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Sandakan, The Bridge of Borneo's Snout

'There is a mental energy in this room, discharged and accumulated from the past, which seems to exhilarate you when you enter it. Not only is it a good place to work in, but it is a good place to stop while the bathwater runs, or when dressing for dinner or waiting for breakfast, for there is always something unfinished to be gone on with there.'

When Agnes Keith penned the above quote, she was illustrating a habitual scene from her study room which overlooked much of the view that inspired her beloved novel 'The Land Below the Wind'. There were no embellishments around it, just an alluring lucidity shrouded by a heart of darkness that has captivated the attention of the world.To many, Borneo, an antipode to the Amazon rainforest, is an intrepid island brimming with rich wildlife, a place of discernible adventures and excitement.

I looked at the clock to see it timed at half past 8 and as I stepped out of the terminal, a whiff of cold air rushed against my countenance. Although it was one of the smallest airports I have seen, its presence was distinguishable simply because there were no other competing structures around it. I waited for my ride and soon hopped into a black Toyota Hilux with incandescence and a heart that was lighter than air itself. I peered outside the tinted window to see darkness completely shrouding a town that is much aloof than its bustling counterpart, Kota Kinabalu.

Sandakan, a town located at the Eastern coast of the state was once the capital city of British North Borneo before World War 2. It has a population of over 300,000 and is the second largest city after Kota Kinabalu, boasting an exponential economical growth which can be attributed to its port town status.

Home away from home

Finding the right accommodation is always challenging given the rising numbers of hotels, and serviced apartments made popular by reputable booking websites. So when it came to winnowing out accommodations based on comfort, affordability with uncompromising standards, it was rather obvious that Sabah Hotel became the best choice.

The hotel is a 4 star establishment with a resort like element set against the backdrop of Sandakan's heart of darkness. From the congenial smile of the receptionist to the comfort of the reasonably priced rooms, I found myself tucked away in a prolific rainforest that exudes serenity and peace with the irony of being located only 2km away from the second largest town in Sabah.

Everything about the place was right, its cleanliness commendable, facilities up to recognized standards with amiable staffs, so much so that returning here again did not become a second option. The hotels reputation is further augmented by its efforts in championing the continuum of wildlife reserves, chiefly the Sun Bear conservation centre as it is one of its sponsors. In a nutshell, this hotel has the perfect concoction of foliage and luxury coupled with a cause that is endearing and vital to the sustainability of ecotourism.

From Dawn to Dusk, 24 Hours in Sandakan

Foodie adventure in Sandakan

1. Restaurant H84 at Jambatan 8 SimSim (Budget)

SimSim is a water village comprising of stilt houses built along the coastline and is connected toland by several bridges labeled according to numerals. Most of the inhabitants are fishermen who have set up restaurants in their own kitchen, offering fresh seafood and delicious local dishes at a variable price range. One of the hidden gems is restaurant H84, located close to the famous SimSim seafood restaurant. From its simple and plain exterior, it is almost impossible to have ventured a guess that behind its main door leading to the kitchen, there is a family run restaurant packed with locals rather than tourists. This restaurant is accessible from either bridge No 7 or 8.

Seafood noodle for RM 13

2. Restaurant Seafood SimSim 88

This prolific restaurant has become synonymous to the quaint town of Sandakan, garnering popularity for its mouth watering and sizeable portion of seafood. This stilt house turned restaurant has been booming since its humble establishment and draws many tourists from all over the world to savour the local taste of Sandakan. Another winning feature of this restaurant is its spectacular view of the sea during sunset where the sky interplays with brilliant hues of orange, impressing upon its revelers. It is also accessible from bridge no 7 and 8.

3. Restaurant Double Eight Seafood (Budget)

If you are not a local or been there long enough, chances are you wouldn't even know about this small-time establishment located right next to Celcom telecommunication store off JalanBuliSimSim. It is popular amongst the locals for their local Chinese breakfast, whipping up Dim Sum, Wanton noodle and other local favorites the Sandakan way. The flavour infused in their dishes are unlike the ones in Peninsula, owing to their fresh catch of the day and unique local influence.

4. Kenalanmu Seafood

Sandakan's seafood scene is ubiquitous and reasonably priced compared to its capital and peninsula Malaysia, so it doesn't come as a surprise that there are many popular seafood restaurants strewn across the town. The restaurant we visited was named Kenalanmu, one of the many competing seafood restaurants in the city, and though its popularity is far from other well-known establishment, the quality and taste is unyielding at a price that is less injurious to your wallet. I spent around RM 60 for 3 seafoods and 1 vegetable dish that was catered for 2 persons. Check out the website below for pictures and the exact location of the restaurant.


Sandakan's Forest Reserves & Sanctuaries

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

This is a place where the line between men and apes becomes less apparent as we strive to understand and safeguard a primal species from our Hominid family. These intelligent primates known as the 'person of the forest' or 'orangutan' are natives of Borneo and Malaysia. They considered the most arboreal and solitary of all great apes. Both male and female differ in physical appearance; dominant males have distinctive cheek pads whereas younger males are similar to females. Orang Utans hands are similar to humans in that they have 4 long fingers and one opposable thumb. Their main diet consist of fruits, vegetation, barks and insects.

The sanctuary was established in 1964 as the first official orangutan rehabilitation project for rescued orphaned baby orangutans from logging sites, plantations, and illegal poaching. The orphaned orangutans are sheltered, nurtured and finally trained to survive in the wild before being released.

The sanctuary is located within the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve covering an area of 43 sq kilometres.

The ticket price for a Malaysian adult is RM 5 and it is best visit during feeding time at 10am and 3pm. The ticket entitles you to visit the sanctuary twice all on the same day.

From the main entrance, the wooden boardwalk will lead you to an enclosed air-conditioned viewing area with multiple tiered benches where the Orangutans can be observed from a safe distance but be mindful that picture quality won't be at its best as your view it obstructed by glass panels. For a good view and shot of these endangered species, head to the open deck during their designated feeding time, and with some luck you might be able to see them out in open air.

Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Situated just across the Sepilok rehabilitation centre is the Sun bear conservation centre, a non-profitable organisation founded Dr Wong, a wildlife biologist who championed efforts to rescue sun bears from deplorable conditions and provide a conducive rehabilitation centre for these bears.

They are the world's smallest bears, weighing up to 150 pounds with an average heigh