An interesting way to see a bit of local life is to have a quick look around a town’s market, and Sandakan has a beauty—well, more of an ugly.
The three-storey monstrosity dominates the eastern end of the waterfront, and early morning fishing boats dock to unload their catch directly into the market. It's worth getting out of bed early for a few snaps. You may see some species that really should be left in the sea, and if you see turtle eggs for sale (they look like pingpong balls), report them, as even though it’s legal to sell them in most of Malaysia, they are protected in Sabah.
The rest of the ground level has dry and wet markets with fresh veggies, fruit, coffee, meat and more dried fish than you’ve possibly ever seen in your life. Pick up an orangutan T-shirt or plush toy at the souvenir shop near the main entrance, where they also stock a small selection of books on Sabah. For tasty cheap eats head upstairs—the first floor for Malay food, ready to serve, and up again to the top floor for Chinese food and views out to sea. Stalls predominantly cater to the breakfast crowd, but some are open later, though most close by 15:00. The “pasar gantung” (hanging market) section is decked out with rows and rows of hanging merchandise from clothes to bags and beauty products galore — you can even get a manicure.
The market doesn’t see hordes of tourists, so be prepared for a lot of attention. Say hi, and stop for a chat, they’re friendly folk here. The market is open from about 04:00, and is buzzing by 06:00. It's busiest in the morning, and all over by 18:30.
By Sally Arnold
Last updated on 13th October, 2016.