The east coast town of Sandakan lost its influential legacy of former trading fame during World War II bombing, and has a memorial park dedicated to the memory of the local and allied prisoners lost during the Japanese occupation. Also in Sandakan, The Agnes Keith Museum celebrates the life of the American author. The town also has busy central market.

Outside of town, and the most usual purpose of a visit, is the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation centre and its wildlife trails. The centre specialises in re-introducing Orang-utan into the wild and is a great place to meet the stars of the show. 

Orang Utan, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Up the coast, Turtle Island Marine Park comprises Pulau Selingan, Pulau Gulisan and Pulau Bakkungan, collectively the protected hatching grounds for green and hawksbill turtles. Further north still, Paulu Lankayan is an exclusive island beach retreat, providing oceanic quietude and excellent diving.  

South of Sandakan are the caves of Gomantong, among Sabah’s largest, and home to multitudinous bats and swifts. Daredevil collectors using rustic bamboo ladders precariously harvest the swift nests for the lucrative ingredient of birds nest soup.

 

Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, near the town of Sukau, can be visited by boat. These wetlands are home to wild elephants, over a hundred species of birds and a good place to seek an encounter with the unique long-nosed pot-bellied proboscis monkey. Further south and inland is Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which offers walking trails among its elephants, rhino and banteng.  

Further southwards along the coast are the Madai Caves, another hot spot for gathering swift nests, the hot springs of Tawau Hills State Park, and the nature walks of Danum Valley Field Research Centre and its eco-resort.

Bohey Dalang, Sabah, Malaysia

Offshore of Semporna, in south-east Sabah, Bohey Dalang is a great snorkelling location. The neighbouring island of Bodgaya is an equally pristine marine haven and host to a Bajau floating village.

Bodgaya Bajau floating village, Sabah, Malaysia

Even further offshore from the coast, one of the world’s top dive sites, Pulau Sipidan is legendary for its superb visibility and awesome diving.

Dive boats, Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia

Because of its highly revered ecological status, accommodation is no longer available on the island and those wishing to dive and snorkel its stunning reefs are likeliest to stay at the resorts on the neighbouring isles of Pulau Mabul and Pulau Kapalai.

Mabul Island, Sabah, Malaysia

Diving Sipadan is also tightly regulated by restriction in numbers and early booking is recommended.

Resort, Mabul Island, Sabah, Malaysia
   

 

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