Welcome to the (Borneo) jungle!
It is hard to imagine after visiting a colonial pearl, like Kuala Lumpur (read it here) that anywhere else in the country can top up the excitement and yet, I was wrong.
A few hours flight away from KL, we landed at the modest airport of Sandakan, located a few kilometres out of the centre of the second largest town in the province of Sabah with the same name.
After a very pleasant taxi journey with Junior, surely the friendliest driver in Borneo, we reached our hotel for the next couple of nights, the Four Points by Sheraton. This is a modest and perfectly located abode to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, home to the spectacular creatures we came over to meet.
We spent the evening at a local seafood restaurant that had been recommended to us by Junior and did not fail. Sim-Sim 88 was like a beach bar with large neon-lit aquariums proudly displaying the seafood bonanza that one could select and indulge in on the spot. And so we did - the food was really something else, extremely fresh and very well priced.
The following morning we got picked up by our tour guide and we drove to the Sepilok centre where we spent a good half a day learning all about the friendly ginger giants. We also got to see a nursery and had a close encounter with a lost passenger who was navigating the jungle maze in search of his family. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
In the afternoon we moved across to the sun bear sanctuary, a wildlife conservation project looking after the smallest bear in the world: the Malayan sun bear. They are incredible creatures feeding off lizards, birds, fruit and honey who occasionally get eaten by snakes due to their small build (yes, I am trying not to imagine the size of the snakes in the jungle!).
At the sanctuary, you can also see proboscis monkeys amongst other monkey species and enjoy a day out with mother nature.
In the evening we went out for dinner to a place called the English Tea House, a colonial-style restaurant serving a wide range of cuisines and overlooking the Sandakan Bay.
My conclusion? There aren't a lot of things to do in Sandakan and most visitors stop here purely for the wildlife centres and jungle tours. I would say a few days are more than enough but do add it to your list if you come to Malaysia as it is worth it: highly educational and eye-opening to the sustainability issues of rainforests in an attempt to save the habitat of one of the cleverest and kindest creatures in the world.
Next and final stop in Malaysia? The paradisiac Langkawi island (read it here).