
I'm going to Malaysia next year-April 2011 with my family. I definitely want to take my mom to : English Tea House and Restaurant & Seeing rare Orchids, Flowers and Plants at RDC. But as this will be our first time, not sure if we will leave KL city..:)
Always admire your blog,Dave! Terima kasih!

BEE - Bali
Malaysia Asia said…
Patra316, It is full of Eco-Tourism in Sandakan. Never short of it anytime.

Gaby, Thats great news! However, to check this place out in Sabah, you would need at least 3 nights here in Sandakan. Let me know when exactly and maybe we could meet up in KL?

David
Lily Riani said…
thank you sooooooooo much, am checking some of the places as i might be going there next month! owe you one!
Malaysia Asia said…
Glad to be of help Lily. Hope you select the best places to visit in Sandakan :)

David
Wilson Ng said…
Great tips David. Something to look for.
Migrationology said…
Wish I would have had time to get to the East side of Borneo. When I was in Borneo a few months ago, I was able to climb Mt. Kinabalu and hang out on the KK side of the island. Hopefully I can get back to Borneo, Thanks for these tips!
Malaysia Asia said…
Thanks Mark and Wilson. Actually, East Borneo has lots of Eco related stuff to do, from wildlife watching to diving, there's tons of it all over here. I hope you make it back here to experience the beauty from here.

David
i think the tip will help me a lot.thank you for shearing..
From its detail and information alone, I'm getting excited and can't wait to be one of its bystanders of Sandakan Sabah Borneo. Nice post!
From its detail and information alone, I'm getting excited and can't wait to be one of its bystanders of Sandakan Sabah Borneo. Nice post!
Anonymous said…
Hi we are going this April and like to try the Kinabatangan River but my son is afraid of crocodile . Will they attact you if they aee you ?
Malaysia Asia said…
Hi there, I would say that it is very safe there. Most of the time, the crocs are on the banks of the river and are pretty much shy. Important is that you stay in the boat :) Have a great trip!
Anonymous said…
Thanks! Very interesting. We are planning to visit Sandakan this March with our 5 and 8 yr old kids. Do you think it suitable? Which hotel would you recommend which is near places to get food easily and not too far from Sepilok, Gomantang and Kinabatangan?
Anonymous said…
very good information! super helpful. great blog and thank you!
Anonymous said…
Great blog!