Sandakan – Kinabatangan Eco Cycling Tour


State: Sabah

Sabah consists of five divisions, namely, Tawau, Sandakan, Kudat, West Coast and Interior. The divisions are subdivided into administrative districts. There are a total of 23 districts in Sabah. The West Coast Division, stretching from north to Kota Belud, south to Kimanis and interior to Ranau regions, occupies a total of 7,588 Sq. km or 10.3% of Sabah territory.

Having previously cycled around Klias Peninsular, Kuala Penyu town, Beaufort district, Papar town, Kota Kinabalu city, Tuaran town, Kota Belud town, to Kundasang, the experience opened our mind to the wonderful world of the West Coast Division in Sabah.

After bidding goodbye to the D’Villa Rina Ria Lodge, we embarked on a journey to the East Coast of Sabah – Sandakan. More than just the second largest city in Sabah, Sandakan is famous for its eco-tourism destinations.

Formerly known as ‘Elopura’, Sandakan was also known as the former capital of Briths North Borneo until 1946 and Sabah’s very own ‘Little Hong Kong’ due to the large amount of Chinese Migration from Hong Kong back in the days.

“Sandakan” is derived from the Suluk word “sanda” meaning, to pawn and “kan” being the suffix. So “Sandakan” means the place that was pawned. Who pawned it, and to whom, remains a mystery.


 Day 1 
1. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

After 5 hours of bumpy car ride from Kundasang, we made the first stop at 1. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. It was established in 1964 to help rehabilitate orangutans which had been orphaned. Just like a human baby, the orphaned young orangutan needs to be taught how to cope in the wild, while its health is carefully monitored during rehabilitation.

Many orphaned orangutans have successfully undergone the process of rehabilitation and have been released into the 4,294 hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest, a virgin jungle reserve rich in tropical rainforest and mangrove swamp. The rehabilitation process starts as soon as the orangutan is admitted to the centre with a thorough health examination, followed by a quarantine period to eliminate diseases being transmitted.


a. Young orangutans

a. Young orangutans spend their time in the ‘nursery’ learning skills essential to jungle life, for example finding food, building nest and climbing. Once ready, they will move to the ‘outdoor Nursery’ where freedom is increased and dependence on food and emotional support is decreased.

Visitors to Sepilok are able to witness the feeding sessions at 10am and 3 pm from a platform and viewing gallery reached via a boardwalk through the lush forest, and later learn even more in the information centre.


 Day 2 
Day 2 – Cycle 10km around Sandakan City Centre
2. Sandakan City Centre

If you are a fan of wildlife and historical travels, you may be interested in visiting Sandakan that has been deemed to be the best destinations for wildlife and history enthusiasts.

Sandakan offers an abundance of gorgeous rainforests and amazing history. The buzzing 2. Sandakan City Centre welcomed us with its stunning beautiful landscape and its own intriguing history. We began by cycling through part of the new site of Sandakan after land reclamation.

The town prospered in the early days due to its port with visiting traders from around the world. Sandakan is an important town to Australian and British WWII veterans with the infamous Death Marches happened in 1945. After WWII, the capital moved to Jesselton, now known as Kota Kinabalu.

One of the significant landmarks in Sandakan is the Sandakan Harbour Square which has since became the city’s major commercial and tourism hub. It is located at Jalan Pryer, a street named after the founder of William B. Pryer, who was the first British Resident in Sandakan of North Borneo.


3. Sandakan Bay

Situated adjacent to Sandakan Harbour Square, 3. Sandakan Bay serves as the centre of commerce and the most important trading point. The city was the first and foremost a port for the export of logs and timber.

Due to Sandakan geographical proximity to Southern Philippines, there is also a barter trade connection and Sandakan is considered as a transit point for food entering the Southern Philippines. The state government has been assisting traders to improve their trading system and providing infrastructure facilities.


4. St. Michael’s & All Angels Church

After tackling one or two reckless drivers, we stopped at one of the oldest buildings in Sandakan – the 4. St. Michael’s & All Angels Church.

Situated at Elton Hill, this beautiful granite church was built in 1893 and took 30 years to complete. Designed by New Zealander, Mr. B. W. Mountfort, the church was constructed with stones taken from Buli Sim Sim and the white stones that adorn the windows and doors were from Hong Kong.

St. Michael’s and All Angels Church was one of Sabah’s few surviving pre-warstone building and was recognized as one of the world’s heritage since 2005. The beautiful stained glass windows in the church were donated by Australians to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.


5. Sam Sing Kung Chinese Temple

There’s a reason why Sankadan is a home to many historical sites and monuments. We rode for briefly 1 kilometre to one of the oldest standing buildings, 5. Sam Sing Kung Chinese Temple. 

First constructed in 1885, the temple was completed and dedicated in 1887. Situated in the heart of the old Sandakan, the temple was built on a slope overlooking the Sandakan Padang or playing field.

Next to it is the Sandakan Recreational Club and across the field is the site of the old State Secretariat at a time when Sandakan was the state capital. It was established as the religious centre for the Chinese from Guangdong province, namely, the Cantonese, the Hakkas, the Teochews and the Hainanese.


6. MPS Square
7. Masjid Jamek As-Sheikh Hasabollah At-Tohiri

6. MPS Square was another 2.5 kilometres away, where we got intrigued by the William Pryer Monument, which was built as a memory of the founder of modern Sandakan, William Burgess Pryer. MPS Square (Dataran Majlis Perbandaran Sandakan) today is known as the site for the Sandakan Municipal Council.

7. Masjid Jamek As-Sheikh Hasabollah At-Tohiri. It was built in 1887 and is still serving the Muslim community faithfully from its original site, despite some disruptions during the Second World War.

Some bullet marks are still found on some of the pillars of the mosque. When Sandakan was heavily bombed in 1942, many of the bombs dropped nearby the mosque did not explode. An old German clock which is more 50 years old is still being used by the mosque until today.


8. Masjid Daerah Sandakan

We headed another 2.5 kilometres towards the 8. Masjid Daerah Sandakan. Also known as Masjid Bear Sim Sim, the Sandakan District Mosque was built in 1985 and completed in 1989, and is the main mosque for the district of Sandakan.

It is situated above a small hill by the seaside and the great thing about this mosque when one prays here they may get carried away by the soothing breeze. Standing at the mosque, we were fascinated by the aerial view of the Sim Sim Water Village.


9. Sim Sim Water Village

9. Sim Sim Water Village, also known as Kampung Buli Sim Sim, is a water village on stilts on the coast of Sandakan reachable by plank walkways, depicts lives of some of the local fishermen families in neat wooden houses and their daily activities. This is also the site of the original town of Sandakan which began in 1879.

There are a few seafood restaurants located in Buli Sim Sim water village. One of which was initially a fish market which was later expanded to include a floating seafood restaurant. Locals flock here to purchase fresh seafood once the fishermen dock at the jetty as they are cheaper than in the city’s wet market. They can also purchase from the selection of seafood available and request the chef to cook it their way.


b. little Hong Kong of Sandakan

After wandering around the atmospheric traditional stilt village, we ended the bike tour at the b. little Hong Kong of Sandakan. If you look closely enough, the old buildings in the city centre of Sandakan resemble the high density apartments in Hong Kong.

Sandakan town was used to be called the Little Hong Kong of South East Asia as it was inhabited by mostly migrants from Hong Kong. It was the richest, the busiest town, the capital of British North Borneo until Jesselton was declared as the new capital. Therefore, most Chinese in Sandakan speak Cantonese.

From learning about Sandakan’s history, visiting restored colonial buildings, to viewing wildlife, we pedalled every unbeaten paths, we did everything by bike!


10. Gomantong Cave

Our cycling tour did not just end in Sandakan City Centre. We travelled for approximately 2 hours by car to Kinabatangan District. Kinabatangan is mostly populated with the Orang Sungai tribe, one of the indigenous groups in Sabah.

One of the must-visit attractions in Kinabatangan is the 10. Gomantong Cave. It is an intricate cave system inside Gomantong Hill in the district. Situated in a Sabah Forestry Department forest reserve, the hill is the largest limestone outcrop in the Lower Kinabatangan area.

Gomantong Cave is the largest cave and the most important source of edible birds’ nest in Sabah. There are two types of nests produced in Gomantong Caves – Black nest and White nest. Regulated by the Department of Wildlife, the harvest and collection of bird’s nests are conducted twice a year between February and August.

Creatures you can find in this cave include swiftlets, cockroaches, bats and others. Outside of the cave you can see many raptors including crested serpent eagles, kingfishers, and other types of birds.


Day 2 – 23km Cycle Gomantong Cave to Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort
11. Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort

After an amazing caving experience, we started cycling from Gomantong Cave to Kampung Sukau.

Along the way, we were introduced to stunning views and pristine country roads. Kinabatangan offers incredible terrain that’s a blast to pedal for leisure cyclists. We spent hours in the saddle, riding through quaint and meandering countryside.

Having soaked up the breathtaking scenery, we did not take a very long time to reach 11. Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort.


c. Kinabatangan River

The 560-kilometre c. Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah, beginning in the Crocker Range in Southwest Sabah and ending at the Sulu Sea southeast of Sandakan.

Nestled along the bank of Kinabatangan River and tropical lush greenery, the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort is an eco-resort located in the village of Bilit. The resort and its rooms rest above 4 feet wooden stilts that rise amongst the forest, linked together by a series of boardwalk.

All 32 rooms in the property feature wooden decor that were hand-crafted by the local tradesmen using the Borneo Iron Wood, a rare timber tree that is native to Borneo. Each room also comes equipped with its own balcony. The rooms also come equipped with air conditioning, a ceiling fan and a mosquito net.


12. River Safari Cruise
d. macaque

Kinabatangan River is known for its remarkable wildlife and fascinating habitats. Guests are able to have opportunities to encounter all kinds of flora and fauna via 12. River Safari Cruise, jungle walk and night walk.

In the evening, we were whisked on a magical wildlife experience to observe Borneo’s highlights, that range from the proboscis monkeys, long and short tail d. macaque, orang-utans, pygmy elephants, wild boars, hornbills, and crocodiles.

While soaking in an eye-opening wildlife experience, we called it a day.


 Day 3 
13. Kampung Sukau

13. Kampung Sukau offers plenty of Kinabatangan charm and unfiltered wilderness. When you are not river cruising in the morning, you can opt for a cyclist’s-eye view around Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort and explore the unspoiled countryside.

In Sandakan, we were treated with a huge array of experiences from cultural, historical to wildlife. All at once, this city is sure to charm, excite, and mesmerise you with its best.

And we left nothing, but footprints in this historic city.


This cycling tour package is provided by: Trek Finder Tours Sdn Bhd

Lot 42, 2nd Floor, Grand Millennium Plaza, Penampang Bypass, 88200, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Tel: 08-873 1480

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The editor of Cycling Malaysia Magazine.
She writes news, interviews, product features, pre and post-event articles.
She enjoys everything about nature and the outdoors.


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