Friday, November 1, 2019

Getting Around Sandakan, Sabah

What is the must try food in Sandakan? What is the best place to stay in Sandakan? We would like to share our experience getting around Sandakan.

Sandakan is the second largest town in Sabah, with a population over 400 thousands within the municipal area. It is a peaceful coastal town with nice seafood, nature beauty, and friendly people. The airport is nearby the old township, the place where tourists stay. New township is now extending into the hilly area, far from the sea. We visited several tourist attractions in Sandakan, and share it in another post

What to Eat
The biggest attraction in Sandakan, beside orang utans, is the seafood. We tried several eateries- Sim-Sim Seafood Restaurant(森森海鲜食店), Ocean King Restaurant, seafood noodle stall at Kampung Pukat, food stall at Sandakan Central Market, and many more.

Sim Sim Water Village is located along Buli Sim Sim Road. The water village is located around 10 minutes drive from town center. We can see a clear signage of "Kampung Seafood Sim Sim" from the main road (upper left), with locals were selling fruits along the entrance to the village (upper right). There are several restaurants located in the water village. We visited the one on the left end- Sim-Sim Seafood Restaurant H90 (lower right). The restaurant is big and clean, with very nice dining hall facing the sea.

We tried seafood noodle (upper left), prawn with butter (upper right), and seafood in thick soup (lower right). The dishes were nice with reasonable price. We could see a row of shark jaws hanging on the wall of the restaurant.

Ocean King Restaurant was originally built by the sea. The restaurant was moved to a new location after the pirates' incident. Although it is now far from the sea, around 20 minutes drive from the town center, the restaurant is still famous among the locals and tourists (upper left). We tried steamed babylonia shells (upper right), clams in soup (lower right), and fried squid. All the dishes tasted good. The price was a little bit more expensive compared to the restaurant at Sim-Sim Water Village, maybe because of the restaurant was fully air-conditioned. 

We were recommended to the seafood noodle at Kampung Pukat, around 10 minutes' drive from town center. The village entrance is similar to Sim-Sim Water Village (upper left), and the seafood noodle stall is actually a residential unit (lower right). We tried seafood noodle (lower right) and seafood in soup. Both were delicious, with big portion of prawn, squids, and oysters. The price was around RM 15 per portion.

We also took the opportunity to have afternoon tea at San Da Gen Kopitiam(三大羹), which was nearby our hotel. The eatery was nicely decorated and fully air-conditioned (upper left). We tried several snacks, such as the salted egg croissant (upper right), tart with cream (lower right), avocado bun, and toast with black coffee. The food were special, but really not fitting our taste. 

Many local food stalls are available on the 2nd floor of Sandakan Central Market (upper left). The market is located just next to Four Seasons by Sheraton. Some of the food stalls attract many visitors (upper right). We found the stall selling "The Original Homemade Keuh Teow with Deepfried Pork" (lower right) served very nice noodle.

We visited Sandakan during the fruit season. Local fruits such as duku langsat (upper left), tarap (upper right), durian (lower right), and mangosteen were sold with very low price.

We would recommend to stay somewhere near to the old township area. The town area looks old and tired, with less people walking around. However, it is still the most convenient place for tourists like us to stay.

We stayed in Four Points by Sheraton for two nights. The hotel is facing the sea with nice view around Sandakan town. There is a shopping mall attached to the hotel. Attractions such as Sandakan Central Market and Sandakan Heritage Trail are located within walking distance. 

The hotel was overall good, with just little flaws such as the access card was not working consistently. We were stuck at the mall's entrance, the lift, and our room a few times. The reading lights were not working, and the bath tub was stuck. The problems were settled however, by the friendly staff. 

The drop point of Four Points (upper left). We can see the central market right behind the building. The hotel has a cozy environment (upper right), the room was big with good amenity (lower right), and the restaurant served nice international breakfast.

Nice town view from the hotel.

Sandakan Central Market can be seen from our room. This place is full with people early in the morning.

Sandakan Harbor Square is beside our hotel.

"I Love Sandakan" signage at Sandakan Harbor Square.

Transportation and Streets
We found that the easiest way to move around Sandakan is by Grab service. Grab is available almost everywhere, with very reasonable price- around RM 13 from Sandakan airport to town (20 minutes), and RM 23 from our hotel to Sepilok (35 minutes). 

Clean and modern-look airport with fully air-conditioned departure hall.

Streets in Sandakan old town. We can see the old "resident evil" like buildings along the streets. However, We found no problem walking around the town area, day and night. The street is clean and generally safe, with no zombies around.

The presence of these high buildings between narrow streets make us feel like little Hong Kong.

Sandakan is a great place for a short trip. The town is small with less people around, the seafood is really nice and cheap, and there are several beautiful conservation parks to visit. We share information on Sepilok, and places of interest nearby Sandakan Town as well.

More information about our trip in Sabah are available at:

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
The orang utan rehabilitation center is commonly referred as Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary or Sepilok Orang Utan Centre / Park. Established in 1964, the place is well known internationally, as one of the earliest orang utan rehab center in the world.

The sanctuary started as a place to train injured or orphaned orang utan to return to the wild. Now, it plays a more important role as a  place to protect orang utan. As the apes are roaming freely in the park, feeding time is the best opportunity for us to see them. Please visit the official website for the feeding time. 

We visited the center during local fruit season (September - October). Most of the orang utan left the center to nearby fruit plantations for better fruit supply. We managed to see two orang utans in the wild. However, there were many young and baby orang utans in the nursery area. It is a good place to see how much the local authority cares about the conservation of orang utans. For us, the center is a must-visit site in Sandakan.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary opens daily from 9 am to 12 pm, 2 pm to 4 pm. The lunch break  is from 11 am to 2 pm on Fridays. The entrance fee info is available at its official website. Malaysians have to bring their Mykad for discount. We found that it was convenient to go to the center by Grab. The fee was around RM 23, and it took us around 35 minutes. 

It is important to visit the center with comfortable and non-slippery footwear. The wooden pathway would be extremely slippery after rain. No food and water is allowed in the forest area. Vending machines are available at the nursery. Again, we can only take the food inside the building. We roamed inside the center for about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is located 25 kms from Sandakan town center. 

We need to buy our tickets and keep all the belongings in the locker (upper left). The staff warned that it would be almost impossible to get back the item grabbed by orangutan, in one piece. From the entrance (upper right), we need to walk on the wooden pathway (lower right) for 2.5 kms to the places dedicated for feeding and nursing the apes. The weather was cooling, the environment was clean and green. It was a pleasant experience walking in the center.

Only one orang utan showed up during the feeding time (upper left). It showed the back to us all the time. The fruits attracted primates to the feeding platform (upper right). We visited the nursery in the center. We saw young (lower right) and baby orang utans there. These orang utans will stay with the trainers until they are able to live independently in the wild.

 Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
The sun bear conservation center is managed by a private organization. Starting in 2008, the conservation center plays the role to rescue sun bears, mostly from human captives (as pets or for sale), and trains them to be able to live independently in the wild. The center also promotes the awareness to protect this endangered species internationally.

There are many sun bears kept by the conservation center. We managed to see several of them roaming in the center. However, we could only observe them from the observation decks high above the ground. The information center highlighted the efforts of the center through videos. Please watch a few to appreciate the work done by the center. There is shop selling souvenirs and snacks in the center. We can buy something from the shop to support the conservation work. We would suggest to visit this sun bear conservation center together with the orang utan sanctuary.

The center is located next to the orang utan sanctuary. It took us 5 minutes to walk there. The entrance fees is available at BSBCC official website. Malaysians have to show their Mykad for lower rate. Sun bear center opens daily 9 am - 3:30 pm.

We would advise not to leave our stuff at orang utan center, as we might forget to bring those stuff on our way back to town. We stayed in the center for more than 1 hour.

The signboard to the sun bear center can be seen clearly from the orang utan sanctuary.

The entrance to the information center is well-hidden behind the green shrubs (upper left). The logo in front of the information center (upper right). The artworks produced via awareness campaigns were displayed (lower right). We need to watch the videos at the information center to appreciate the massive conservation work behind the scene.

Canopy walk is more than 10 meters above the ground with observation decks for sun bear watch (upper left). The enclosure for sun bears are huge. The heavy foliage prevented us to spot the sun bears (upper right). Lucky, there were a few sun bears showed up at open area.

Attractions in Sandakan Town

Sandakan Town is located at the northeast of Borneo Island. As a part of Borneo Island, the town is famous with its biodiversity and rain forest. As a town by the sea, the town is rich in seafood. 

We took a 3-day trip to Sandakan, visited several tourist attractions in the town. Due to time constraint, we couldn't visit every single corner of the town. So, our list of the top places to visit - Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (orang utan sanctuary), Sepilok Borneon Sun Bear Conservation Centre (sun bear sanctuary),  Sandakan Heritage Trail, and Sandakan Central Market. Sandakan is famous with seafood. Well, we will share about the food in another post. Let us start from the attractions nearby the old township area.

Sandakan Heritage Trail
Sandakan Heritage Trail is well-designed for us to walk around the town area, to see and learn more about the history of the town. The starting point of the trail- Sandakan Liberation Monument, is located in front of the town council building. The monument is located around 700 meters from our hotel- Four Points by Sheraton. From there, we walked up the 100-step staircase to Agnes Keith House and Sandakan Rotary Observation Pavilion (walked for 15 minutes), then to the remains of old staircase (walked for 10 minutes). We continued to walk for 10 minutes to St. Michael's and All Angels Church, and another 10 minutes from the church to our final stop - Malaysia Fountain. 

Agnes Keith House and St. Michael's and All Angles Church are beautiful, well preserved, and really worth a visit. The monument and the remains of old staircase on the other hand, are not well-maintained. The trail is longer than it looks on the map, but still not too bad. The whole trip took us 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The heritage trail is now managed by a group of volunteers, with the purpose to educate the younger generation about the history of Sandakan. The person-in-charge, Lai King Hang and his team are trying very hard to keep their effort moving by organizing at least one activity annually to promote the trail to local community. He is glad that the trail is now a tourist attraction. We can follow the team on Facebook (

The trail starts right in front of the town council building (upper left), with a few memorials built at the middle of a square, commemorating the falling soldiers in World War 2 (upper right), William Pryer, the founder of Sandakan (lower right), and several Western explorers who died in Sandakan. The surrounding area was clean and tidy. The memorials however, were not well maintained. Kundasang War Memorial is an example of well maintained memorial park.  

The 100-step staircase is located on the left of the memorials. We couldn't find much history about the staircase, so we just climbed it without asking any question.

We missed the main entrance to Agnes Keith's house, and the hilly road led us to the Rotary Observation Pavilion (upper left). We found that the town view was blocked by untrimmed trees. We entered Agnes Keith House from the side entrance (upper right). The house is now conserved by the state museum. We needed to buy ticket at the administration building before entering the house. There is a very nice English tea garden beside the entrance to the house (lower right). 

Agnes Keith is a famous with her book "The Land Below the Wind". Sabah is now called the Land Below the Wind because of her book. She stayed in this house with her family before she left Borneo in 1952.

We found that the clock tower in the leaflet is just a tower without a clock (upper left). The remain of the old staircase is located on the left of the Basel Christian Church (upper right). We couldn't find anything meaningful nearby (lower right), except a few wooden houses nearby the staircase. The staircase is believed to be a part of Chinese Consulate Building before the 2nd World War.

St. Michael's and All Angels Church was built by Rev. Henry Elton. The church was the first stone building in Sandakan. The construction of the church started in 1893, and the whole church was completed 32 years later in 1925. The church is a beautiful building which worth a visit. The church is now located within a school compound, so we have to go through the school security before visiting the church.

There are two Chinese temples along the heritage trail. Both temples are small and less attractive. Anyway, both temples have served the locals for a long period of time. Sam Sing Kung or Sam Sing Temple was built in 1885. It is one of the oldest temples in the town. The temple is located opposite of Padang. We could see local kids playing in front of the temple in the evening.

We could see local people were having their activities at Padang. This area is happening at night.

We reached Malaysia Fountain at last. The fountain is in the middle of a roundabout, beside Padang.

The leaflet for Sandakan Heritage Trail. The trail is longer than it looks on the map.

Sandakan Central Market, Sandakan
Sandakan Central Market is located strategically next to Four Point by Sheraton. The wet market is located at the ground floor. The first floor is designated for clothes and Muslim food, while non-Muslim food can be found at second floor. The market is extremely busy starting from 4 am till 9 am. 

The market is clean and tidy. We visited the market twice and bought some really cheap stuff- dried prawn, local snack called amplang, and fruits. There is a souvenir shop nearby the entrance of the market, selling cheap shirts and books, including the book "The Land Below the Wind".  

Fishing boats unloading fresh seafood right from the sea all day long (upper left). The market is clean and tidy (upper right), selling wide variety of local products and vegetables (lower right). Food stalls are available on first and the second floor.

Amplang (upper left), dried prawn (upper right), dried fish (lower right) and local fruits are sold with very low price.

We will share the information on nice food we have in Sandakan in our next post. Our experience in Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is available as well.

More information about our trip in Sabah are available at: