Things to Do in Sandakan

Things to Do in Sandakan

Top 10 Things to Do in Sandakan: Must-See Sights and Activities

Sandakan in Sabah, Malaysia, offers a variety of activities for all kinds of travelers. From wildlife adventures, like the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, to historical sites like the Sandakan Memorial Park, there’s something for everyone. Here are the top things to do in Sandakan.

Key Takeaways

  • Sandakan is a wildlife paradise with highlights like the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, and Kinabatangan River Safari offering unique animal encounters.
  • Historical landmarks such as the Sandakan Memorial Park, St. Michael’s and All Angels Church, and Agnes Keith House provide a deep dive into the town’s rich and resilient history.
  • Sandakan’s cultural experiences, from the seafood delights at Sim Sim Water Village to the peaceful surroundings of Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple, offer a vibrant look into the local way of life.

Discover Sandakan’s Wildlife Wonders

Sandakan is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts. The town is renowned for its incredible biodiversity and offers unique opportunities to see some of the world’s most fascinating creatures in their natural habitats. From the majestic orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to the elusive Bornean pygmy elephants along the Kinabatangan River, Sandakan is a wildlife wonderland waiting to be explored.

You can start your journey by visiting:

  • The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where you can witness the heartwarming rehabilitation of these magnificent apes
  • The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre to learn about the world’s smallest sun bears and the efforts being made to protect them
  • A Kinabatangan River Safari to spot rare species like Proboscis monkeys and Bornean pygmy elephants in their natural environment.

Exploring the pristine rainforests around Sandakan is not just an adventure. It’s an opportunity to connect with nature and understand the importance of conservation. With each step, you’ll find yourself more immersed in the beauty and diversity of Sandakan’s wildlife.

Let’s dive deeper into these incredible experiences.

Visit Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Sandakan. Established in 1964, this centre is one of the best places in the world to see orangutans up close. Operating from 9am to 4pm daily, visitors can witness the daily feeding times at 10:00 and 15:00, which are perfect opportunities to see these incredible primates in action.

The centre is home to around 60 to 80 orangutans that live independently in the Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve. These orangutans have been rescued from captivity or orphaned and are undergoing rehabilitation to be released back into the wild. Visitors can explore the indoor nursery for young or vulnerable orangutans and the outdoor nursery for those that are more independent.

Walking through the nature trails and observation areas, you’ll have the chance to observe young orangutans during their daily feeding times, watch a documentary about the centre’s work, and visit the outdoor nursery. The experience is not only educational but also deeply moving, as you witness the dedication to conserving these magnificent creatures.

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is more than just a tourist attraction; it’s a beacon of hope and a testament to the power of conservation. Visiting the centre is a humbling experience that will leave you with a greater appreciation for the natural world and the efforts being made to protect it.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is just a short walk from the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. It’s a convenient visit for those exploring the area. Established in 2008, this centre aims to improve animal welfare and educate the public about sun bears, the world’s smallest bear species. The centre features an elevated boardwalk that allows visitors to observe these fascinating creatures in their natural forest habitat.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre offers:

  • Natural enclosures for sun bears that closely resemble their wild habitat
  • Information about conservation efforts and the challenges faced by sun bears in the wild
  • A visitor center, observation platform, and educational exhibits to learn more about these unique animals

Seeing the world’s smallest sun bears up close is a unique experience that leaves a lasting impression. The centre’s work in conservation and education is crucial for the survival of this species, and visiting the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about these remarkable animals and the efforts to protect them.

Kinabatangan River Safari

For an unforgettable wildlife adventure, embark on a Kinabatangan River Safari. The Kinabatangan River is one of the best places in Sabah to spot rare and endangered species in their natural habitat. As you cruise along the river, keep an eye out for the quirky Proboscis monkeys with their distinctive noses, as well as the elusive Bornean pygmy elephants, the smallest elephant species in the world.

The Kinabatangan River Safari also offers night cruises, which are a thrilling way to experience the rainforest after dark. During these night cruises, you might spot nocturnal wildlife such as civet cats, flying squirrels, and various insects and amphibians. The sounds and sights of the rainforest at night create a magical atmosphere that is both exhilarating and serene.

The safari provides an immersive experience that allows you to connect with nature on a deeper level. The river’s calm waters and lush surroundings offer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, making it a perfect activity for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Cruising down the Kinabatangan River, you’ll be mesmerized by the rich biodiversity and the stunning natural beauty of the area. Whether you’re watching a family of Proboscis monkeys leaping from tree to tree or spotting a herd of pygmy elephants along the riverbank, the Kinabatangan River Safari is an adventure you won’t soon forget.

Historical Landmarks in Sandakan

Sandakan is not only a haven for wildlife but also a town rich in history. Exploring its historical landmarks offers a glimpse into the past and the events that have shaped this unique destination. From the poignant Sandakan Memorial Park to the architectural beauty of St. Michael’s and All Angels Church, Sandakan’s historical sites are a testament to its resilient spirit and diverse heritage.

Visiting these landmarks provides a deeper understanding of Sandakan’s history and the significant events that have occurred here. Each site tells a story, offering insights into the town’s colonial period, the impact of World War II, and the lives of the people who have called Sandakan home.

Let’s explore some of Sandakan’s most notable historical landmarks.

Sandakan Memorial Park

The Sandakan Memorial Park is a tribute to the Australian and British POWs who suffered during World War II. Situated on the former grounds of a Japanese POW camp, the park commemorates the prisoners who perished during the Sandakan Death Marches. It also acknowledges the suffering and sacrifices of the local population during the war.

The memorial pavilion in the park hosts a permanent exhibition on the POW camp and death marches, with detailed accounts and displays in both English and Malay. The park includes a small museum that provides a comprehensive overview of the events that took place during the war, including the harrowing Sandakan Death Marches.

As you walk through the park, you’ll find a few remains of the original war camp, including rusted machinery and tools from the POW camp. One notable exhibit is an excavator used for constructing an airport, which was sabotaged by Australian POWs, rendering it inoperable. These artifacts serve as powerful reminders of the resilience and bravery of the prisoners.

The Sandakan Memorial Park is divided into six stations connected by a circular route, making it easy to explore. The park’s serene environment provides a space for reflection and remembrance, offering visitors a poignant reminder of the cost of war and the enduring spirit of those who lived through it.

St. Michael’s and All Angels Church

St. Michael’s and All Angels Church is the oldest stone church in Sabah and a significant historical landmark in Sandakan. Constructed over 30 years, from 1893 to 1925, the church is known for its Gothic architectural style and features intricate wood carvings. Despite suffering major damage during World War II, the church has been beautifully restored and continues to serve as a place of worship.

The church’s beautiful stained glass windows, donated by various individuals and organizations, are a highlight for visitors. Each window tells a story, adding to the church’s rich historical and architectural significance. Visiting St. Michael’s and All Angels Church is a step back in time and a chance to witness a piece of Sandakan’s history firsthand.

Agnes Keith House

Step back in time at the Agnes Keith House, a beautifully restored colonial-style bungalow that now serves as a museum. This house offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of American writer Agnes Keith, who penned several books about her experiences in Borneo. The house is filled with historical artifacts and photographs from the colonial era, providing a unique window into Sandakan’s past.

The house itself, with its wooden architecture and period furnishings, transports visitors to the 1930s. As you walk through the rooms, you can almost imagine Agnes Keith writing her famous books, capturing the essence of life in Borneo. The museum also sheds light on the broader colonial history of Sandakan, making it a must-visit for history enthusiasts.

Adjacent to the Agnes Keith House is the English Tea House, where visitors can enjoy a delightful afternoon tea while taking in the scenic views of Sandakan Bay. This charming spot is perfect for a relaxing break and adds to the historical charm of the visit.

Cultural Experiences in Sandakan

Sandakan’s cultural landscape is as diverse and vibrant as its wildlife and history. The town is a melting pot of different ethnicities, including Chinese, Malay, and various indigenous groups, each contributing to its rich cultural tapestry. From bustling markets to serene temples, Sandakan offers a wealth of experiences that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the local culture.

Exploring the cultural side of Sandakan provides a deeper connection to the town and its people. Whether you’re savoring fresh seafood at Sim Sim Water Village, meditating at Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple, or exploring the tranquil Tokong Kun Yam, each experience offers a unique insight into the local way of life.

Let’s delve into some of Sandakan’s most captivating cultural experiences.

Sim Sim Water Village

Sim Sim Water Village is a food lover’s paradise, renowned for its fresh seafood and local dishes. Built on stilts over the water, this village offers a unique dining experience where visitors can savor the freshest seafood caught daily by local fishermen. Popular dishes include steamed fish, prawns, and local specialties like Curry Bean Curd and Prawn Noodles.

In the morning, the village comes alive with noodle stalls serving unique local dishes such as fish ball soup noodles, attracting both locals and tourists. The vibrant atmosphere and delicious food make Sim Sim Water Village a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the local culinary scene.

For those looking to take a piece of Sandakan home, the village also offers preserved dried foodstuffs like raw salted fish and dried anchovies. These make for perfect souvenirs and are a testament to the village’s rich fishing heritage.

Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple

Perched on a hilltop, Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple is a serene sanctuary adorned with gold-painted Buddhas and intricate carvings. The temple offers a peaceful atmosphere for meditation and reflection, making it a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Sandakan town.

From the temple’s observation deck, visitors can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of Sandakan town and the surrounding areas. The combination of the temple’s beautiful architecture and the stunning scenery creates a tranquil and uplifting experience.

The temple is not just a place of worship but also a cultural landmark that reflects the spiritual heritage of Sandakan. A visit to Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple provides a deeper understanding of the local culture and the importance of spirituality in the community.

Tokong Kun Yam

Tokong Kun Yam is a revered temple dedicated to Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Known for its peaceful ambiance and beautifully maintained garden, the temple offers a tranquil retreat for visitors seeking solace and spiritual reflection.

The temple’s serene environment and the reverence of Kuan Yin make it a significant cultural site in Sandakan. Whether you’re exploring the temple grounds or simply enjoying the tranquility, Tokong Kun Yam provides a unique cultural experience that is both calming and enlightening.

Natural Attractions and Outdoor Activities

For nature lovers, Sandakan offers numerous ways to connect with nature and appreciate its beauty. Some of the outdoor activities and natural attractions in the town include:

  • Lush rainforests
  • Pristine waters
  • Diverse wildlife
  • Canopy walkways
  • Turtle sanctuaries

These attractions create an ideal setting for adventure and exploration.

Exploring Sandakan’s natural attractions allows visitors to experience the region’s rich biodiversity and the efforts being made to preserve it. Whether you’re:

  • walking among the treetops at the Rainforest Discovery Centre
  • witnessing turtles laying eggs at Turtle Island Park
  • discovering nocturnal wildlife on a night walk in Sepilok Forest Reserve

Each experience offers a unique perspective on Sandakan’s natural wonders.

Let’s explore some of the best natural attractions and outdoor activities Sandakan has to offer.

Rainforest Discovery Centre

The Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sepilok is a premier destination for nature enthusiasts. The centre features a 620-meter-long canopy walkway, the longest in Sabah, allowing visitors to walk among the treetops and enjoy stunning views of the rainforest. This unique perspective offers a chance to observe the rich biodiversity of the area, including various bird species and plant life.

In addition to the canopy walkway, the centre offers:

  • A plant discovery garden that showcases a variety of native plant species
  • Guided tours that provide educational insights into the unique flora and fauna of the rainforest
  • An exhibition hall with detailed displays about rainforest ecology and conservation

This makes it a great learning experience for visitors of all ages.

The Rainforest Discovery Centre is also known for hosting the annual Borneo Bird Festival, which attracts birdwatchers from around the world. Visitors can often spot the Red Giant flying squirrel emerging from hiding around twilight, adding to the excitement of the visit.

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, a botany enthusiast, or simply looking to explore the wonders of the rainforest, the Rainforest Discovery Centre offers a wealth of experiences that are both educational and exhilarating.

Turtle Island Park

Turtle Island Park is a unique wildlife experience that offers visitors the chance to witness turtle laying eggs and their release to the open sea. Located on Selingaan Island, the park is dedicated to the conservation of these magnificent creatures and provides a rare opportunity to see them up close in their natural habitat.

The park offers the following amenities:

  • Exhibition centre: Open from 9 AM to 4 PM, with a video show available for visitors at 7 PM. This centre provides valuable information about the turtles and the conservation efforts being made to protect them.
  • Overnight accommodations: Visitors can stay overnight on the island, with accommodations operated by Crystal Quest.
  • Restaurant: There is a restaurant on the island operated by Crystal Quest.

Witnessing the turtles lay their eggs and the magical moment of the hatchlings being released into the sea is an unforgettable experience. Turtle Island Park is not only a great place to learn about these incredible creatures but also a testament to the importance of conservation and the efforts being made to protect our natural world.

Night Walks in Sepilok Forest Reserve

For those seeking a bit of adventure, night walks in Sepilok Forest Reserve offer an exciting way to discover nocturnal wildlife and explore the mysteries of the rainforest after dark. Guided night walks allow visitors to experience the unique sounds and atmosphere of the rainforest, providing a thrilling and immersive experience.

During these night walks, you might encounter a variety of nocturnal animals such as:

  • tarsiers
  • slow lorises
  • civet cats
  • flying squirrels
  • various insects
  • amphibians

The thrill of spotting these creatures in their natural habitat adds to the excitement and makes for an unforgettable adventure.

Night walks in Sepilok Forest Reserve are a fantastic way to connect with nature and experience the rainforest in a whole new light. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a curious traveler, this activity offers a unique and exhilarating experience that you won’t want to miss.

Unique Sandakan Experiences

Beyond its well-known attractions, Sandakan offers a variety of unique experiences that provide a deeper connection to the town’s history, culture, and natural beauty. From walking the Sandakan Heritage Trail to exploring the bustling Sandakan Wet Market, these experiences offer a unique insight into the town’s rich heritage and vibrant community.

These lesser-known attractions in Sandakan allow visitors to delve deeper into the town’s character and uncover its hidden gems. Whether you’re exploring historical sites, enjoying fresh local produce, or cruising along the Kinabatangan Oxbow Lake, each experience offers a unique perspective on Sandakan’s charm and beauty. Some of these attractions include:

  • Agnes Keith House
  • Sandakan Memorial Park
  • Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple
  • Central Market
  • Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Let’s uncover some of Sandakan’s most unique experiences.

Sandakan Heritage Trail

The Sandakan Heritage Trail is a self-guided tour that takes visitors through the town’s historical and cultural landmarks. This trail offers an insightful walk through Sandakan’s history, providing a deeper understanding of the town’s past and its transformation over the years. Notable landmarks along the trail include St. Michael’s and All Angels Church, which is a part of this historical journey.

However, it’s worth noting that some parts of the trail suffer from maintenance issues such as unclear signage and overgrown paths. Despite these challenges, the trail remains a valuable resource for those looking to explore Sandakan’s heritage and learn more about its historical significance.

Walking the Sandakan Heritage Trail at your own pace allows you to take in the sights and sounds of the town, providing a unique and personal experience. Each landmark along the trail tells a story, offering insights into Sandakan’s colonial period, its role during World War II, and the lives of the people who have shaped its history.

The Sandakan Heritage Trail is more than just a walk through the town; it’s a journey through time that offers a deeper connection to Sandakan’s rich and diverse heritage.

Sandakan Wet Market

The Sandakan Wet Market, also known as Sandakan Central Market, is a bustling hub where locals and tourists alike can experience the vibrant atmosphere of the town. Opening as early as 3 am, the market is busiest in the morning, with well-organized stalls selling an array of fresh vegetables, fruits, and seafood. Local produce such as tropical fruits and exotic vegetables are abundant, making it a great place to sample the flavors of Sandakan.

On the ground floor, you’ll find an impressive selection of freshly caught seafood, including:

  • fish
  • shellfish
  • sharks
  • crabs
  • rays
  • prawns
  • seashells

The market’s lively atmosphere and the variety of fresh produce make it a must-visit for food enthusiasts looking to spend money on quality ingredients.

The first floor of the market features food stalls offering halal food and various handicrafts, souvenirs, clothing, and household items. This makes the Sandakan Wet Market a great place to pick up unique souvenirs that capture the essence of Sandakan’s culture and heritage.

Kinabatangan Oxbow Lake

Kinabatangan Oxbow Lake, a U-shaped billabong formed from an old river channel, is a prime location for bird watching and wildlife spotting. The lake’s rich biodiversity attracts various bird species, including hornbills and kingfishers, making it a paradise for bird enthusiasts.

Visitors can enjoy boat tours on Kinabatangan Oxbow Lake, which provide an immersive experience of the area’s pristine waters and diverse wildlife. Along the way, you might spot various species such as proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, and crocodiles. The serene environment and the abundance of wildlife make the boat tours a memorable adventure.

The Kinabatangan Oxbow Lake offers a unique and tranquil experience that allows visitors to connect with nature and appreciate the beauty of Sandakan’s natural landscapes. Whether you’re a nature lover or simply looking for a peaceful escape, a visit to Kinabatangan Oxbow Lake is highly recommended.


Sandakan is a destination that truly has it all—breathtaking wildlife, rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning natural landscapes. From the iconic Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to the serene Tokong Kun Yam, each attraction offers a unique experience that leaves a lasting impression. Exploring Sandakan’s diverse offerings allows visitors to connect with the town’s past, present, and future in meaningful ways.

Whether you’re spotting rare wildlife along the Kinabatangan River, walking through historical landmarks, savoring fresh seafood at Sim Sim Water Village, or discovering the secrets of the rainforest, Sandakan promises an adventure that is both enriching and unforgettable. As you plan your visit, remember to take the time to appreciate the beauty and significance of each experience, and let Sandakan’s charm and wonder inspire you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time to visit Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre?

The best time to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is during the feeding times at 10:00 and 15:00, as the center operates daily from 9am to 4pm. Enjoy your visit!

How do I get to Sandakan Memorial Park?

You can reach Sandakan Memorial Park by taking a short drive from Sandakan town.

What can I expect at the Sandakan Wet Market?

You can expect to find a variety of fresh seafood, vegetables, fruits, and unique souvenirs at the Sandakan Wet Market. It’s busiest in the morning and opens at 3 am. Enjoy your visit!

Are there accommodations available at Turtle Island Park?

Yes, there are accommodations available at Turtle Island Park, operated by Crystal Quest.

What wildlife can I see on a Kinabatangan River Safari?

You can spot rare species like Proboscis monkeys, Bornean pygmy elephants, and a variety of nocturnal animals during night cruises on a Kinabatangan River Safari. Enjoy your wildlife adventure!

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