Sandakan is an unusual little city, with an unusual history. Once a hub for far-flung traders and merchants, the city was burnt to the ground during World War II. Nowadays it’s the palm oil trade that drives Sandakan’s economy and so, around the religious relics and impressive colonial mansions that do still remain, its indomitable spirit of reinvention means there’s plenty of new developments popping up all the time, with an entirely new city centre currently under construction. And, with the Sepilok Forest Reserve nearby, Sandakan is also the ideal place to stay if you want to see orangutans in the wild.
Areas & Neighborhoods in Sandakan
Sandakan Memorial Park — This sombre memorial park provides a setting to learn and reflect upon the terrible events of the Second World War and, in particular, the events that took place here in the Japanese POW camp just outside Sandakan. Once home to 1800 Australian and 600 British troops - of which only six survived - the site is now home to a beautiful orchard and gardens that symbolise hope and regrowth, and a small museum that ensures that what took place here is never forgotten.
Kampong Buli Sim Sim — Hard as it may be to believe, this curious stilt village is in fact the original seed from which today’s modern Sandakan grew. Located just three miles outside of the city proper, Kampong Buli Sim Sim is a wonderful example of traditional rural river life.
Chinese Cemetery — The Chinese Cemetery in Sandokan is a great place to visit for anyone that appreciates the eternal tension between man and nature and the passage time. The further you explore this vast plot, the more you’ll discover the jungle starting to reclaim it, with many older graves almost lost to the wild. You’ll also find many grand mausoleums and tombs where those born into Sandakan’s Chinese nobility now rest.
Sepilok Forest Reserve — The natural habitat for perhaps the greatest of all the apes, the orangutan, this forest area is where you’ll also find The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. An absolute must for nature lovers, the centre is the world’s premier location for seeing rehabilitated and wild orangutans.
Things to See in Sandakan
As well as being a great place to stay if you’re planning to explore further afield, Sandakan also offers sights of its own. Literature fans will want to see the Agnes Keith House and Museum, a beautifully restored residence and former home of author Agnes Newton Keith. Meanwhile St Michael and All Angels Church is the only building in Sandakan to have survived the war, and a testament to the town’s spirit of resilience. And for those looking to take it all in, head up to Puu Gih Jih, the Chinese temple situated on a hilltop behind the town that affords spectacular views out over Labuk Bay.
Things to Do in Sandakan
Sandakan is a great base for exploring further afield. So, as well as heading out to the jungles of the Sepilok Forest Reserve, you could also take to the waters and visit the Sandakan archipelago for some exceptional turtle-watching. Alternatively you could take a trip to Labuk Bay where you’ll get to observe proboscis monkeys in their natural habitat from wooden platforms built through the jungle.