Cruising Through Sandakan: A Four-Day Journey

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By Izz Fitri

Day 1: The Road to Sandakan

Excitement filled the morning as we began our four-day trip from the vibrant Kota Kinabalu city to Sandakan, Sabah. The road stretched ahead, winding through the picturesque landscapes of Borneo. A roughly 7-hour drive awaited, promising adventure, discovery, and the allure of Sandakan.

 

As the kilometres passed, we couldn’t resist the temptation to indulge in a quintessential Bornean delight – the durian. Our first pitstop in the charming town of Ranau offered the perfect opportunity to savour this ‘King of Fruits.’ The creamy, pungent aroma filled the air as I savoured the locally grown durian, a true tropical delicacy.

 

Satisfied and invigorated, we journeyed from Ranau to Telupid, eager for the next adventure on our captivating expedition. The road to Telupid, while scenic, demanded patience as it wound its way through the dense rainforests of Sabah. Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes later, we arrived in Telupid, a charming town nestled amid nature’s splendour.

 

Lunch in Telupid was a culinary adventure of its own. We decided to dine at Restoran Rosalinda Anak Mama, a local eatery renowned for its authentic flavours and warm hospitality. Here, I delved deeper into Sabah’s culinary heritage and indulged the “Nasi Lalap,” but that was just the beginning.

 

While browsing the menu, I couldn’t resist exploring more of Restoran Rosalinda Anak Mama’s offerings. We delighted in their homemade “Keropok Lekor,” a delightful fish-flavoured snack, and savoured “Pisang Pappek,” a crispy, sweet banana fritter. Enhancing flavors with steaming gravy, they crafted a symphony of tastes and textures, leaving an unforgettable culinary impression.

 

The clock ticked as we savoured our meal, and we realised that our journey had taken longer than expected. After arriving late in Sandakan, we wisely decided to call it a day and checked into One Avenue Hotel. Nestled cosily in our accommodations, we anticipated our upcoming Sandakan adventures, embracing spontaneity from this unexpected yet exciting overnight stay.

 

One Avenue Hotel was clean, well-maintained, and surrounded by many restaurants and cafes, all within walking distance! The area’s safety was a standout feature, enabling us to explore the nearby dining establishments comfortably even after nightfall.

 

After a good night’s rest, we awoke with empty stomachs and headed to 88 Sim Sim Seafood Restaurant for dinner. The allure of Sandakan’s famous seafood beckoned with a unique dining experience and a panoramic ocean view. We indulged in a feast of fresh seafood dishes, each bursting with flavours that showcased Sandakan’s coastal bounty. It was a memorable dining experience that perfectly complemented our journey’s unexpected twists and turns.

 

Following dinner, we returned to our hotel, ready to recharge for the adventures that awaited us the next day.

Day 2: A Day of Discovery in Sandakan 

Our second day in Sandakan began with a delicious breakfast at Kedai Kopi Tokyo, a cherished local eatery renowned for its exceptional “Nasi Lemak,” “Nasi Kuning,” noodle soup and irresistible Portuguese Egg Tarts. With decades of service, this time-honoured restaurant exudes a welcoming charm, making it a staple in Sandakan’s culinary scene. Its popularity is evident as it’s always bustling with patrons who appreciate the excellent service and the delectable food.

 

 

After breakfast, our day kicked-off with a visit to Sandakan Memorial Park, a place of profound historical significance. This solemn site commemorates a tragedy that unfolded between January and August 1945 during World War II. Despite the looming Allied victory, the Sandakan POW camp witnessed the suffering and demise of around 2,400 Australian and British prisoners.

 

About 11 kilometres outside Sandakan, the well-maintained park stands on the former site, offering serene surroundings for contemplative walks. A small museum pays tribute to those who endured unimaginable hardships, while rusting machinery near a Commemorative Pavilion serves reminders. Special commemorations are held annually on Anzac Day (25 April) and Sandakan Day Memorial (15 August). History buffs must visit this park, offering a moving glimpse into the past, honouring those who endured its tragic legacy.

 

 

We then visited The Parish of St. Michael and All Angels, an architectural gem that provided a serene interlude reflection. Sandakan’s historic city showcases numerous buildings and monuments, each bearing witness to time’s passage and shaping historical events. Among these historical landmarks, St. Michael’s and All Angels Church stands as one of the oldest. Designed by Mr. B.W. Mountfort, this church initially used belian timber, later replaced with stone from nearby Buli Sim Sim.

 

The enduring structure withstood the trials of World War II and remains one of Sabah’s rare stone buildings. Inside, the church features stunning stained-glass windows, including the ‘Window of Remembrance and The Friendships Windows,’ donated by Australian POW relatives. These windows mark WWII’s 60th anniversary, expressing gratitude to the local community for their support during challenging times.

 

 

Our journey continued to the Agnes Keith House, a meticulously preserved colonial-era residence that offers a window into the region’s historical past. Today, this house has been transformed into a heritage site, providing captivating insights into life during British North Borneo. It boasts a collection of colonial-era furniture and antique reproductions that furnish its rooms. Also, a gallery narrates the remarkable story of Agnes Keith, her literary contributions, and her family.

 

 

We then went to the English Tea House, a charming spot with a colonial ambience and breathtaking views, where we enjoyed a relaxing break. Located within the Agnes Keith House grounds, this Sandakan gem offers a top-notch dining experience with stunning views of Sandakan Bay. They serve a variety of fine teas from around the world, along with delicious scones, cakes, pastries, and a diverse menu featuring traditional English dishes and Asian favourites. Surrounded by lush greenery and cool breezes, we soaked in the beautiful views of the town and bay while sipping our drinks.

 

 

The Discovery Continues…

After a long and tiring morning of exploration, the need for a hearty lunch led us to San Da Gen Kopitiam. Our taste buds were treated to a delightful feast, and the staff’s warm and attentive service added to the experience. The interior and decor transported us back to yesteryears, evoking a classic yet nostalgic ambience perfect for families and groups of friends. It provided the perfect sanctuary to unwind, making it an ideal spot for chilling out and enjoying quality time together.

 

 

With our appetites satisfied, we embarked on a creative adventure along Creative Lane Sandakan, a mural painting project with a unique concept: “Bringing Memories Back.” This initiative has blossomed into a captivating tourist attraction in Sandakan. Creative Lane artfully revives memories of the old Sandakan market, which once thrived as the bustling centre of business activities for the local community. As we strolled among the vivid murals, it was as if we were stepping back in time, fully immersed in the bustling commercial history of Sandakan.

 

 

Following our artistic exploration, we made our way to the Sandakan Central Market. It was there that we picked up some local delights, including some dried salt fish, and couldn’t resist grabbing some of the famous local snacks, including “Amplang” and “Kuih Cincin.” However, we didn’t indulge in them just yet; instead, we bought them to take back home as mementos of our journey.

 

 

After a peaceful evening recharging from our day of exploration, we eagerly made our way to the much-anticipated Sepilok Jazz Festival 2023, held at the enchanting Mango Garden Restaurant in Sepilok. As we entered the venue, the air was alive with the groovy tunes of jazz, setting the perfect tone for a night of musical enchantment. Wrapped in lush greenery and serenaded by the gentle rustle of trees, the Mango Garden Restaurant exuded an intimate and inviting ambiance, enhancing the overall festival experience.

 

 

At 6:30 PM, the culinary delights of the festival took center stage. A delectable dinner, expertly curated by the festival’s chef, was served, offering a delightful array of flavors to please the palate. The combination of gourmet cuisine, complemented by a fine red wine, and soul-stirring jazz music in the background created a sensory experience that was nothing short of magical. Each bite was savored amidst the harmonious melodies, making the evening an indulgent treat for both the taste buds and the ears.

 

 

The main event began at 7:00 PM, with the first performance by a local band. Their enchanting melodies and skillful instrumentation resonated through the venue, captivating the audience with their musical prowess. The atmosphere was electric as attendees swayed to the rhythm, thoroughly immersed in the soulful tunes. The seamless blend of traditional jazz elements and contemporary influences showcased the rich musical heritage of the region.

 

 

Following the initial performance, at 8:00 PM, the stage came alive once again, this time featuring local artists and young talents. Their passionate performances added a fresh and dynamic dimension to the night, infusing the event with youthful energy and creativity. The audience was enthralled by the raw talent on display, appreciating the dedication and artistry of these emerging musicians.

 

 

As the clock struck 9:00 PM, the festival was drawing to a close. However, the night was far from over. The artists returned to the stage, treating the audience to more jazzy tunes. The soulful melodies filled the air, creating an atmosphere of relaxation and camaraderie. For those who chose to stay and savor the moment, the night continued with a chill-out session, allowing attendees to unwind and enjoy the music in a more intimate setting.

 

 

 

The Sepilok Jazz Festival 2023 was more than just a musical event; it was a celebration of creativity, talent, and the vibrant spirit of Sandakan. Through the enchanting performances and the shared love for jazz music, attendees were brought together, forming connections and memories that would linger long after the night had ended.

 

 

As we left the festival grounds, the melodies of jazz still resonating in our hearts, we carried with us not only the memories of a magical evening but also a deep appreciation for the artistic soul of Sandakan and its people. The Sepilok Jazz Festival 2023 had truly been the crescendo of our Sandakan adventure, leaving us with a sense of fulfillment and a newfound love for the captivating world of jazz music.

 

Want to know more about our Sepilok Jazz Festival’s experience? Do check the article below!

Jazz in the Rainforest: The 2nd Sepilok Jazz Festival 2023

 

Day 3: Exploring Wildlife Conservation Wonders

On the third day of our journey, we embarked on an inspiring wildlife conservation adventure, starting with the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. This sanctuary is a haven for orphaned and injured orangutans, where they are given a second chance at life in the wild. Walking through the lush rainforest, we had the incredible opportunity to witness these intelligent and endearing primates up close, swinging through the trees, caring for their young, and foraging for food. The center’s mission to protect and rehabilitate these critically endangered orangutans left a lasting impression on us, highlighting the vital importance of conservation.

 

To maximise your experience at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, don’t miss the orangutan feeding times at 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM. The exhibition hall is open daily, with the exception of Fridays, from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM.

 

Our journey led to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, dedicated to preserving the world’s smallest bear, the sun bear. Here, we learned about these unique creatures, their behaviors, and the challenges they face in their natural habitat. Witnessing the sun bears in their sanctuary was heartwarming, reminding us of the vital need to preserve their habitats.

 

 

Don’t miss exploring the souvenir shops at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for unique tokens!

 

 

Our final destination was the Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC), situated amidst the breathtaking beauty of Borneo’s rainforest. RDC immersed us in the region’s lush natural wonders, with towering trees and well-maintained trails that beckoned us to explore. The famed canopy walk provided a thrilling adventure, letting us stroll above the forest floor, glimpsing a rich bird variety. As the symphony of wildlife sounds surrounded us, it painted a vivid picture of Borneo’s vibrant rainforest biodiversity. Oh, just be sure to bring a pair of good shoes and long pants!

 

 

After a day of wildlife exploration, we rested in our hotel, preparing for the journey back to Kota Kinabalu. It offered a chance for rejuvenation and contemplation, allowing us to ponder the remarkable moments from our unforgettable Sandakan adventure.

 

Day 4: Journey Back to Kota Kinabalu

As the fourth day of our adventure dawned, we were up bright and early, knowing that a long journey back to Kota Kinabalu awaited us. Before embarking on this homeward trek, we savoured a hearty breakfast at a nearby eatery, conveniently located near our hotel. It was the perfect way to kickstart our day and gather the energy needed for the road ahead. With our stomachs satisfied and spirits lifted, we journey back to Kota Kinabalu, fondly recalling our adventures in Sandakan, Sabah.

 

 

In the final minutes of our stay in Sandakan, we fondly reflected on the incredible experiences of these four days. From the mesmerising wildlife encounters to the enriching cultural explorations, every moment was etched into our memories. The lively jazz festival atmosphere infused our journey with a unique rhythm, bringing our nights to life with music and energy.

 

Leaving Sandakan, we carried cherished memories, admired nature’s wonders, and thanked the locals for their warm hospitality. The stunning rainforests, varied wildlife, and captivating jazz melodies will linger, reminding us of this destination’s beauty and richness.

 

When our stay in Sandakan, Sabah, came to an end, we brimmed with cherished memories, eagerly anticipating our next adventure, wherever it may take us. Sandakan, thank you for the unforgettable moments and melodies that will echo in our hearts until we meet again.