Malaysia: Sabah

4N2D - Overnight Budget Trip to Sandakan and Tawau in Sabah

Saturday, February 14, 2015

It has been a long time ago when I went for a holiday with my block mates to Sandakan and Tawau, the two suburban cities locaed in Sabah sate, Malaysia from 6th to 9th December 2005. This time, I am writing this blog not to bore you that the details of how busy am I. I am just want to share out my pictures and travel destinations of my past 4N2D trip to Sandakan and Tawau cities.

A wonderful night sight of bustling Sandakan suburban city brings you an unforgettable memories.


Sandakan is the second largest suburban city after Kota Kinabalu (KK) located at the East Coast of Sabah. It is known as "Little Hong Kong" in earlier days because there were many Hong Kong refugees had moved to Sandakan during the invasion of Japanese army in World War II. Currently, the large population of resident in Sandakan is majority Chinese residents originating from Guang Dong province.

This town had once been a thriving place for economy development where trades of pearls, tobacco, bee's wax, sea cucumber, edible bird's nest and timber were in abundance. Today, Sandakan is a major city undergoing a major face lift.A new business district has been bulit on the waterfront paving the roads for bigger prospects for its residents and investors.

Sandakan and Tawau location maps (circle area). 

On 7th December 2005, we had a nice sleep yesterday night after a  long hour overnight bus journey and we were finally arrived in Sandakan in this early morning 5:30 am in a dizzling rain and a black-out. We had force to request a permission from the bus driver to stay inside the bus until the rain had stopped. At around 6:30 am, we headed out from the bus and walked towards central market to look for delicious breakfast to fulfill our graving desire. Only locals know that this central market is a great place for breakfast.

------------------------------------------------<<DAY 1 >>-------------------------------------------------

1st Stop: Sandakan Central Market

Sandakan Central Market is a brand new location to the old market and spacious three storey building houses a dry market where fruits, vegetables and snacks are sold here, and to play a role as a busy, chaotic and smelly fish market located next to the seafront. Come in early in the morning and you can see the fishing boats docking in with their sefood catches to sell.

New Sandakan Central Market is a bustling market in the early morning as an important source of local vegetables and fresh seafood, which is exported across the state and over to Singapore and Hong Kong. 

Whatever foods you want to find here is super fresh and super local. 

The upper section of the market is food court which serve to both muslim and non-muslim. When we walked up to Level 3, a top floor of Sandakan Central Market, we saw many food stalls. This place was quite clean and was one of the important stops of traditional food trail for food hunters. We then looked for the famous Chinese food stall that sells homemade original Kueh Teow with deep-fried pork as recommended by local peoples.

Hawker stalls on level 3 of Sandakan Central Market. At one corner, there is a famous Chinese stall with sign that reads “家传正宗炸肉大粉” that selling Kueh Teow.

Kueh Teow is a flat white rice noodle with smooth and soft taste and its pork is a bit chewy and not as oily as roasted pork. This Chinese food stall opens from 5.00 am to 11:30 am every day morning, but if you want to have a nice noodle, you must come early because the noodles could be sold out before 10 am morning. Each bowl of noodle costs only RM 2.50 ringgit with no tax, price as of December 2005. The first bowl of serving was not much enough for me, so that I continued to order a second bowl, the dry version which had no soup and enhanced with lard.

Kueh Teow noodle (left: soup style; right: dry style) is topped with deep-fried pork, slied of Chinese fritter and minced spring onion added an interesting contrast!

2nd Stop: Sepilok

After a scrumptious breakfast, we headed out from the market to find the local minibus station to Sepilok Rehabilitation Center to see Orang Utan as this is the cheapest way for us to save the transporatatin cost. On the way heading to minibus station under a drizzling rain environment, we passed by a small local Chinese temple and stopped a while for a breathtaking photo shoot.

You can see my pant was getting wet after the rain water hits hardly on me. 

A small local Chinese temple has found on the mid way to bus station. “三聖宫”

Sepilok is about 23 km away from Sandakan town and easily to getting here through self drive car or van within 30 to 40 minutes. There are other types of transport mode instead of public bus service. A taxi service from Sandakan is available with a return trip costing about RM100 as price of 2005. Do negotiate with your taxi about the prices. Getting to Sepilok from Kota Kinabalu (KK) is also possible. A bus ride would take about 7 to 8 hours from KK to Sandakan and would cost around RM30 to 50 one way. Another better option is to fly to Sandakan as there are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

We took a public bus service from Labuk Bus Company in the minibus station that departed from the Sandakan Town Council at RM4 one way but the bus stopped us at the junction of the main road near to the Sepilok roundabout and luck had it there was another bus waiting to take us to Sepilok and we felt thank you that we did not fancy walking the 2 km distance in the heat.

Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center

Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary in Sabah was setup in 1964 in the 4,300 hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve whih is looked after by the Wildlife Department of Sabah. The main reason for this center is to rehabilitate orphaned baby orang utans who have been either captured as pets or found without their mothers. Sepilok Orang Uten Sanctuary has a rececption center, information center and animal clinic, a quaratine area, a nursery and an enclosure for various endangered animals which are found in Sabah. It is one of the must-visit place when you are in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo.

I had a pleasure of visiting this largest and oldest Orang Utan Sanctuary and Rehabilitation in the world located in Sepilok here.

The show enter is inside the nature reserve and has a small museum about the Orang Utans and the other creatures in the forest. The opening hour and entrance fee for the visitor is indicated in the table below. The shown price below is as of 2005 year.

 Entrance Fee
Ticketing Counter
9-11am/ 2-3.30pm
Camera Charge-RM10/pax
(Price shown here as of 2005 year.)
Main Center
9-12pm/ 2-4pm
9-11am/ 2-4pm
Exhibition Hall
Daily except Friday closed
They have two feeding times a day, 10 am and 3 pm, for the reently released Orang Utans. The ones that come to the feedings are mostly juveniles that have not learned all the ways of the forest. We were here at 9.30 am morning and had a bit of time before the feeding show started.

They have two feeding times a day, 10 am and 3 pm, for the recently released Orang Utans. The ones that come to the feedings are mostly juveniles that have not yet learned all the ways of the forest. We were here at 9:30 am morning and had a bit of time before the feeding show started. We looked around the exhibition area with informative display on the life times of the Orang Utans. We followed the boardwalk along through the rainforest and we heard a rustle to our left and found few Orang utans were swinging through the rope that leads to feeding platform and we stopped to watch them before they disappeared into the dense greenery.

Rope leads to feeding platform from other trees in the forest.
When we reached the feeding show platform which was about 20 feet away from our viewing place, most visitors had already gathered here to wait the occasional Orang Utans came up to the show. It was hot and crowded and luckily I could take the heat and humidity here but even it got to me after a while.

Most visitors were busy aiming their camera for a wonderful photograph at the viewing place here.

This was a nice and satisfying group photo that we captured while the two gentle Orang Utans were playing on a hanging rope behind us.

After about 10 minutes of watching these playful Orang Utans swinging and climbing the trees, two park attendants climbed up the main feeding platform with buckets of food. One of them holds a sign that says 'Silence Please'. The playful Orang Utans knew this was their feeding time and they slowly made their way to the feeding platform one by one. Surprisingly that the attendants did not feed them by hand which I thought it was very good. The Orang Utans made their way to the food buckets and helped themselves. All Orang Utans here were living freely in this sanctuary and they were not trained to perform the show.

Juvenile Orang Utans gathered here to eat their banana fruit during feeding time.

The Macaques were cheekily sneaking up at the platform and took bananas away while Orang Utans were not take care of their bananas, although one Macaque did get caught and was slapped on the head by Orang Utans. It was very funny to watch the scene.

Macaques were trying to grab away the food from Orang Utans when they were missed to take care of their food. 

We watched the performance for about 20 minutes and then we were getting too hot so we decided to keep going along the boardwalk back towards the exit. As we started to walk towards the exit, we were stopped by a ranger to warn us that there was a Male Macaque lurking in the greenery near the boardwalk. He said it would not be wise try to pass him on your own as he might take a bite on you.
Try not to pass this Macaque creature alone on a narrow boardwalk as he might attacked on you!

Suddenly, another Male Macaque soon emerged and headed towards another Macaque that we saw on the boardwalk and before a long fight broke out among the two Macaques and disappeared into the greenery forest. I probably glad that I did not walked down there. As we exited after the boardwalk, we were directed back to the main building. A souvenir shop is available here for those who want memories of Sepilok Orang Utans Sanctuary. Various T-shirt designs are available here for reasonable price while stuffed Orang Utan toys are lining the shelves in the shop.

This adjoining building has two sections, an exhibition area focusing on endangered wildlife of Sabah and Borneo is on the left while an audio video room is on the right. It is here that you will watch a presentation on the Orang Utans and also learn about the Orang Utans Adoption Program by Orang Utans Apparel UK. At around 12 noon, after we wandered through the shop and we headed back to Sandakan town on a public bus to visit our next destination, Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple.

Tips for What Not To Do in Sepilok Rehabilitation Center

-You are advised not to wear bright colours of attire when visiting Sepilok as it distracts the Orang  Utans there.
-In the event that Orang Utans comes to the boardwalk, keep back as they may grab your personal belonging such as camera or bag.
-Do not touch or hold the Orang Utans and Macaque at any time and if you bring children, please ask them to keep silent.

3rd Stop: Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple

There are several Chinese temples dotted around the Sandakan suburban city but being the most spectacular and huge modern size of temple is this, Puu Jih Shih where it is located 4km away out of Sandakan suburban.  

We had a group photograph behind the main entrance of Puu Jih Shih Chinese Temple. We were lucky because this day was windy with not much hot weather. 

The temple is a fair drive up a steep and windy hill. It was built in 1987 in this hill facing the sea and interior has several medium gilded golden Buddha, fierce looking deities and ornate pillars of large intertwined dragons and phoenixes. This temple offerd a magnificent view of Sulu Sea and revealed a part of Sandakan. it is providing a great inspiration for everyone beside being a place for religious part of Sandakan. It is providing a great inspiration for everyone beside being a place for religious devotion.           

You can see part of Sandakan suburban from here. 

You can get a feeling that this temple is looking after the Sandakan city.

The gilded golden Buddhas look so peaceful, each of them masters different world, namely, heaven, hell and our world. 

Another group photograph taken in this Puu Jij Shih Chinese Temple and it was built in 1987 at a cost of nearly USD$ 2 million.  

There is another temple located behind us which houses the God of Earth (Di Zhang). This area is a very appropriate spot surrounded by sky, mountains and forest.

My lie down pose photo taken at God of Earth (Di Zhang) in-house temple to tell you that I was in a lazy mode!  

If you are a big fan of touring temples, you should make a point of visiting this one. This grand and beautiful temple is situated on top of a very tall hill, offering one of the best views of Sandakan and the harbour that you will find anywhere in the city. We got here by bus, but the public bus dropped us at the foothill and we had to walk about 1km to go up here. So I recommend you to get a taxi to send you here directly. It costs about RM5 to RM6 and the price said here is refer back to 2005 year.

Leaving to Tawau  

At about 5:30 pm, after we negotiated transport price with the local driver, we were leaving to our next visiting city, Tawau. The road journey travel from Sandakan to Tawau took us about 4 hours. We were too tired, speechless and slept inside the van on our journey. We arrived in Tawau city already 9:30 pm and we were too hungry for our dinner. The restaurant we picked has a nice and cheap one namely Kam Ling Restaurant. We ordered series set of Chinese seafood cuisine which are steamed seven star grouper fish, salt and pepper mantis prawn, steamed tofu and veggies to fulfil our empty stomach.   

Top Left: Steamed Seven Star Grouper; Top Right: Salt and Pepper Mantis Prawn 
Bottom Left: Steamed Tofu; Bottom Right: Stir-Fry Sabah Green 'Shu Choy' 

I enjoyed my meal so much and I had a second helping for another bowl of rice. We drank many cups of Chinese tea as it was our rest hour to relax. At around 10:00 pm, we checked in our booked hotel. It was great end to a great day and we had enjoyed Sandakan as it had grown on us.  
Our first night stay in First Hotel Tawau, a budget hotel situated at the same block with Heritage Hotel and Monaco Hotel. The building was painted in pink and purple colour and easy to identify when you passed by this area.

------------------------------------------------<<DAY 2 >>-------------------------------------------------


Tawau is the third biggest city of Sabah, after Kota Kinabalu in the west and Sandakan in the east. Population here is about 300,000 citizens and this city plays an important role within Malaysia because of its three major products which are tobacco, cocoa and palm oil. As the city is located along the Celebes Sea, it is also famous for its great seafood restaurants especially the most popular seafood is the huge tiger prawns. Tawau is one of the biggest producers of cocoa in the world. Next to that much of the timber from the mainland of Borneo is shipped out of Sabah via Tawau's port. Tawau is located in the southern region of Sabah, nearby the eastern border with Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Tourist who likes diving to famous Sipadan Island would stay at this town for transit. Among other interesting and fun attractions around Tawau is the Lost World of Sabah or Maliau Basin, where it is a shorter route here compared to Kota Kinabalu. Maliau Basin is a highly protected conservation area where serious hikers, trekkers and nature lovers should visit. It is the rainforest within the rainforest and the best Sabah has to offer. Basically tourists and visitors can come to Tawau via flight, land by private coaches and buses from Kota Kinabalu or by ferry from Nunukan and Tarakan, Indonesia. 

4th Stop: Wandering Tawau City

It was bright and sunny morning at 9:00 am and we all waken up by the loudly sound alarm. After we had our morning face wash, grooming and breakfast, we decided that today we took a strolling around the city. The center is rather small and just a working town on a harbour. Hence we were on our foot walk to see the sights and people watch, looked at the shops and drank some local soft drink which is cucumber flavour soda pop drink.

After we wandered around for about 1 hour, we were very tired under this hot sun. We bought few bunches of bananas from the port seller and brought back to hotel to eat and rest for a nap. Since there is nowhere to plan, after checked out our hotel at 12 noon, we made a trip to another famous Buddhist temple located in quite place and need 15 minutes drive from the Tawau town here.  

The bustle hustle morning fresh market provides you fresh and raw ingredients that you need located in front of the waterfront harbour in Tawau here. 

How busy a day to them! These sellers were busy trading their fruit stuffs near to the market harbour here. 

A group photograph taken at the harbour here before we were heading back to our hotel for rest. 

We walked to local bus station to get a public bus service to this "Fo Guang Shi" Buddhist Temple. On the walking way to bus station, we passed by the garden park and one of the bay front open air restaurant and then we snapped few pictures over here.  

Tawau local bus station is small and traditional! 

One of the soldier sculptures was built in garden park Tawau town here.

Bay front open air beer bar brings you a good and romantic chilling night here. 

When we arrived at "Fo Guang Shi" temple, it was greatly amazed us with its newly completed garden and hall where visitors could really sit down for a contemplation. It is the second oldest temple in Tawau with almost 100 years old and almost forgotten by the young generation of Chinese, but this old temple surprised us with its recent colourful new face uplift. 

An interior hall provides visitors to pray and to sit down for contemplation.

The outside of this temple has one of the largest standing "Guan Yin" statue that I have ever seen. What was nice is that they allowed people to take pictures here. Most other temples and buildings restrict photographer to the outside. It has a big door that remains wild open to the public. The interior decoration rich in artistic expression in painting, craft and architecture designs.  

We were taking a photograph beside this huge standing "Guan Yin" statue. 

This Buddhist temple was constructed and managed with society in mind and a friendly place to the public. 

We spent about 1 hour to visit this temple and afterward proceed to take an overnight bus express back to Kota Kinabalu where a Sabah capital city that we departed from.

What do you think for Sandakan and Tawau suburban cities in Sabah? Leave a comment below if you have been through these two cities.

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