Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary & Sun Bear Sanctuary
By far the most popular activity, and one that’s worth at least a full day if you have time available, is a trip to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. It’s located a short distance outside of Sandakan itself and is thought to be one of the best places in the world to see orangutans.
The sanctuary works hard to ensure that orangutans suffering after being captured as pets, having their habitat destroyed or undergoing other trauma are rescued and effectively rehabilitated. Getting to see these creatures in this environment is an incredible experience and a highlight of any trip to Borneo.
A taxi to the sanctuary, which will also wait and return back to the city, should cost around MYR40 whilst the bus that runs a couple of times each day costs MYR6 per person each way. The buses run from the centre of town at the bus station and leave at 9am, they return to the city at 12.30pm and 4pm, allowing you to choose between seeing both or just one of the daily feeding sessions. The cost to enter the sanctuary is MYR31.80.
Just next door is the sun bear sanctuary which costs the same and is also well worth a visit. These bears are amazingly cute and sadly threatened by poaching and habitat destruction - this sanctuary is currently caring for over 40 sun bears they have rescued.
The Kinabatangan River
Another must do is a trip down the Kinabatangan River to have a more authentic rainforest experience. Tours can easily be organised on arrival and you can choose from one to three day trips – at least one night should be spent in the jungle to get the ultimate adventure experience. The river itself is the longest in Sabah and works its way through amazing rainforest right through to the ocean. This is one of the most notable examples of Bornean jungle and allows you the opportunity to try and spot some incredible wildlife.
From tropical birds in every colour of the rainbow, to the famous Proboscis monkeys that have their home in the region to pygmy elephants and so much more, you’ll be amazed by how much there is to see here. If you stay in a jungle lodge the Kinabatangan River for a night or two you’ll get the opportunity to enjoy multiple cruises for wildlife spotting with well trained and friendly guides, as well as enjoying a night walk, where you can spot some lesser seen wildlife. Overnight trips cost from just MYR300 per person, including all transfers and meals.
Turtle Island Park
As well as all the wildlife on land, Sandakan also offers some great activities for marine life lovers.
Visiting Turtle Island Park is a little pricier than some tourist attractions in the area but is well worth doing. There are three islands where turtles are being protected and can be seen laying eggs, although Selingan is the only one that hosts overnight stays and is by far the most popular to visit.
The overnight trips cost from around MYR500 although many tour operators charge upwards of MYR700 so you’ll need to shop around to find a good deal. On these adventures you’ll be able to see turtles laying their eggs on shore before they get carefully buried by rangers in the hatchery. You’ll also be able to see baby turtles being released safely out to sea. Tourism to the island is restricted and protecting the wildlife is the main concern, so visits are strictly regulated.