Going on a Sandakan trip and want to know all the top things to do in Sandakan Borneo? We have you covered! Below, you will find our guide to all the best Sandakan attraction options to plan your ultimate trip.
Sandakan is the second-largest city in Sabah after Kota Kinabalu. Most famous for its nature, this is ultimately a destination for animal lovers.
Visit the famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center for an up close encounter with beautiful orange-reddish primates, cruise along Kinabatangan River to spot endless wildlife in action, or take a trip to Turtle Island and be part of a sea turtle conservation project.
These are just some of the unique things that can be found in Sandakan. It’s an amazing place that I love.
However, there is more to the region than just nature. Culturally diverse – with over 42 ethnic groups within Sabah – the area is also of interest if you’re enthusiastic for wartime history. The Agnes Keith House showcases the experience of someone having lived through WWII, whilst the marvellous St. Michael’s and All Angels Church were once used to house POWs.
These attractions, along with others, reflect the story of one of the most well-known wartime incidents – the Sandakan Death Marches.
Do note that most of the attractions require some travel time and are slightly out of town. Whilst deciding what to do in Sandakan, Malaysia, ensure you consider this and plan your days accordingly.
Plenty of domestic flights arrive daily into Sandakan from major Malaysian cities, such as Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur. This means Sandakan isn’t just a rewarding place to visit but an easy one.
Below, you will find our things to do Sandakan blog post with everything you need to know about the best places to visit in Sandakan, where to go in Sandakan surrounds as well as the best information about some Sandakan things to do for your ultimate holiday in Sandakan! There is also a handy map of the places of interest in Sandakan.
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17 Top Things To Do In Sandakan Borneo
Here are the best things to do in Sandakan. Read through and select the ones that fit your interests and timeframe.
Get Up Close To Orangutans At Sepilok Sandakan Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
No doubt the most famous attraction in Sandakan, tourists travel to Borneo from all over the world with the main purpose of visiting the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Orphaned and injured orangutans are brought here for medical treatment and care, before being released back into the wild. The centre is built within a reserve and lucky visitors can often observe released orangutans in their natural habitat.
Your visit to the centre starts with a video introduction which shares some important and interesting facts about the loveable orangutans, how the organisation works and what to look out for during your time there.
There are also some exhibits next to here which open before the park does. If you are here a few minutes early, definitely pop into the exhibit then be ready for the first film showing at 9am.
Next up, it’s the feeding platform. Fruits, such as bananas, papayas, mangoes, and jackfruits, and sugar cane are on offer for the hungry orangutans, who swing in from the jungle for a feast. This mimics the diet they would have in the wild.
This feeding is carefully regulated to ensure that the orangutans do not become dependent on humans for food. Orangutans at the center are encouraged to forage for food in the surrounding forest, and their feeding is gradually reduced as they become more self-sufficient.
Keep an eye out at the feeding session, and you might even see orangutans playing right next to your boardwalk, or grabbing for the fruits in front of your viewing platform. A highlight of any trip to Sandakan, it’s an amazing experience to observe these magnificent creatures at such close distance.
Feeding times last 30-50 minutes and your entry ticket covers both sessions in the same day.
When I visited the first time, one sat right in the middle of everyone as per the photo above. The second time, unfortunately, there was only one orangutan that soon got scared off by a group of macaque monkeys.
Feeding sessions are obviously popular with the morning sessions being most popular with tour groups so visit in the afternoon if you can. Arriving twenty minutes early can help you get a good spot. It’s also not guaranteed that you’ll see orangutans. In fruiting season (June to August), in particular, they may not come. Usually, you will see at least a couple of orangutans though.
After the feeding, head over to the outdoor nursery where you can see juvenile orangutans in the last stages of rehabilitation. This is great fun, as staff carry out different types of training to prepare these youngsters for release, ensuring they can thrive in the wild. I could spend hours watching them here.
Opening hours are 9am-12pm, 2-4pm – but the ticketing counter is open 9-11am and 2-3:30pm. Entry tickets are RM30/15 for foreigners, and there is also a camera fee of RM10. At the time of updating this article, feeding times were 10am and 3pm.
Address: Sabah Wildlife Department, W.D.T. 200, Sandakan, Jalan Sepilok, Sepilok, 90000 Sandakan
See The Bears At The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center
Located adjacent to the Sepilok Orangutan Centre, the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center is globally the only one focused on these small bears. Native to South-East Asia, the cute Malaysian Sun Bear is the smallest among the bear family and is classified as a vulnerable species.
The Sun Bear Conservation Centre rescues, treats & equips sun bears with the necessary surviving skills before releasing them into the reserve.
When you visit, you’ll find a large forest enclosure which is safe for the sun bears with elevated walkways and platforms from which you can view the sun bears below. You can see the sun bears climbing up and down on trees, digging termites for food or just lazing around, all in their most natural demeanour.
The Centre is relatively small; thus it’s best to combine the visit with the Sepilok Orangutan Center, making for a fun and educational day out at two of the most meaningful places to visit in Sandakan, Sabah.
When I visited, I was able to see four different sun bears doing various things including one high up in a tree! It was amazing.
Opening hours are currently 9am to 3:30pm daily with the entry cost being RM50/25 for foreigners (kids prices are for 2 – 17 year olds) and RM10/5 for Malaysians.
Address: PPM 219, Elopura, 90000 Sandakan
Pay Respects To The Fallen Heroes Of WW2 At Sandakan Memorial Park
The former site of a prisoner of war camp, Sandakan Memorial Park commemorates the brave souls who fought during WWII and is dedicated to the 2,400 Australian and British soldiers who died during the notorious event of the Sandakan Death Marches.
The park is tranquil, well maintained and a wonderful spot for a quiet afternoon. Nicely shaded, you can stroll around and read through all the displays detailing the Sandakan Death Marches and the city’s war history.
There is also a free app, “Sandakan Memorial Park”, that is loaded with comprehensive information of each display, and has some written interviews from one of the last standing survivors – Russ Ewin – where he talks in detail about his heroic days in Sandakan.
The memorial park serves as a grievous reminder of the atrocity of war and a chance for people to pay their respects to fallen heroes.
Address: Mile 8, Jalan Labuk, Taman Rimba, 90702 Sandakan
Take In Some History At The House of Agnes Keith
If you’re a history fan, you will find The House of Agnes Keith to be the best place in Sandakan to visit.
Agnes Keith was an American writer who wrote three autobiographies outlining her time spent before, during and after WWII in North Borneo, mostly based in Sandakan. In one of her most noted books, she details her experiences of being captured and imprisoned at a Japanese war camp.
The house itself was restored in 2004 and turned into a heritage museum. Inside, you will find various antiques and colonial furniture, as well as a gallery of photos of Agnes’ adventures, her books and family.
Address: 296, Jalan Utara, 90000 Sandakan
Have Lunch At The English Tea House And Restaurant
Dining at The English Tea House And Restaurant is a great way to compliment your journey into the past after visiting the House of Agnes Keith, which shares the same grounds. This colonial-styled restaurant sits in a beautifully lush garden which overlooks Sandakan Bay, offering breathtaking views.
Taking a break from local food, dine on English cuisine and enjoy an icy-cold cocktail to chase away the heat of the day. There are no better places to go in Sandakan than the English Tea House for a chilling afternoon!
Address: 2002, Jalan Istana, 90000 Sandakan
Stop By Sandakan Fountain
Sandakan Fountain is aesthetically quite ordinary and many tourists walk past, unaware of its significance. However, it is an extremely important monument, especially in the heart of local people.
Also known as Malaysia Fountain, it commemorates the day in September 1963 when the last Governor of British North Borneo left Sabah, thus bringing about independence – a fundamental part of Sandakan’s history.
Address: Wisma Harrisons, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan
Go On A Sandakan Nature City Half Day Tour
There are great attractions in the surroundings of Sandakan, but perhaps you are wondering what to do in Sandakan Town itself? We recommend joining a half-day tour and learning about the remarkable history of the city and delving into its cultural sites.
The tour will take you to Sandakan Memorial Park, which is adjacent to the original site of a POW camp, commemorating the Australian & British soldiers who lived and died in the camp during the war.
Move on to Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple, the largest Chinese temple in the city, and St Michael’s Church, an elegant centuries-old stone structure.
Your guide will relate interesting stories at each location and lead you to local markets for produce and seafood, helping you to barter some good deals!
All in all, this half day tour provides you with a deep understanding of the history of the town and the city’s cultural diversity.
Visit The Puu Jih Syh Temple
A grand looking Buddhist Temple situated at the hilltop overlooking Sandakan Bay, Puu Jih Syh Temple is a relatively modern structure built recently in 1987. Yet the carved details on the pillars and statues are equal to other great ancient temples found in the region.
Open to the public, you are free to roam around and take photographs. There is grand architecture, countless colourful lanterns and lush gardens that open to an endless sea view. This is a perfect spot for your daily insta post!
Address: Hilltop of Tanah Merha, 90000 Sandakan
Visit Sam Sing Kung Temple
In contrast to the Puu Jih Syh Temple, Sam Sing Kung Temple (also known locally as the Three Saints Temple) is a small, non-flashy place of worship with a wealth of history. It is part of Sandakan’s heritage trail and was built in 1887, making it one of the oldest temples in the city.
The three saints worshipped at the temple are the saint of righteousness, the goddess of the sea and the god of culture and literature, revealing the cultural beliefs of the local Chinese community.
Address: Singapore Road, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan
Visit St. Michael’s & All Angels Church
Amongst all the interesting places in Sandakan, Sabah, not only is St. Michael’s & All Angels Church the oldest stone building in the region, but it also displays stunning historical architecture.
Taking 13 years to complete, the Church opened in 1903. However, bombed and burned during WWII, a major restoration was completed in the 1950s. Before the bombing, the Japanese army took the church for military use and transient stays for POWs. Today, you’ll find magnificent stained-glass windows in the church, installed as an appreciation by the family members of POWs to the local community for their support during wartime.
The Church is a place full of stories, and a must-stop for anyone interested in wartime history.
Address: 51, Jalan Puncak, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan
Shop In Sandakan
In truth, there isn’t much shopping to do in Sandakan, yet at Harbour Mall shopping centre you will find some international chain restaurants such as McDonald’s. You can also find health and beauty retailers to purchase any daily necessities that might need replenishing.
Address: Harbour Square, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan
For a more intriguing shopping experience, head to Sandakan Central Market and try out the fresh local produce. You’ll be surprised at just how many you’ve never seen or tasted before!
Address: Jalan Pryer, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan
Do The Night Walk At Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC)
The Rainforest Discovery Centre at Sepilok is close to both the Orangutan and Sun Bear Centres and is equally as impressive. A 25-metre tall steel canopy walkway takes you high into the rainforest, allowing you to spot exotic birds and animals, whilst enjoying incredible panoramic views.
It seemingly goes on and on, and I very much enjoyed walking along this walkway, every tree seeming impossibly taller than the last. There are also a few lookouts on top of this walkway where you can walk up stairs to be even higher. Birdwatchers love to camp up these.
The local Sabah region is home to some of the rarest flora and fauna species. Whilst they are hard to spot within the natural jungles, you can easily find all at the Plant Discovery Garden within the Rainforest Discovery Centre.
There’s also an information centre with exhibits on the local rainforest, and you can learn a lot as you walk around as well. There are many information boards dotted along the canopy walkway as well as the hiking trails. You also won’t want to miss the suspension bridge over the lake either. Everywhere is just so beautiful!
There are also other trails you can take to soak everything in for as long as you want.
However, the most intriguing activity on this site is the Night Walk. This guided tour starts at 6pm, with the evening being the only time you can spot animals such as flying squirrels, mouse deers, slow loris, vipers and more.
Unquestionably one of the best things to do in Sandakan at night, be sure to include this in your schedule!
The opening hours are 8am to 5pm as well as some evenings for the night walk. The entry price is RM20/10 for foreigners and RM7/3 for Malaysians. It’s a suprisingly awesome place to visit so make sure it’s in your itinerary!
Address: Jalan Fabia, Sepilok, 90715 Sandakan
See The Monkeys At Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
Thanks to its long bulbous nose, you can’t mix up a proboscis monkey with any other primate. These funny looking creatures can only naturally be found on the island of Borneo.
Preferring to live near large rivers or freshwater streams, Sandakan’s mixture of mangroves and lowland forests make the region a natural thriving ground for these loud monkeys.
Drop by the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, about an hour from Sandakan, for an up close experience. Here you’ll find two feeding platforms – set almost a kilometre apart. There are four feeding times a day which is the best time to visit. You can usually spot over a dozen or more monkeys easily. I saw dozens when I visited. It was truly amazing.
This sanctuary is a private reserve that was created by a local palm plantation owner. Unfortunately, the reason the monkeys are easy to see is a sad reason – surrounding this reserve are seemingly never ending palm plantations which have destroyed much of the monkeys’ habitat.
This reserve is not big enough to provide enough food naturally for all the monkeys that live here so they do rely on these feeding sessions to live.
There are wooden boardwalks for visitors to get you to the feeding platforms. Look out for the proboscis monkeys as you walk around as well as silver-leaf monkeys, oriental pied hornbills and other wildlife.
I was amazed when I walked along these boardwalks how many monkeys appeared right in front of me, not the slightest bit bothered by me.
It’s definitely one of the most interesting places in Sandakan to visit and one that should be on your list. It’s one of my favourite spots in Sabah, and I highly recommend it.
Opening hours are 8:30am to 5:30pm daily with entry tickets costing RM60/30 for foreigners and RM15/5 for Malaysians. Child tickets are for kids under 12.
Address: Off Jalan Labuk, 90000 Sandakan
Explore Gomantong Caves
If bats and crawlies do not repel you, check out the Gomantong Caves. You might have seen these on television, as this natural limestone cave system is renowned for its massive chambers that is home to 2 million bats, along with an uncountable number of crawlies such as cockroaches, centipedes and cave crabs!
Take a stroll along the one-way boardwalk loop, built for visitors to manoeuvre around the cave easily. And, don’t forget a pair of really good shoes and a strong stomach for the poor smell!
If you visit around sunset on a non-rainy day, you might also encounter a large colony of bats flying out of the cave. One of the most iconic sights of Sandakan, this is very dramatic! Making the Gomantong Caves, out of all the Sandakan places of interest, surely one of the most unforgettable.
The Gomantong Caves are about two hours drive from Sandakan and best visited on a tour. Tours that come here usually visit the Kinabatangan River (coming up next!) as well. Here’s a great tour option where you can see both.
Address: 8, Lebuh Dua, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan
Take An Amazing River Cruise At Kinabatangan River
Another natural gem around Sandakan, the 560 kilometre Kinabatangan River is the second-longest river in Malaysia. Thriving mangrove swamps provide a unique and fantastic ecosystem where a large population of wildlife can be observed.
Many consider Kinabatangan River to be the most incredible Sandakan place to visit due to the large variety of animal species viewable along its banks.
While you cruise along the calm river, watch out for crocodiles, pygmy elephants and many different species of primates including orangutans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, gibbons, etc. Birdlife is equally rich, with exotic birds such as kingfishers, hornbills, storks and hawk-eagles.
For an even more extraordinary experience, take a night safari cruise, where your guide will help to identify nocturnal species hidden in the forest.
The Kinabatangan river cruises are a couple of hours drive from Sandakan and are best visited on an overnight tour, although day tours are also possible if you are short on time. Staying overnight (or longer) is best so you can take multiple cruises at different times of day when different wildlife is visible.
It’s really a unique and amazing experience and one of my favourite things to do around Sandakan. I loved it.
See The Turtles Of Turtle Island
For all marine-life enthusiasts, there is no better Sandakan place to visit to view sea turtles than Turtle Island. Located in the Sabah National Park, three islands in the Sulu Sea together form a sea turtle conservation project. However, only Selingan Island (Turtle Island) is open to visitors.
If you’re lucky, you will see green and/or hawksbill turtles here that use the island for nesting. You can watch a female turtle lay eggs, observe them being transplanted into the hatchery and then the release of newly hatched baby turtles into the sea.
Access to the island is limited, and you can only visit on a one night tour. It takes a little over an hour by boat from mainland Borneo, to reach here.
On arrival, you will find basic air-conditioned accommodation for your overnight stay. You are free to roam the island, relax at the beautiful white-sand beach or snorkel in crystal clear waters. It’s a lovely day.
Once dusk arrives, the fun starts, as the sea turtles come only in the night and the turtle related activities commence. As soon as the first female is spotted coming ashore to lay her eggs, it’s time to race over to watch.
With only 40 visitors allowed on the island each day, remember to book ahead of time if you decide to join this incredible journey.
Address: Selingan Island, Turtle Islands, Sabah National Park
Check Out Buli Sim Sim Water Village
Want to take a closer look at Malaysian food culture? The best place to visit in Sandakan for this is the Buli Sim Sim Water Village. Here, you’ll find a maze of Malay houses built on stilts over the water, connected by numerous bridges that divide the houses into various zones, each filled with eateries and shops.
On offer, you’ll find local delicacies such as spring noodles and century egg dumplings – perfect for an afternoon tea break – to full-on seafood feasts, prepared with locally caught fresh tiger prawns, snappers, giant oysters, clams and more.
Swamped with food options, this is a place you might want to visit more than once during your stay. Incredible foods, great sea views and a nice breeze – heavenly!
Address: No.7, Jalan Sim Sim, 90000 Sandakan
What To Do In Sandakan Map
Best Place To Stay In Sandakan
Sandakan is a fairly small town and accommodation options are not too wide. Unlike Kota Kinabalu, international 5-star properties are non-existent.
Nonetheless, we have handpicked a few options, suitable for all budgets, so you can easily select the one most suitable for your stay.
BEST – Sabah Hotel Review
A dream location for nature lovers, Sabah Hotel is located at a hilltop surrounded by rainforest. An eco-friendly hotel, only 1.5 kilometres from the Sandakan city centre, there are plenty of recreational facilities available.
When not taking in the local tours and activities, enjoy a game of tennis or squash, or a workout at their sizable gym. For youngsters, there’s a children’s playground, nature trail and even a karaoke room. You won’t want to miss the pool with slide.
Sabah Hotel offers two in-house restaurants: one for local and international cuisine, and another specialised in Cantonese.
There are various room types, suitable for solo travellers or couples, and also a triple occupancy room that is an excellent choice for families or small groups. Rooms are a little dated but the property is well maintained, clean and comfortable.
MID-RANGE- D North Star Hotel & Spa Review
Located in a neighbourhood eight kilometres outside of Sandakan town, the D North Star Hotel is conveniently found in an area surrounded by many restaurants, banks, convenience stores and pharmacies.
A standout in the area, the hotel offers day spa service, with sauna and steam room facilities. This is definitely something that comes in really handy after days of exciting nature exploration trips around Sandakan!
All room types are adequately equipped with ensuite bathrooms and are air conditioned. Family rooms are also available, configured with one single and one double bed.
And in-house restaurant – the D North Star Bistro – serves a wide variety of food and also has a bar if you fancy an ice-cold beer!
Rooms and facilities are midrange but so is the price tag. It’s a great place to stay.
BUDGET – One Avenue Hotel Review
One Avenue Hotel is about ten kilometres from Sandakan city centre. Travellers find it to be a favourable location as it’s surrounded by many restaurants, and has ample parking spaces for those travelling with their own car.
At an extremely friendly price point, One Avenue Hotel offers everything you need in a hotel room. Rooms come in standard single, double and family-room options which are all air-conditioned and mostly with ensuite bathroom.
A 24-hours check-in desk is also available. It’s a great standard at this price point.
How To Get To Sandakan
It’s easy to get to Sandakan by bus, plane, ferry or car. If you have your own car, great! You are good to go.
Otherwise, if you need to take a bus, click here for the latest timetables and bus prices.
If you’d prefer a ferry, click here to see the latest ferry timetables.
To see all the latest flights and prices, click here.
You can also hire a car to get you there by clicking here.
Sandakan With Kids
A stay at Sandakan is similar to dropping into a live National Geographic program: nature is everywhere!
For any age group, but perhaps especially children, seeing the marvellous animals up close, and learning from the volunteers and park rangers how best to help and protect the many endangered species or how to conserve the rainforest, are all valuable and memorable lifelong lessons.
Sandakan might not have a perfect 5-star resort but the majority of accommodation options are modern, clean and safe, and little time is spent around the hotel at this adventure filled destination! There are also plenty of hotels with pools and other facilities that kids love.
As you will likely travel through jungles and along rivers, remember to pack well. Include essentials such as trekking shoes, mosquito repellent, sunscreen and sun hats for your little ones (and you!).
Sandakan is undoubtedly one of the most amazing places to travel to in Asia. It is the place that takes you right to the heart of nature.
To name just a few, the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Kinabatangan River and Turtle Island all offer such precious and inspiring experiences. Alongside the impressive (and often sad) wartime history of Sandakan Town, you will undoubtedly learn so much from your journey to Sandakan.
It’s hard to find so much you can do that’s so amazing and so easy to access. This is why I love coming to Sandakan, and I think you will too!
I hope you found this guide on things to do in Sandakan helpful. You can read our guide on getting to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu here, our full guide to the best hotels in Sandakan here, all the top Sandakan tours here or our full guide to Sepilok here.
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