Sandakan is a great base for visiting many nearby attractions such as Sepilok, Turtle Island and the Kinabatangan River. A few points of interest around the town are close enough to walk to, or just a short taxi ride away. Accommodation is concentrated in the small grid of streets that make up the centre of town, but a handful of good value options can be found a little west of the centre, too. Unless you have a connecting long-distance bus, there’s no reason to stay near the bus station, which is eight kilometres out. If you’re visiting Sandakan just to see the orangutans, it’s best to overnight it at Sepilok.
Sandakan Backpackers may not be the fanciest hostel in town, but it gets our vote for one of the friendliest and has excellent sea views from the common areas and some private rooms too. Spacious and clean four or eight-bed air-con dorms provide comfortable and solid wooden bunk beds. Twin, double and family-sized private rooms are also available. Most have share amenities, but a sea-view... Read our full review of Sandakan Backpackers.
Sandakan is small, laid out in a grid and easily walkable. For a small town, there’s a lot of hotels, although many are basic and tired. We’ve recommended a selection from backpackers to luxury with sea views, and included some quirkier options in between.
If you need a little pampering post-jungle, Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan on the waterfront is an excellent value four-star offering. All your creature comforts will be met in this stylish and tasteful chain hotel. Decor is sophisticated and minimalist with a dark neutral palette. Roomy light-flooded rooms with dazzling views provide luxurious beds and linens, a well-stocked minibar (only... Read our full review of Four Points by Sheraton.
We almost laughed when we walked into May Fair Hotel: this quirky joint has Eastern Bloc mental hospital ambience down to a T. On inspection though, it has all the amenities you’ll need for a comfortable stay, and when you control the chuckling, it’s good Instagram fodder to boot. You won’t find better value in Sandakan. The no-nonsense owner, Mr Lum, runs a tight ship; not only is... Read our full review of May Fair Hotel.
Mixed and single-sex dorms and private rooms at Harbourside Backpackers are smart and shiny clean, immaculate almost to the point of feeling a little sterile, but thankfully the friendly staff add some semblance of warmth. Air-con dorms provide sturdy wooden bunkbeds and windows that let in lots of sunlight. Private rooms come in configurations to suit solo travellers through to families,... Read our full review of Harbourside Backpackers.
The Chinese retro-style lobby at NAK Hotel promises more than the rooms deliver, however they’re clean and comfortable, plus you'll find on the rooftop the best views a bar or restaurant offers in town. The imposing, multi-storey Brutalist building (don’t worry, there’s a lift) was built in the 1960s and has been family run since. A zigzag facade results in rooms having narrow windows... Read our full review of NAK Hotel.
Out of the noise and hurly-burly of the city centre, Sabah Hotel Sandakan offers classic mid-range comfort and a relaxing swimming pool is a lush garden setting. Deluxe rooms overlook the pool from a multi-storey block and are the rooms to go for here, as they are better value than those in the less expensive “Borneo Wing”. Superiors offer the same facilities as deluxe, without the view.... Read our full review of Sabah Hotel Sandakan.
Either Hotel Seafront are getting in with the name before global warming causes the seas to rise, or there’s a lot of reclaimed land in Sandakan; Hotel Seafront isn’t actually at the sea front but it does offer good ocean views from a couple of rooms. You’ll have to climb a few stairs for the prospect, as there are four floors and no lift. Rooms are basic and the outlook makes up for... Read our full review of Hotel Seafront.
Opposite Sandakan Central Market, neat and simple Marine Bay Hotel overlooks the waterfront. There’s not a lot of space for cat swinging in the tiny rooms, and in a few twins and triples, you’ll have to jump from one bed to the other, but rooms are comfortable enough and some offer sea views through smallish windows. Despite the diminutive size, rooms are bright and light-filled, and... Read our full review of Marine Bay Hotel.
Colourful and contemporary interiors at S’Kan Styles are bright and neat in this waterfront three-star offering. Rooms are a tad smaller than you would expect, but if you go for a seaview room, you won’t notice — it’s worth paying a little more, as the town view is not pretty. Laminate floors and the vibrant chartreuse and marmalade colour scheme seem cheap rather than sophisticated... Read our full review of S’Kan Styles.
A handful of quieter and good value hotels are sandwiched among shophouses to the west of the town centre. It’s still walkable to the centre, but better to get a cab at night.
If your sensibilities can’t cope with patterns (mis)matched with more colourful patterns, give 2 Inn 1 Boutique Hotel & Spa a wide berth, however for decent value and somewhat quirky boutique styling, it’s a solid flashpacker pick. Tucked into a back area of shophouses about two kilometres west of the city centre, this double business offers what it promises: a smart and colourful boutique... Read our full review of 2 Inn 1 Boutique Hotel & Spa.
The first thing we noticed walking into the rooms at Hotel Lutana was the lovely fresh smell and homely touches to an otherwise ordinary hotel. The warm and friendly receptionist said she opened windows every day to let the rooms air and she obviously takes pride in overseeing that the hotel is kept neat as a pin. Rooms are modest and a tad old fashioned and worn, but bright and comfortable.... Read our full review of Hotel Lutana.
If you don’t mind a short trek into the city centre, then Sanbay Hotel offers spacious good value style at a flashpacker rate. About two kilometres west of the city centre, the hotel takes up a standalone four-storey block. Interior styling is a little antiquated, and bland, but perfectly pleasant. Air-con rooms are clean and orderly, with plenty of amenities including a large flatscreen... Read our full review of Sanbay Hotel .
Overnighting in Sepilok lets you maximise your time visiting all the wonderful nature sanctuaries. Most accommodation is walking distance to attractions and set in lovely jungle surrounds. Flashpacker options are a bit thin on the ground, but a good selection of budget dorms or fancier mid- to top-range lodgings are on offer.
If your budget ventures into the top range, Sepilok Nature Resort should be your first choice in Sepilok. Backing onto Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, a picturesque lake ringed by established tropical gardens conceals comfortable traditional-style wooden chalets. Relax in a hammock on your private balcony and, as promised, you will be surrounded by nature. Orangutans from the sanctuary... Read our full review of Sepilok Nature Resort.
Nature Lodge Sepilok had not long opened when we visited in July 2016. Needless to say it was spotless, but also offered the best value dorms in Sepilok, as well as good value doubles. Nature Lodge Sepilok may not be as close to the attractions in Sepilok as some other hotels and guesthouses, but at an easy 1.2 kilometre walk from Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre, and only 250 metres... Read our full review of Nature Lodge Sepilok .
Perched on a narrow forested ridge, Paganakan Dii enjoys stunning rainforest views and a wonderful remote jungle feel. Although it’s the furthest accommodation from Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre—five kilometres away—a scheduled free shuttle is part of the deal. Paganakan Dii offer dorm beds or chalets that sleep up to four. A stilted wooden longhouse houses the fan-cooled dorms... Read our full review of Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat.
Tucked away and, yes, skirting the forest edge, Sepilok Forest Edge Resort sits about a kilometre along a side road leading from Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Amid expansive lawns and gardens peppered with wildlife-attracting fruit trees, the resort has a bit of a split personality: A longhouse-style wooden building hosts an excellent hostel, Labuk B&B, and the rest of the resort is... Read our full review of Sepilok Forest Edge Resort (Labuk B & B).
Close to the Rainforest Discovery Centre, friendly and long-running Sepilok B&B offers a good mix of accommodation from camping and dorms to private chalets punctuating lovely extensive grounds that attract a variety of birds and butterflies. Older style First Lodge offers cheaper and very basic dorms and doubles, but dorms at Nature Lodge Sepilok are less expensive, and better, and the newer... Read our full review of Sepilok B&B.