Sandakan, is in Sabah, Borneo. It is the gateway to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary.


Sandakan was the former capital of British North Borneo until 1946. The town prospered in the early days due to its port with visiting traders from about the world. Sandakan is an important town to Australian and British WWII history with the infamous Death Marches commencing here in 1945. After WWII the capital moved to Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu).

"Sandakan" is derived from the Suluk word "sanda", meaning to pawn, and "kan" being the suffix. So "Sandakan" means the place that was pawned. Who pawned it, and to whom, remains a mystery.

Get in

Timber ships at Bandar Leila (left), Kampung Lai Fu Kim (middle), Leila Complex (right) and abandoned Happy Cinema (at the very right side, partly covered by trees), seen from Puu Jih Shih Temple

The most practical way for the short term visitor to get into Sandakan is by air. Self-drive, tour group or public bus are the other options.

By plane

Sandakan Airport (IATA: SDK) is connected directly daily with Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu by AirAsia, and to Kota Kinabalu by Malaysia Airlines and its subsidiary MASWings (which took over the rural air service from FlyAsian Express (FAX) on 1 October 2007). MASWings also has connecting flights with Tawau and Kudat.

By bus

From Kota Kinabalu:

KK city to KK North Bus Terminal in Inanam. By public bus, go to the bus station on Jalan Padang across from the State Library (1.50 MYR, 20 min), or by taxi (~20 MYR).

You arrive in Sandakan at the express bus terminal on Jalan Utara. This is still approximately 15 minutes from downtown, and a taxi ride to downtown should cost RM 15.

To Semporna: Buses leave from the express bus terminal on Jalan Utara for Semporna at 730am, 8AM, and 2PM.

By boat

Weesam Express runs 2 ferry per week between Sandakan and Zamboanga, Mindanao (Philippines). See [] for booking and schedule. It's a 13h/P2600 ride. Aleson Lines also runs ferries on the same way twice weekly but it's longer and more expensive.

Get around

Taxi - travel by taxi out to places such as Sepilok or the War Memorial is easy, however fare negotiation will be required as meters are not commonly available. Taxi to Sepilok wait and return 40myr. Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary 180myr. Airport from downtown 28myr. [Feb 2010]

Bus - there are buses and vans going everywhere in the areas around Sandakan, to the airport, Sepilok, Buli Sim Sim etc.

By foot - Sandakan is only a small town and it is easy to walk around. There is a walking trail which covers all the main sites.


Sandakan has always been a predominantly Chinese city. Unlike most other parts of Sabah, the main Chinese dialect in use among Sandakan's Chinese is Cantonese. However, the most widely spoken Chinese dialect in Sabah, Hakka, is also widely spoken and understood, as is Mandarin. Among locals, the lingua franca is Bahasa Malaysia (Malay). Most residents are able to understand and speak at least basic English. Other races, such as the Bajau and Suluk, may be able to speak their own native languages but generally these native tongues are not in common use as a lingua franca within the community.


In town

Further afield



Fancy "Salted Fish"? Prawn crackers & dried shrimps are tasty and available at the local market.

Dried "Ikan Bilis" is also a locally produced product available at most shops and even at the Airport; available to bring back as gifts.


Sandakan has good and fresh seafood.

Also, don't forget the steamboat at the Trig Hill; it's very tasty and the seafood is very big. The price is also very reasonable.

About seven kilometres outside of town in a few shoplots, there are a number of entirely or partially Chinese vegetarian restaurants serving mock meat dishes. It's a good place to stop on your way back from the Memorial Park.


A great place to spend your evening in Sandakan is the alfresco, BaLin roofgarden on the 8th floor of NAK hotel in town. With panoramic views of the coastline and the entire stretch of town, its one of the best places to catch the Sandakan sunset and festive firework displays. Tropically designed, it has a mixed assortment of seating and chill-out corners; making the Sandakan-night sky your personal kaleidoscope. An innovative dining experience to follow. Try down along the waterfront as this area is being developed with new places opening all the time.


Go next

Tour Groups - there are many outfits offering tours to Sepilok via Sandakan and will take is the other nearby attractions.

Turtle eggs, while illegal, are obtainable at the local wet market at a very cheap rate. Bringing it out, or even buying it, when found by the custom officers or wildlife officers can really ruin your trip as they will press charges again you. Do not try! Do not get caught with turtle eggs in your luggage as police and customs officials will take a very serious view of this.

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