Sandakan, Malaysia

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April 8 – 12, 2016 

I flew into Sandakan not knowing much of the area. It’s the second-largest town in Sabah (Malaysia’s easternmost state, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo) after Kota Kinabalu City. Sandakan is on the northeastern coast of Borneo in Malaysia.

I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was thinking of lush beaches and jungles everywhere. It was a really lovely few days, but that isn’t really the case.

April 8 – 12, 2016 

I flew into Sandakan not knowing much of the area. It’s the second-largest town in Sabah (Malaysia’s easternmost state, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo) after Kota Kinabalu City. Sandakan is on the northeastern coast of Borneo in Malaysia.

I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was thinking of lush beaches and jungles everywhere. It was a really lovely few days, but that isn’t really the case.

If you’re simply staying in Sandakan for an overnight layover, stay at Labuk Hotel because it’s $25 a night and they’ll do airport pick-up and drop-off for free. The Pavilion Hotel is in the same area and looks nicer for only a few dollars more, but I’m not sure if their airport service is free. They’re both located within walking distance of a strip mall that has several curry restaurants and pretty much nothing else.

I rented a car for 24-hours through Borneo Express, which was easy enough to reserve on their website and then pick-up at the airport. They’ll advertise that the price is 40 Malaysian Ringgit ($10 USD) but after insurance and taxes it’ll run you RM150 ($39). Gas cost RM10 for 5 liters, and I bought 10 liters total. It really depends on where you go. The car was convenient to just go where we’d like and navigating with our smartphones (with SIM cards) was easy enough.

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We drove to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, which I recommend. 

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These monkeys are only in Borneo and it’s a unique opportunity to see them up-close. The monkeys are free to run anywhere, but there are feeding times about every hour where you can see them come out of the forest to eat. It costs RM60 for entry per person. Learn from me and don’t eat the food there; I ate some “dry noodles” that looked like they were served in saliva.

Also in that area is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. There is a popular trail there that closes at 2:00 pm. Orangutans are much less lively than the proboscis monkeys. Feeding times are at 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. Entry costs RM30 for foreign tourists, plus an additional camera fee of RM10 should you wish to take your camera with you.

I liked eating at a restaurant nearby called Lindung. The space was really beautiful and relaxing. The food was familiar (e.g. hamburgers and sandwiches) albeit expensive in comparison to local food (RM20 for a burger instead of RM5 for curry).

Another popular tourist attraction in the area is The Rainforest Discovery Centre, which is open 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and entry is RM15 a person. 

When we were done, we drove to the waterfront and stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan, which is the most expensive hotel in the area but only $57 a night when booked on Agoda

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Safe, good service, really comfortable beds, and an infinity pool where you can buy 3-for-2 beers 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Parking is free at the Sandakan Harbour Square Mall. Sadly, this hotel doesn’t offer any service to or from the airport, but instead suggests taking a taxi which is RM30 one-way.

The next morning we went to Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple 普濟寺 before dropping off the car at the airport. The drive up to the temple was windy but worth it. There are some really beautiful panoramic views of the town and bay from up there.

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Then, we dropped off our laundry to be washed at the Sandakan Backpackers (1.3kg for RM15.60 – expensive compared to the RM4.4/kg I paid in Kota Kinabalu). They booked us a tour last minute for a Kinabatangan Sukau River Cruise at the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort (RM200 for 1-day). Really friendly people at that hostel and also at that resort! We didn’t stay at the resort because there was no internet connection (wifi or SIM card). Most people stay for two or three days so they can cruise the river and go on treks for more opportunities to see animals. I was happy to see an orangutan, proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, a snake, and many bird species (including an eagle) in the wild. 

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On our last day we hung around town -shopping at the Central Market, drinking tea at the English Tea House, and learning about the past at the Keith Agnes House (RM15). 

There isn’t much else to do in Sandakan. Tour businesses close on Saturday at noon and are closed all day on Sunday -but you can have your accommodation call them directly. There are a few more tours we didn’t take such as an overnight to Turtle Island (people recommend booking through Crystal Quest) for ~RM730, Gomantong Caves (usually a RM85 add-on for a Kinabatangan River tour), Sepilok Laut trekking for ~RM270), and checking out a Malay fishing village and fireflies in the Mangrove forest for ~RM185.

I’m headed to Kota Kinabalu next, but next time I come to Malaysia I’d really like to go to Kuala Lumpur for a few days and then fly into Tawau so I can go diving in Sipadan.



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