Nature is thriving in Sabah's coastal town of Sandakan


The orang utan roundabout near Sandakan town. — Photos: LIM MAY FANG

My family and I went to Sandakan in Sabah recently. As the plane was about to land at the Sandakan Airport, we could see the river, lush greenery, padi fields, villages and some farm animals. This was in direct contrast with both the Kuala Lumpur International Airports, which have urban and suburban surroundings.

Our trusty tour guide Lukwant Singh welcomed us with a garland of beaded necklace each and helped us load our bags into his 4-Wheel Drive. He drove us to a Muslim restaurant first, as it was still early in the morning and we wanted to have breakfast.

After that we went to the Agnes Keith House which was perched on a hill facing the Sandakan Bay. This house was the home of the famous American author who penned books about North Borneo such as Land Below The Wind and Three Came Home.

The St Michael’s And All Angels Church was next on our list. This was the oldest church in town, built by the British using stones and boulders from the area. It had many windows adorned with colourful stained glass. We bought many souvenirs from the gift shop such as key chains and books.

Next, we visited the Puu Jih Syh Buddhist temple that stood on one of the highest peaks in Sandakan. It seemed like a very quiet and peaceful temple, with pretty interesting architecture.

Agnes Keith House was where the American author and her family once lived.Agnes Keith House was where the American author and her family once lived.

After lunch, we checked into our hotel and visited the best tourist spot for me – the Sandakan Memorial Park. The place had an exhibition showing pictures and information of the Sandakan-Ranau Death March, which happened during the war in 1945. There were also flags of the countries involved in this sad chapter of Sabah’s pre-independence history.

The words “Lest we forget” were inscribed on the doors of the exhibition building to remind visitors of this event, and to honour all those who perished then.

For dinner, we went to a seafood restaurant at the famous Sim Sim Water Village, which was 300m long. The restaurant was colourfully decorated with replicas of marine life. There was also a life-sized fishing boat, which we gleefully took a photo with.

With the view of the sea, we had a sumptuous dinner comprising fresh and tasty fried squid, chilli crab, sambal prawn and rice.

The next day was Sunday, so we took the opportunity to attend the 7.15am mass at St Michael’s.

The St Michael's And All Angels Church is one of the oldest churches in the country.The St Michael's And All Angels Church is one of the oldest churches in the country.

After the service we went to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, which are next to each other. Behind glass windows, we managed to watch the orang utans during one of their feeding times. As for the sun bears, we observed them in their natural habitat from high platforms, and using binoculars.

After lunch, we travelled two-and-a-half hours to the Sukau Rainforest Lodge located on the banks of the Kinabatangan River. We were there for a river cruise in a open-top boat with three European tourists, and a boatman.

During the two-hour cruise, we managed to see numerous animals, including the long-nosed Proboscis monkeys and orang utans. The boatman said he saw a crocodile swimming near but it took a quick dive so the rest of us didn’t see it. We also saw a hornbill and other birds.

On the way back, the sun had already set and it was very dark. Our boat did not have any headlights, but we did carry torchlights with us so we helped to guide the boatman.

The river cruise at Sukau is about two hours long.The river cruise at Sukau is about two hours long.

Unfortunately, the boat was hit underside by some logs but luckily it did not spring any leak!

After 40 minutes, another boat passed us and the boatman handed over a spare headlight to us, so that we could return to the lodge safely.

We had dinner prepared by the cafe at the lodge, and after that drove back to Sandakan using part of the highly-anticipated Pan-Borneo Highway.

On our last day, we visited the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, located about 50 minutes away from the town. We saw a few female monkeys carrying their babies during feeding time. Some of the babies even tried eating the fruits with the adults. We bought two souvenir T-shirts to remember this centre.

Overall, from my observation and chats with the locals in Sandakan, I feel like the place is very much under-developed and do not have enough modern amenities, even though it is the second largest town in Sabah after Kota Kinabalu city.

The writer saw a few monkeys sitting in the trees along Kinabatangan River.The writer saw a few monkeys sitting in the trees along Kinabatangan River.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.


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