Sandakan is the second-largest city in Sabah, East Malaysia, on the north-eastern coast of Borneo. It is located on the east coast of the island and it is the administrative centre of Sandakan Division and was the former capital of British North Borneo. Sandakan is known as the gateway for ecotourism destinations in Sabah, such as the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Turtle Islands Park, Kinabatangan River and Gomantong Caves.
The area is also infamous as the site of a World War II Japanese airfield, built by the forced labour of 6,000 Javanese civilians and Allied prisoners of war. In 1945, the surviving Australian prisoners were sent on the Sandakan Death Marches; only 6 of them survived the war.
Sandakan has a tropical rainforest climate under the Koppen climate classification. The city sees heavy precipitation throughout the year, with the heaviest precipitation seen from November through January. Temperatures are relatively constant throughout the course of the year with average high temperatures around 31 degrees Celsius and average low temperatures of 24 degrees Celsius. Sandakan averages approximately 3100 mm of precipitation per year.
Rugby is popular in Sandakan, Eddie Butler, a former Welsh Rugby Union captain, described it as the “Limerick of the tropics“. In 2008 at the newly build Sandakan Rugby Club, the Borneo Eagles-Sabahns (a team which included a few professional Fijians), hosted at the Borneo 10-a-side tournament for the eight and last time. Next year the tournament will change to seven-aside, which is an internationally popular format and one which the IRB is promoting as a possible Olympic sport.
Football also popular among the Sandakan folk. A football stadium located in Sibuga Sports Complex can accommodate more than 5,000 persons in one time
As Sandakan was almost totally destroyed in World War II, there are few surviving buildings of any age. Some of the main sights today include:
- Agnes Keith House, also known as Newlands – two-storey home of local author Agnes Newton Keith and her husband Harry Keith (Conservator of Forests and Curator of the North Borneo Museum). The Keiths lived on this site from 1930 to 1952: they rebuilt the present house on the foundations of their pre-war home which had been destroyed in World War II. Mrs. Keith wrote several books about Sabah and its people, including Land Below the Wind, Three Came Home, and White Man Returns, and a novel, Beloved Exiles
- Sandakan War Memorial Park – built on site of the Taman Rimba, Mile 7 prisoner-of-war (POW) camp
- Japanese Cemetery – housing a memorial to the Japanese war dead on Borneo
- Parish of St Michael and All Angels – this beautiful granite church was built in 1897 and was one of Sandakan’s few surviving pre-war buildings. It was recognized as one of the world’s heritage since year 2005.
- Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple – completed in 1987, this fiery red and gold temple overlooks the town centre
- Sam Sing Kung Temple – completed in 1887, it is the oldest building in Sandakan
- Sandakan Mosque – completed in 1988, it lies next to the bay and Kampung Buli Sim Sim
- Kampung Buli Sim Sim – stilt fishing village on the original site of Sandakan town
- Sandakan Market – one of the largest and busiest in Sabah
- Crocodile Farm – located 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) out of town, it houses more than 2,000 of the reptiles in concrete pools
- Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary – a perfect Proboscis Monkey observation spot for tourists who wants to have a closer look at these monkeys in their natural habitat
- Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre
- Berhala Island
- Selingan Island (Turtle Island)
- Gomantong Cave