Location of Sandakan in Sabah
An aerial view of Sandakan Town
Sandakan, is in Sabah, Borneo. It is the gateway to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary.
Fisher Boats Behind Fish Market
Sandakan was the former capital of British North Borneo until 1946.
The town prospered in the early days due to its port with visiting traders from about the world.
Sandakan is an important town to Australian and British WWII history with the infamous Death Marches commencing here in 1945  and . After WWII the capital moved to Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu).
"Sandakan" is derived from the Suluk word "sanda" meaning, to pawn and "kan" being the suffix. So "Sandakan" means the place that was pawned. Who pawned it, and to whom, remains a mystery.
The town does not see too many foreign tourists and especially non-Asian tourists. Most people are nice and friendly if treated with respect and a smile but be prepared to be stared by everyone and to be the constant target of laughter and jokes by youngsters if you are from a different race.
The most practical way for the short term visitor to get into Sandakan is by air. Self-drive, tour group or public bus are the other options.
Sandakan Airport (IATA: SDK) is connected directly daily with Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu by AirAsia, and to Kota Kinabalu by Malaysia Airlines and its subsidiary MASWings. MASWings also has connecting flights with Tawau and Kudat.
From the airport it's possible to take taxi what is around MYR25-30 to the centre Sandakan or local bus for MYR2. Bus routes end around 17:00-19:00, definitely by nightfall. For the bus, just walk out from the airport, keep right and you can see a big roundabout and after this roundabout is the bus stop. Walking distance is 400m only.
There is a two lane highway (one lane per direction) from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan. The road is paved and road conditions are generally good, but pay attention as sizeable pot holes and areas of road that have been damaged by the movement of the clay soil underneath. If you are travelling between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, make sure you fill up your petrol tank in Ranau as it is the last petrol station available until Sandakan which is 240km from Ranau. The entire trip from Kota Kinabalu takes approximately 6 hours and is generally a nice drive. There are not many places to eat along the road either past Ranau, so take that into consideration.
From Kota Kinabalu:
- The bus will pass the junction to Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre and you can ask to be dropped off here. The centre is about 4 km down the road and costs 3-5 MYR pp by taxi to get to (drivers will be waiting at the bus drop-off).
KK city to KK North Bus Terminal in Inanam. By public bus, go to the bus station on Jalan Padang across from the State Library (MYR1.50, 20min), or by taxi (c. MYR20).
- KK North Bus Station (Inanam) to Sandakan. Several bus companies depart between 7AM-2PM, and 8PM (~5hrs, 43MYR).
- Tung Ma Express (Tel: +60-(0)19-8827334 Mr Shim)-(buses from KK at 7AM, 8AM, 10AM, 12:30PM, 2PM, 8PM.
- Sida Express (Tel: +60-(0)12-816 5524 Ms. Sanita Binte Sapena) has departures from KK at 7:30AM, 9:30AM, 11:30AM, 2PM, 8PM.
- Bunga Raya Express (Tel: +60-(0)19-8999142 Ms. Suraidah Mohd) has departures from KK at 7:30AM, 9:30AM, 1:30PM, and 8PM.
You arrive in Sandakan at the express bus terminal on Jalan Utara. This is still approximately 15 minutes from downtown, and a taxi ride to downtown should cost RM 15.
Buses leave from the express bus terminal on Jalan Utara for Semporna at 730am, 8am, and 2pm.
Aleson Lines (089-216996, office at Ramai Ramai, Block G) runs ferries between Sandakan and Zamboanga, Mindanao (Philippines) weekly. Journey takes 22h and costs 283MR (economy), 303MR (air-con) and 323MR (cabin). (6/2014)
There used to be Weesam lines, but it has stopped operating. (6/2014)
Travel by taxi out to places such as Sepilok or the War Memorial is easy, however fare negotiation will be required as meters are not commonly available. Taxi to Sepilok wait and return 40myr. Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary 180myr. Airport from downtown 28myr. [Feb 2010]
There are buses and vans going everywhere in the areas around Sandakan, to the airport, Sepilok, Buli Sim Sim etc.
Sandakan is only a small town and it is easy to walk around. There is a walking trail which covers all the main sites.
Motorbike can be hired from Sea View Sandakan Budget & Backpackers Hotel(Lot 126, 1st Floor, Harbour Square 14, 90000 Sandakan. Tel: (60) 089 - 221 221. . Price for a day is 35MYR.
The predominant language in Sandakan is Bahasa Malaysia (Malay). However, various other languages are also spoken, reflecting Sandakan's ethnic diversity. The more common languages among the non-Chinese community include Bajau, Suluk and Kadazandusun, while the more common Chinese dialects in Sandakan are Hakka and Cantonese. In addition to these, Mandarin and English are also fairly widely understood, particularly by younger members of the community.
- Sandakan Memorial Park - Located 11km from city, the memorial park is situated on the original site of the Japanese Prisoner of War camp. The memorial park is dedicated to the men who lost their lives in the Borneo Death Marches during the Second World War. A small museum in the centre of the park provides a sombre look at the atrocities which occurred. Negotiate a taxi to take you there (15 min), and expect to pay around RM 30 including waiting time. You can take a public bus going towards Mile 8, they will drop you off at the main road and you will have to walk about 900m towards the park - local buses cost between 1-3RM. Entry is free.
- Puu Gih Jih - a Chinese temple on top of a hill behind Sandakan where you can get beautiful views of Labuk Bay.
- St Michael and All Angels Church - erected in the late 19th century, it is one of the oldest stone buildings in Sabah, and the only building in Sandakan to have survived World War 2.
- Buli Sim Sim - a picturesque water village on stilts, 3 km east of town past the big mosque. Vans go there from Sandakan.
Agnes Keith House and Museum
- Agnes Keith House and Museum - former home of author Agnes Newton Keith, now restored as a museum.
- Sepilok - The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is where orang utans rescued from plantations and also from being kept as pets are re-adapted to living in the jungle. Most popular are the twice daily feeding times when the orang utans come out from the jungle. This is often considered the best spot in the world to see wild/rehabilitated Orag Utans. You can get their yourself or do a tour from town. Located right beside the Orangutang centre is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre - the only sun bear rehab facility in the world. See the Sepilok page for more details.
- Turtle Islands Park - Three islands in ths Sulu Sea where you can see turtles laying eggs and also turtle conservation at work. You can only stay on Selingan Island. Overnight stays on Turtle Island are now offered at a whopping 600myr per person although the lowest rate is 265 myr according to the Information Centre [Feb 2010]
- Gomantong Caves - The massive cave is home to swiftlets and their nests are harvested as a Chinese delicacy. The harvesting processes involves people climbing to the roof of the caves with bamboo poles and ladders. Getting there/away: The easiest way to get to the caves is by car from Sandakan about 100 km away. Using public transport is difficult. The caves are on the itinerary of some tour companies.
- Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary - The journey to Labuk Bay is very rough and will take about half an hour from the main road, but it is worth it. You are guaranteed a sighting of these monkeys from a wooden balcony built in the middle of the mangrove forest. If you're lucky, you might even get to see some silvery lutungs and oriental pied hornbills. Learn more about the sanctuary here. It is definitely worth a visit, and can be arranged easily by a day tour. Entrance fee 150 MYR (August, 2012). There's a bus at ~9:00 a.m. for 15 MYR. Ask at the Tourist information office in Sandakan for more details.
- Go on a river cruise on the Kinabatangan - The 560km Kinabatangan River, the longest in the state, flows pass some of the richest ecosystems on earth, especially just before it meets the sea. The Lower Kinabatangan and Sukau areas are known for its mangrove swamps and flood plains, and is home to its most famous inhabitants, the proboscis monkeys. Up river, you will go past interesting villages where the river is still the main highway. There are also opportunities to view wildlife, including elephants.
One way to do this is through tour companies from Sandakan and even Kota Kinabalu. You can also reach Sukau by yourself taking a bus to Sukau Junction should be 25RM and then you can take a taxi for 25RM or hitchhiking (people may expect money). You can go on cruises (50RM per person) and do trekking (between 15 and 30 RM). All lodges in Sukau will provide you these services. There is also restaurants and local stores in town with cheap prices.
- Visit the Botanical Gardens near Sepilok for a surprisingly good experience. Learn about Palm Oil and the rain forest. Walks and boats to enjoy.
Fancy "Salted Fish"? Prawn crackers & dried shrimps are tasty and available at the local market.
Dried "Ikan Bilis" is also a locally produced product available at most shops and even at the Airport; available to bring back as gifts.
One floor up the 'New Market' in town, you'll find yourself surrounded by small stalls selling pearls, souvenirs and sarongs to bring home to. Remember to Bargain! That's part of the fun!
Sandakan has good and fresh seafood.
- Restoran Ajmeer Located at mile 3 (Hing Lee) and mile 4 (Bandar Prima). We are specialized in South Indian food and Malay-styled fried food. We also serves best lamb briyani in Sabah,fish head curry, dosai, idli, vadai and all Indian traditional food. We have been awarded as Cheap and Best Restaurant in town by Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs.
- 'Sandakan Curry House, , Beside Hotel Indah, Mile 4 , Bandar Indah. Indian and local food. Best Fish Head Curry In Town, Come & Try it...
- Habeeb Restaurant, at the third avenue in the town. Serve nice Indian and local food. Please remember to taste the Roti Cobra here.
- Imperial Bay View, in the newly developed Harbour Square. Serve nice Chinese food with reasonable prices.
- Ocean King Seafood Restaurant, Pasir Putih. A pier-like structure over the water, with indoor and outdoor seating. No menus, just pick your creature from the tanks and tell the waitress/chef how you want it prepared.
- Restaurant 2020, serves non halal Chinese cuisine, but is considered expensive by local standards. Located at Bandar Kim Fung, Mile 4.
- English Tea House, at Mile 1 of Jalan Utara, nice ambience and serve traditional English Food.
Also, don't forget the steamboat at the Trig Hill it very tasty and the seafood is very big the price also very reasonably.
- Tomato Sandakan. A casual restaurant serving local and western food. The menu is extensive and prices are very reasonable. Popular with locals and centrally located in town. Closing at 5pm.
- Several famous hawkers' centre in Sandakan. There are a few hawkers' centre at Sandakan located at Central Market (2nd & 3rd floor), Bandar Kim Fung Market, and Mile Eight Market. They do provide you considered delicious foods (mostly Chinese & Malay Cuisine) and the prices are very reasonable. After you've finish your foods there, do not forget to buy some kuih (something like small cake) in the market in the same building (market).
- The Eatery  Start your day with a tasty breakfast, and enjoy delicious international or southeast Malaysian cuisine at The Eatery, an all-day dining restaurant at Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan. Call (60)(89) 244 888 for reservations.
- Wrapped  For a quick snack or coffee on the run, stop by at Wrapped deli at Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan or simply sit, relax and enjoy your cuppa with the Alfresco dining atmosphere.
About seven kilometres outside of town in a few shoplots, there's a number of entirely or partially Chinese vegetarian restaurants serving mock meat dishes. It's a good place to stop on your way back from the Memorial Park.
- Urban Cafe, Lot 151, Ground Floor, Block G, Lorong Avenue 5, IJM, Bandar Utama, ☎ 089-238426. Speaks English, wireless internet and a/c. Situated not too far from Giant and McDonalds, a good stop for a cup of coffee, tea or fruit-based desserts if you are on your way to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center or Memorial Park from town (if you travel by bus, just stop by 'Giant' hypermart and walk pass a small bridge to get to it, or call if you need directions. edit
- Balin, Nak Hotel, Level 8, ☎ 089-272-988, . Daily: 7am-1am. Great atmosphere in the rooftop restaurant/bar/lounge. Extensive drink menu and yummy desserts and pizza. Free wifi. edit
A great place to spend your evening in Sandakan is the alfresco, BaLin roofgarden on the 8th floor of NAK hotel in town. With panoramic views of the coastline and the entire stretch of town, its one of the best places to catch the Sandakan sunset and festive firework displays. Tropically designed, it has a mixed assortment of seating and chill-out corners; making the Sandakan-night sky your personal kaleidoscope. An innovative dining experience to follow. Try down along the waterfront as this area is being developed with new places opening all the time.
- The Best Brew  Relax after a long day of business or sightseeing in the pub’s casual atmosphere, or kick back in the lounge for light snacks, cocktails, and a selection of beers from our Best Brews™ program.
Try Bandar Indah, 4 miles away 15 Ringgit from downtown, many Disco and late night bars. For the nightlife
- May Fair Hotel 50MYR for a twin room. Rooms have AC, HW, TV, DVD player (big selection of movies in lobby) and WIFI. Filter water and hot water is also provided. The hotel is in the town centre.
- Sandakan Central Hotel Lot 5A-B & 6A-B Block, 24 Jln. Lebuh Dua, Sandakan(Website). Budget hotel in it's own building smack in the middle of town. En-suite rooms with a/c, free (but slow) wifi, TV and tea/coffee facilities are often cheaper than local hostels. Service is somewhat lacklustre, and maintenance is patchy, though bedding is clean and comfortable, and rooms are the back are quiet. Be sure to check all appliances and the bathroom thoroughly, though staff are can shift you to another room if needed. RM65 twin, RM70 double. RM50 deposit (returned at end of stay)
- Hotel City View at 60myr per standard room but dont expect a very quiet or a clean room without a few 'pets'. The hotel is in the town centre and the associated Hawaii Restaurant has a huge choice of excellent meals for 5 myr, popular with locals.
- Hotel London, Lot D1-D2,Block 10, Jalan Empat (Next to Masjid Jamek Mosque), ☎ +6089-216366,216371 (email@example.com), . In the heart of the city is a great deal for budget traveler. The room is clean and beautiful as it is newly renovated. Free WiFi. Simple breakfast (toast and instant coffee) is served in the pleasant rooftop garden. Other facilities include tour arrangement, internet access corner and laundry. All rooms are ensuite and have satellite channel (DVD player upon request) and the hotel has a backup generator in case of power outage. 55-75RM (July 2011). edit
- Hotel Seafront, Block 43, Fourth Land, Leila Rd, Sandakan, Tel: +089 222 233, . Located 5 mins walk to the water front. This hotel offers modern, clean and comfortable rooms suitable for the independent traveller wanting something mid-range. Internet is available in the foyer. Bookings can made via the website. Note that the hotel is 4 storeys and there is no lift.From 59 MYR single, 69 MYR double.
- NAK Hotel, in Town Centre; behind HSBC and Standard Chartered banks, Malaysian Airlines office, central market & bus station, Tel: +6 089 272988, . The oldest, purpose-built hotel in Sandakan. Family run since 1966. A mix of history and the contemporary. Recently refurbished. Some rooms are thematically designed, with views of the sea. Others are not. Expect to pay MYR118 plus.
- PAT'S Bed and Breakfast Lodge, Mile 1½ North Road, between bus station and city. Tel: 60 019 5843895 or 60 016 8345488. Manageress: Patricia Pascua. Family home atmosphere, clean dormitory rooms with fan or A/C. RM29 per pax. Comfortable living room and nice balcony. Kitchen for your own use. Laundry service available.
- Harbourside Backpackers, +60 89-217 072. Brand new spotlessly clean hostel in Sandakan's new Harbourfront, close to the McDonalds and entrance to the Harbour Mall. Wifi, free computer with internet, satellite TV/DVD room. An excellent place to book cheap discounted last-minute Kinabatangan Safaris. Dorms RM25, double RM60.
- Sandakan Backpackers. http://www.sandakanbackpackers.com/ Backpacker guesthouse with small dorm rooms at R25 and private rooms starting at R50. Free breakfast, tea and coffee. Laundry runs at an expensive RM15 per kilo. Run by the owner, Zaina, who doubles as a travel agent. On Harbor Square near Gentingmas Mall, near the KFC.
- Sea View Sandakan Budget & Backpackers Hotel, Lot 126, 1st Floor, Harbour Square 14, 90000 Sandakan (Near the harbour opposite the Central Market), ☎ +60-89-221 221 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Clean, quiet and safe. Upon arrival, guests are welcomed with traditional banana fritters and a drink. Fan and air-conditioned rooms. Price includes pancake breakfast. Tour packages for Sepilok Orang-Utans, Kinabatangan River Cruise, Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey and Selingan Turtle Island can be arranged upon request. Motorbike is available. RM 20 onwards. (5.838637,118.120287) edit
- Tai Lee Hotel, it is located in Block A, Bandar Kim Fung, Mile 4, Sandakan, Tel: +089-210220. Room rates start from RM53 to RM75. There are three different room types to choose from. It is a strategic and convenient place located in the middle of Sandakan, where buses and taxis are easily accessible, just in front of this Hotel. It is completed with WIFI, aircon and two channels of Astro (including Astro Sports, and Wah Lai Toi). Besides, there are shoplots including restaurants, pharmacies, supermarkets, etc.
- WinHo Lodge, Off Lebuh Dua, Town centre, Sandakan. Comfortable beds and decent sized rooms for all budgets including dorms. Double rooms, come with A/C, free wifi, ensuite and TV, and start at RM55, possibly cheaper if booked through a hostel site. March 2012
- Swiss-Inn Waterfront Sandakan, HS12, Sandakan Harbour Square, Sandakan, Tel: +089 240 888, Fax: +089 214 888, . Room rates start at RM140++. New hotel, located right on the waterfront esplanade. 138 trendy and compact rooms, all with A/C, free wifi and LCD TV.
- Four Points by Sheraton,  is right on a scenic waterfront pedestrian promenade overlooking the Sulu Sea and a part of the Sandakan Harbour Square development, which offers an indoor marketplace and retail shopping mall within the new Sandakan CBD. Tel +089-244-888. Recently opened (July, 2012), the hotel has 299 comfy guest rooms and suites, most with waterfront views. They offer great facilities like an outdoor pool with a pool bar, a lobby lounge, an all-day dining restaurant, a gym, and a business centre.
- Hotel Hsiang Garden 2 Star Rating Hotel
Centrally located in sandakan. Surrounded with entertainment like cinema and bowling center. Hotel Hsiang Garden offer air-conditioner room and a restaurant. Room is free wifi hotspots and equipped with LCD TV, mini bar. The bathroom also offer with bathtub, bath, shower and toiletries. Room service is Available everyday upon request.
Hotel Hsiang Garden lobby do have a business and tour operator desk. The tour operator company offer the day trip to kinabatangan which is the Pygmy elephant habitat. The tour operator company also offer for extended tour in kinabatangan by appointed Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort as the accommodation provider.
You may book the hotel room by searching in booking.com with the cheapest offer rate in town.
You also may contact for the hotel reception for the location +6089-273122.
Out of town
- Prima B&B Backpackers [www.primabackpackers.blogspot.com]
Outside of the city centre this hostel provides dorm rooms and private rooms. It has a strong wifi signal, hot showers, comformtable beds and provides drinking water, coffee and tea. The reception is open 24 hours They also have a stand-by generator so they won't ever lose power. The owner was increadibly helpful with directions for buses to get to Spilok, the War Memorial, etc. Sandakan central has nothing special in itself to offer and we found the Prima Square area to be much nicer (cleaner) and with many more food options. The staff can help you book tours and can provide pick up and drop off at the long distance bus terminal (small fee applies, which as of July 2016 was 10 MYR). Facebook: Prima Backpackers Contact Phone: +60 89 222280 Address: Block 11, Lot 97, Lorong 1, Bandar Prima Square, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah E-Mail: email@example.com
Tour Groups - there are many outfits offering tours to Sepilok via Sandakan and will take is the other nearby attractions.
Turtle eggs, while illegal, are obtainable at the local wet market at a very cheap rate. Bringing it out, or even buying it, when found by the custom officers or wildlife officers can really ruin your trip as they will press charges again you. Do not try!
Do not get caught with turtle eggs in your luggage as police and customs officials will take a very serious view of this.