Photo: Sandakan from above.


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Squeezed between Sulu Sea and the steep escarpment of Bukit Berenda (Trig Hill), Sandakan dominates the mouth of Sandakan Bay on the north coast of Sabah. For centuries, Sandakan was a centre of commerce, as traders sailed tall ships into her ports in search of exotic and expensive commodities from deep in the jungles of Borneo. Bombed to bits during World War II, the former capital of North Borneo has never quite regained her past glory.

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Hotels, food, sights, transport quick links

Keep reading to learn more about Sandakan!

Reconstructed in a grid pattern of characterless concrete, Sandakan can seem charmless on first impression, and downright desolate at night, but it has a somewhat daggy appeal and more to offer as the gateway to Sabah’s best ecotourism destinations.

One of Sabah's star attractions. Photo taken in or around Sandakan, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

One of Sabah's star attractions. Photo: Sally Arnold

Just over a 30-minute drive from the centre of Sandakan, Sepilok is home to a hat-trick of excellent attractions, with Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre possibly the best known attraction in all of Sabah. Next door, you can view more adorable rescued wildlife at the Borneo Sunbear Conservation Centre, where tree-climbing honey bears hangout. If you hear a strange trumpeting noise while you are in either sanctuary, don’t worry, it will be one of several baby orphaned elephants being cared for. The project is not open to the public as yet, but may be in the future.

Just down the road, the Rainforest Discovery Centre will be well worth your time. It offers a tremendous network of jungle trails and a magnificent canopy walk, which provides bucket loads of birdwatching opportunities; they offer a magical night walk, too. Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary is in the vicinity and can be visited on a combo-day trip to Sepilok. Here you can meet the Cyrano de Bergerac of the monkey world, the big-nosed proboscis ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 900 words.)

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Sandakan.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Sandakan.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Sandakan.
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