Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Center

Best Places to Visit in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

I thought it would great to share some favorite places I’ve visited in Sabah if you’re planning a Malaysia-only vacation. Please note that there might be changes to opening hours or other visitor’s information due to COVID-19. 

Exactly a year ago, I went on my final work trip with Malaysia Tourism Board to Sabah. It felt like the perfect opportunity to end that chapter in my life. (Little did I know what a year ahead I had.) Also, I had realized I never really explored other parts of Malaysia except for the neighboring Johor Bahru, my family’s hometown of Melaka/Malacca, and my favourite city of delicious halal food, Kuala Lumpur. I had never heard of Sandakan, let alone Lahad Datu. But I was pleasantly surprised by what these places had to offer. 

Sandakan

Though not as popular as other cities in Sabah, Sandakan is actually full of charming heritage sites and diverse wildlife. Sandakan was once the capital of Sabah but was left devastated by the world war. Only four buildings stood amongst all that rubble after that. Over the years, Sandakan has recently been rebuilt to its former glory. 

I was intrigued by its somewhat rundown buildings and old-town charm. But there are plenty of things to do here! Sandakan promises its visitors a taste of wildlife, history, culture, and of course, tantalizing food. You’ll be surprised by the adventure that awaits you. 

Wildlife

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is where orangutans are rehabilitated before being released at Tabin Wildlife Reserve. This center is connected by wooden boardwalks through lush forests. There’s also a separate exhibition and theatre where visitors can learn more about the orangutan.

You can learn more about these precious animals at the educational center. I found it best to spot the orangutans from the outdoor nursery, where visitors can sit in an air-conditioned room while watching orangutans swinging on ropes and playing with each other. Over 60 – 80 orangutans are living within this reserve. 

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Plan your visit around the orangutan feeding time at 10 am! Also, you do have to purchase a separate ticket if you’re planning to bring along your DSLR into the center. Please take note that these animals can roam freely, so it is important for visitors to not touch the orangutans when near. 

Address: Sabah Wildlife Department, W.D.T. 200, Sandakan, Jalan Sepilok, Sepilok, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

Opening hours: Daily, 9am – 11am & 2pm – 3pm

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Just across the street from Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. This much newer conservation center was founded by 2017’s CNN Hero, Dr. Wong Siew Te. Not only is he a wildlife biologist, but he has dedicated his life to saving and protecting Bornean Sun Bears from poachers. Sadly, sun bears are victims of illegal poaching as their organs are used for Chinese medicine. Many of the sun bears here were rescued from local villages. 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Visitors can explore the grounds via the elevated platform and attempt to spot the bears below. You will be at a perfect vantage point to snap photos of these furry animals! You can take your time to read the many informational boards to learn more about the Bornean Sun Bears. By chance, you might also spot some randomly placed telescopes around. These are placed by the local volunteers to highlight the unique insects that live in the forests in Sandakan. 

Address: Sabah Wildlife Department, W.D.T. 200, Sandakan, Jalan Sepilok, Sepilok, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

Opening hours: Daily, 9am – 11am & 2pm – 3pm

Rainforest Discovery Center

Rainforest Discovery Center


The Rainforest Discovery Centre is an environmental education center where anyone can learn about the diverse wildlife and go bird watching in Sandakan. The 347-meter canopy walkway will give you a birds-eye view of the lush forest. You may even spot one of the 300 species of birds found here. For a different kind of experience, be sure to join their Night Walk every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6 pm!

Rainforest Discovery Center

A visit to the Rainforest Discovery Center will be unique to its season of the year. There are many ongoing festivals or activities where visitors can participate in to make your visit a more fruitful one. 

Address: 90715 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

Opening hours: Daily, 8 am – 5 pm

Culture/History

Sandakan Heritage Trail

Puh Ji Shih Temple Agnes Keith’s House

The Sandakan Heritage Trail consists of various local cultural and historical attractions scattered around the city. You will spot many billboards located along the trail with marked numbers so that you can plan your route. It’ll take you 1 – 1 ½ hour to complete the whole trail on foot, excluding visits into each attraction.

The Sandakan Heritage Trail starts with the oldest mosque in Sandakan, Masjid Jamik, and covers places like the William B. Pryer Monument, Stairs with a 100 Steps before ending at the Sandakan Heritage Museum. Some of the highlights of the trail that I personally visited are the Puh Ji Shih Temple, St. Michael’s and All Angels Church, Agnes Keith’s House, and the Sandakan Heritage Museum. 

Sandakan Heritage Museum

The museum was a standout (in a weird way) since it housed a popular gallery of Osa and Martin Johnson who were American explorers, best known for being the first to film the Kinabatangan River and introduced the Western world to Bornean culture. It just seemed a little odd to have an exhibition dedicated to Caucasians who basically exploited the local Bornean people and made money out of them. But that’s a story for another time. 

Sandakan Memorial Park

Sandakan Memorial Park

You’ll be able to spot the many WWII relics around the Sandakan Memorial Park due to its historical significance. This was actually where Prisoners of War were transported to from Singapore. Today, this park stands on the former grounds of Sandakan camp and is dedicated to all the lives lost during the Sandakan Death Marches. 

Since it is a public park, don’t be surprised by some locals taking a quiet afternoon stroll or even exercising. 

Address: Mile 8, Jalan Labuk, Taman Rimba, 90702 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

Opening hours: Daily, 8 am – 6 pm

Food

Restoran Pasir Putih (Pasir Putih Restaurant)

Pasir Putih Restaurant

Located at Sandakan’s Pasir Putih beach, this Muslim-friendly restaurant boasts a myriad of delicious dishes. They are known for their incredibly fresh seafood and Chinese-style menu. The food doesn’t usually feature any fanciful spices or sauces. It’s typically seasoned with salt, pepper before being steamed or grilled to perfection. Not only is it healthier, but the taste of the sea also doesn’t get lost in the dishes! 

Popular dishes include the Grilled Crab, Steamed Grouper/Ikan Kerapu, Steamed Chicken, and the bestselling Lobster Noodles which was a favorite. I actually really enjoyed all the food here because it was just so mind-blowingly simple yet flavorful. 

Address: Mile 2.5, Jalan Batu Sapi, Sandakan, Sabah

Opening hours: Daily, 10am – 11pm

San Da Gen Kopitiam

San Da Gen Kopitiam

I would describe this Chinese vintage cafe as a great spot for brunch or tea time. But be sure to get there quickly or get ready to wait. It’s very popular among both locals and tourists, located in Sandakan’s Old Town.  The moment you enter San Da Gen Kopitiam you will notice the unique decor of old school biscuit tins and even a rickshaw when you enter San Da Gen Kopitiam. 

San Da Gen Kopitiam

Their extensive menu comprises of Asian staples which might make for a more filling meal. For brunch enthusiasts, I recommend ordering their popular Salted Egg French Toast. For those with a sweet tooth, they’re best known for their unique UFO tarts which are biscuits topped with meringue. Be sure to also leave some room for their Custard Puffs, which come in both durian and avocado flavors

Address: Lebuh Dua, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

Opening hours: Daily, 8 am – 5 pm

Balin Rooftop Bistro

Balin Rooftop Bistro

Located right next to San Da Gen Kopitiam is the Balin Rooftop Bistro. It is part of a hotel but you could easily take the elevator up to the rooftop bistro. Not only will you be treated to sweeping views of the Sandakan’s Old Town, but it’s the ideal place to catch a sunset. So, grab a drink and watch as the sky transforms before your eyes. 

Address: Nak Hotel, Jalan Pelabuhan Lama, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

Pasar Tamu

Pasar Tamu

If you happen to be in Sandakan on a Saturday, be sure to head over to Pasar Tamu. You could easily spend an evening here as you browse the rows of stalls selling everything and anything you could imagine. From local street snacks to clothing, you could easily fill your stomach with so much deliciousness. This might also be your chance to try the local delicacies such as the unique Bornean Buah Tarap! Or just grab some popular local snacks like the Kuih Cincin (ring biscuits) as a souvenir to remember this unique city. 

Address: Mile 4, Bandar Kim Fung Open Air Carpark, Sandakan

Shopping

Sandakan Central Market

Sandakan Central Market

There’s no better way to round up your trip to Sandakan. Or test your haggling skills than at Sandakan Central Market. In the heart of the city is this popular market where you can experience Sandakan like a local. 

With rows of vendors selling the famed Ikan Bilis Mata Biru (Blue-eyed Anchovies) and much-loved crackers such as Amplang and Belinjau.(I bought my mother a bag of anchovies to cook and she loves it so much!) If you’re planning on buying tons of stuff here, you could have the vendor pack them in a box and delivered it to your hotel. 

Head to the second floor to find a quaint food court and more stalls selling clothes such as Batik shirts and popular Sabah pearls. Whether its pearl brooches or pearl bracelets, you’ll surely find a beautiful keepsake for yourself here.

Address: Jalan Pryer, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

Opening hours: Daily, 3 am – 6 pm

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