Sandakan waterfront. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Sandakan, the old capital of British North Borneo until 1946, is situated on the eastern seaboard of Sabah. A lot of travellers use Sandakan place as a handy stop between Kota Kinabalu and Semporna or the dive sites in the south.

At first glimpse, Sandakan looks like just another big, dusty city. While partly true, Sandakan is also a great gateway to the nearby nature wonders and wildlife centres. You can reach all of them on your own thanks to Sandakan’s good public transportation. They may be “chicken buses” or mini-vans, but at the end of the day they get you to the rainforest and wildlife.

On your trip around Sabah spare few days for Sandakan, enjoy the friendliness of locals, great seafood, fresh fruit from the markets, and a few lazy evenings on the city’s nice waterfront.

Accommodation in Sandakan

Do not be afraid to stick your head into the budget hotels – they are often the same price and nicer than the typical backpacker’s hostels. Especially if you travel in a group of two or more, the rates of the hotel rooms are very competitive; most of the hotels in Sandakan give some much-needed, higher comfort levels after a long time of travelling around Borneo. Free breakfast, Wi-Fi, TV, and towels usually come free of charge in Sandakan hotels.


For cheap and fantastic food, head off to Sandakan’s waterfront. There is a cluster of restaurants with roughly the same menu – all have fresh seafood. For a lunch, try one of the cheap eateries located on the second floor of the Central market (on the far left of the waterfront). The Central Market is also a good place to score some amazing fruit, the sellers are very friendly and you can haggle the prices down quite easily.

The cheapest – and best – seafood and beer are served in Harbour Bistro Café on the very far right of the waterfront.

Finding addresses in Sandakan

If you book a hotel or hostel online, you may receive an address such as “3rd avenue”. Confusingly, businesses often use English when giving directions, however all street signs are in Bahasa – the local language. “Lebuh” replaces “avenue” and the numbers are:

1 = satu; 2 = dua; 3 = tiga; 4 = emphat; 5 = lima; 6 = enum; 7 = tujuh; 8 = lapan; 9 = sembilan

Sandakan Information

Sandakan’s Tourist Information Centre can be found in the Wisma Warisan building at the junction of Lebuh Tiga and Jalan Utara – just climb the steps up. The helpful staff will provide you with free maps and information about the bus schedules without trying to sell you a tour.

World War II History

Sandakan was the starting point of the tragic Borneo Death Marches which took place during World War II. The Japanese forces were responsible for the deaths of over 6,000 people – mostly Indonesian labourers and Australian servicemen – during the forced march. Today you can visit a World War II monument to the prisoners of war and a cemetery where many of the victims were buried.

Great Places to Visit from Sandakan

  • Rainforest Discovery Centre (trekking and learning about the rainforest)
  • Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (to see endangered orangutans)
  • Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary (to see proboscis monkeys)
  • Gomantong Caves (where nests are collected to make bird’s nest soup)
  • Sukau and the Kinabatangan River (for wildlife river cruises)

Meet the Author:

Alexandra Krajanova comes from Piestany, Slovakia, and has lived in Ireland for the last six years. She has been around the world, but fell in love with Borneo and Southeast Asia.

Alex travels full-time, usually in search of spicy food, white sand, and the next great adventure.