Leaving the river, we headed to the next destination, and one of my favourites of the trip – Sandakan. There was so much that was packed into the time we were there, and I enjoyed every minute I was there. Sandakan is one of the bigger towns that I visited in Borneo, and it reminded me so much of Hong Kong, in terms of the style of buildings and layout. And then I was told that Sandakan was once known as ‘Little Hong Kong’. Whaddaya know! Oh, and the sunsets were beautiful.
Where am I staying?
S’kan Style Hotel, is right on the waterfront. The room was a welcome change after the previous hotel. Modern, clean, slick with a good shower and decent air conditioning. The location was excellent too – facing the sea, a market right outside the hotel, a mall 2 minutes walk away, walking distance to restaurants, it was a perfect little hotel.
- Grubbiness factor? None – the room, sheets and towels were lovely and clean
- Bed: 8/10. Comfortable enough, but I was so exhausted after all the day’s activities that I would just pass out
- Shower: 9/10. Lovely and powerful, and very decent toiletries.
What did I eat?
So I was still playing it safe on the food front, sticking to water with some soda bicarbonate – nice and alkalizing, never travel without it! Breakfasts were either baked beans on toast (hash browns one day! whooo!) or bananas with PB. Nice and simple, no dodgy additives either.
Lunches? Well, I played it safe one day and missed out on a lunch we had at a local place. I did have a lovely lunch in the Sepilok Sanctuary – a veggie noodle dish – once again, simple and delicious. That, with a cup of lemon tea was exactly what I wanted, and needed.
Dinner one night was at at the Ba Lin Rooftop Restaurant. Stunning views, and I was starving – so I went some pasta, with courgettes, cherry tomatoes and pumpkin..mmm – but a few mouthfuls in and the alarm bells stared ringing. MSG?!? Yep. In Pasta! Come on. They got a proper telling off! Dinner another night was on the seafront – where there were oodles of restaurants. We chose the Harbour Bistro Cafe and I chose a lovely dish of tofu, pumpkin, green beans and carrots with rice. Clean and simple again. Whoo!
What did I do?
First stop – Gomantong Caves, where swallow’s nests are harvested and sold at astronomical prices to people who think that swallow’s spit is good for their skin. Seriously people! When my sister visited the caves 6 years ago, she was shocked at the conditions of the workers in the caves harvesting the nests – no safety harnesses…well, no health and safety. I’m glad to say that has been improved – metal ladders, harnesses, hard hats – but this is all we were told about. Sadly when I went to the caves, it was just after all the nests had been picked. Now I loved the caves. There was a little, and I mean little exhibition, that was packed with information on the layout of the caves, the birds, nest production and all that science stuff. There was a scenic 10 minute walk to the caves – where I saw stunning bugs, amazing dragonflies AND A GIANT LEECH! – and then the caves. Don’t worry about feeling claustrophobic (the caves are massive), what you need to worry about is the stench of guano (barf) and the thousands – and no, I’m not kidding – of cockroaches. They were everywhere, on the handrails (don’t even dream of touching them), the walk way, the cave walls – argh! A very interesting walk but go prepared with decent, waterproof walking shoes and a decent torchlight.
Next stop? Another memorial – the Sandakan War Memorial, set in the grounds of the POW camp. A beautiful space, lots of greenery, a waterlily pool, stunning flowers. There was a room dedicated to information, a chronological walk through the Death Marches, including quotes from survivors about the conditions of the camp and the walk. I was in tears. It was so so so sad to read, and as with the Kundasang Memorial, I just kept on thinking that we all need to learn from these mistakes. Humanity is what matters, not wars and power. 😦
Next on the list? Animal galore – in sanctuaries. I’m glad we did this after seeing all these animals in the wild, but at least in this was we get to see them much much closer. First stop? Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. The plan was to hang out here for most of the day and be there for the for the feeding sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It was such an excellent experience. Even though we couldn’t go near them, we got pretty close – or rather they got pretty close to us. And we even saw an ickle baby!! Not a rescued baby, but one born in the sanctuary!! What a brilliant sight! We were for about 3 hours in total – and every minute was entertaining. They took their time to do everything – moving at leisure, eating slowly – so so interesting to watch, each one with their own personalities and quirks.. such amazing creatures. Cliched maybe, but this was the highlight of my trip to Borneo. I loved loved loved it here. Even the 90% humidity and high temperatures didn’t dampen (ahaha) my spirits.
Next stop – another sanctuary. The Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. Now driving to this place – which was about 1/2 hour away from the Sepilok Sanctuary – was not nice. We were not driving alongside the plantations but IN them – and this place was right at the end. It was set up to ensure that the area wasn’t cleared for more palm – and after what we saw, that is a good thing! Walking in (at feeding time), we were greeted with about teeny silver leaf monkeys – tiny things, and their babies – well, even smaller, and orange! They were like squabbling teenagers – very very vocal, expressive and running around everywhere – we needed to be careful where we were stepping! After that – proboscis monkeys. Wow. Loved watching them. They were the young adults – calmer, but still energetic. They gobbled their fruit up almost instantly, unlike the wizened old orangutans. Once again, it was an amazing experience, they were so interesting to watch – and the males? Well, you couldn’t really miss them!!!!!! Put it away I say! 😭
Not only were the monkeys brilliant, the smaller bugs were just as interesting and fascinating (including some cute fungus).
My time in Sandakan was excellent – the hotel, the activities and the animals – all were truly great and I thoroughly enjoyed my time here. Next (and final) stop? The beach! Whoo!