Sandakan Memorial Park Sandakan Sabah Malaysia
By far the most poignant of the sites to visit in Sandakan is the Memorial Park, the site of the Mile 8 POW camp. Being from the United States and a generation or two removed from World War II, I was unaware of the historical importance of Sandakan in relation to the war and deeply moved by what I learned here. The Japanese took hold of Sandakan in 1942 and established a POW camp there with prisoners brought from Singapore, all British and Australian soldiers, in order to build an airstrip. In 1945, after 3 years of life in horrific conditions, the surviving 2,400 POWs were marched by the Japanese to Ranau, 260km away. Those who could not make the journey were shot, and 500 died along the way. The rest perished at the camp in Ranau. Only six prisoners survived to tell the tale, two by escaping during the death march and the other four from the camp at Ranau. Upon exiting the centre, a lovely wooden walkway lead us to the former site of the Big Tree, a huge tree which could be seen from miles around. This tree was in the center of the camp, very near to the guardhouse and the site of the “cage”, an appalling version of solitary confinement. After the war, the tree was cut down and this memorial erected. I highly recommend this as the most important place to see during your visit in Sandakan. It is quite near the city and takes 45 minutes to an hour to stroll the well-kept grounds and read the information provided on plaques along the way.
Sandakan Central Market Malaysia
A trip to Sandakan’s waterfront wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Central Market. This multi-story wet market sells everything you could need including dried fish (tons of it!), clothing, pearls, bags, produce and meats. The highlight is, of course, the fresh seafood. Early in the morning the boats dock, bringing their bounties with them to sell. It's fun just to wander through and check out the day’s catch, which the fisherman are proud and eager to show off. If you want to take some amazingly fresh seafood back home with you, the locals will pack it for you to take on the plane. Reason to Visit: Glimpse local life, grab a bite, and take home the freshest of fresh seafood.
Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) Sepilok Sandakan Sabah Malaysia
Only two kilometers from the Orangutan and Sun Bear Sanctuaries lies Sepilok’s Rainforest Discovery Centre, a place where one can walk beautiful trails through the forest, bird watch, and maybe even see an orangutan! Our first stop was the Plant Discovery Garden, where our guide talked about some of the amazing flora of the rainforests. I loved the orchids and the pitcher plants and was blown away by some of the biggest ferns I’ve ever seen! It was helpful and fun to have our guide, but for those going it alone, interpretive panels provided plenty of interesting information.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre Sandakan Sabah Malaysia
A mere 20 minutes from the Four Points by Sheraton lies the area of Sepilok, a division of Sandakan which houses several sanctuaries in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. The Orangutan Sanctuary focuses primarily on rehabilitation and releasing orphaned orangutans back into the wild. It is not a zoo, but a place where the orangutans roam freely. As such, it is important to remember these are wild animals, and our tour guide tells us in no uncertain terms to avoid bright clothing, lest the orangutans mistake us for a giant walking banana! Visitors are restricted to the wooden walkways that make a path through the jungle and lead to viewing platforms where we wait to watch the orangutans arrive for the 10 am feeding (there’s also one at 3pm). Seeing the orangutans is not guaranteed, but arriving during feeding time will increase your chances.
Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary (Pusat Pemulihan Orangutan) Sepilok Sandakan Sabah Malaysia
Offers a fascinating insight into the rehabilitation process the Orangutans go through and an opportunity to see them in their habitat feeding.
Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan Sandakan Sabah Malaysia
Situated on the Eastern tip of Malaysian Borneo, Sandakan is quickly gaining a reputation for being the gateway to Borneo’s abundant wildlife. While its neighbor to the west, Kota Kinabalu, may have more notoriety, Sandakan’s tourism board is hard at work raising awareness of the city’s nearby gems, among them historical landmarks, the orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries and the spectacular rainforest experience. (See my upcoming post on Things To See Around Sandakan.) Needless to say, when the opportunity came for me to venture to Borneo, I was thrilled. But as much as I fancy myself the outdoor, backpacking type, in actuality I find great comfort in knowing that after a long day of adventure-seeking, I can retire to a nice hotel room where the wi-fi is fast, the water is hot, the food is good, and I can find some fun without going far. In that order. Especially when traveling with my kids! Sheraton provided all this and then some, a great place to recoup and unwind after a long, hot day in the jungle. It is the only international hotel brand in the city, elevating the hospitality industry in Sandakan, both metaphorically and literally - the hotel stands as the tallest building in the city at 27 floors. Speaking of adventures, the hotel is happy to make arrangements for site-seeing and I’m told can often get better deals than if you go it alone. Make it easy on yourself and just drop them a line, tell them what you want to do, and let them arrange it for you. Happy eco-travels!
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Our group arrives at the viewing platform and immediately we see two sun bears in their large forest enclosures. Before they retreat, we are quick to snap pictures of these adorable bears, the smallest sub-species. This is purely an educational visit for members of the media, and Wong is already talking passionately about the centre and his work. His excitement is contagious, and I can’t imagine these creatures could have a better spokesperson. Watch Wong Te Siew's TedxKL talk on the sun bears here. The sun bears at the centre are kept in varying enclosures based on their rehabilitation level. On his website, Wong writes, “Conservationists are nursing [the centre’s 27 bears] back to health and where necessary, educating in how to be a wild bear. The intention is then to release them into the forest.”