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Your guide to Sandakan
All About Sandakan
From Malaysia’s tallest peak, Mount Kinabalu, to the depths of the Gomantong Caves and the Sulu Sea, Sandakan offers rich natural diversity. The port city is located in the state of Sabah on the northeastern coast of Borneo, the largest island in Southeast Asia. Here, Mount Kinabalu towers over two miles above Kinabalu Park, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site recognized as one of the most critical rainforests in the world.
The city is known for beautiful temples, rare orchids, and its commitment to animal rehabilitation. At the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, you can learn about the species and efforts being made to get them off the endangered list. At Turtle Islands Park, you can see young green and hawksbill turtles that are hatched on the beaches swimming to sea — or you can scuba, swim, or snorkel to spy clownfish and butterflyfish in coral reefs.
At the Sandakan Heritage Museum, grab a map and walk the Sandakan Heritage Trail to learn about the city’s history and explore several sites, including the Sam Sing Kung Temple, a Chinese temple built in 1887 honoring the highest gods of traditional Chinese Taoism, and the Malaysia Fountain commemorating the independence of Sabah in 1963. After working up an appetite, have lunch at the Sandakan Central Market, where eateries serve Malay, Chinese, and Filipino cuisine.
The best time to stay in a vacation rental in Sandakan
Sandakan is hot and humid year-round, with high rainfall possible throughout the year. December is by far the wettest month, and you’ll see the least rain in April, but you should always be prepared with an umbrella, just in case. If you’re hoping to see turtles from a respectful distance, the best time to visit is March to July, when the babies hatch and make their way to the sea, or July to October to see the mothers coming ashore to lay their eggs. In August, the Borneo Rhythms of Rimba Wildlife Festival (ROR) is an outdoor event with music and art at the Rainforest Discovery Centre. At the end of September, you can experience cooking competitions and great food at the Sandakan Festival.
Top things to do in Sandakan
Puu Jih Shih Temple
For a panoramic view of Sandakan and to learn more about the culture of the local Chinese community, you can take a bus 2.5 miles from downtown, then walk up the hill (or take a taxi) past more than a dozen colossal statues of Buddha to the entrance of the Puu Jih Shih Temple. Through the red-roofed, three-arched gateway — notable for its size and classical design of green dragons with cobalt, red, and gold accents — you’ll find a courtyard adorned with pink and gold globe lanterns. From there, you may quietly explore the tranquil gardens and interiors.
Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve
Less than 20 miles west of Sandakan, you can see hundreds of species of birds, animals, and flowers at the Rainforest Discovery Centre from steel walkways 32 yards above. From platforms near feeding stations at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, you may see orphaned baby orangutans that were rescued from logging sites or illegal hunters being nursed to health, trained to survive again in the wild, and released. Likewise, tiny rescued sun bears roam the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, where they are rehabilitated and released into the wild. At each of these conservation centers, direct contact with the animals is strictly prohibited.
Take a cruise down Malaysia’s second-longest river, the 347-mile-long Kinabatangan River. Along the scenic waterway are riparian and mangrove forests, and you might be lucky enough to spot proboscis monkeys, Bornean pygmy elephants, macaque monkeys, crocodiles, or freshwater sharks.