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The best 9D8N east Sabah itinerary- endangered wildlife & unique food

Sabah itinerary

Welcome to the Land Below the Wind, Sabah! This Sabah itinerary is written based on our nine-day trip to the east coast of Sabah, visiting Sandakan, Lower Kinabatangan River, and Tabin.

This is where Orangutans swing branch to branch, where the Sulu Sea and the South China Sea meet, pygmy elephants roam in herds, and where a land of myriad people celebrate their cultural heritage.

During our trip, we saw more animals and birds than we wanted – pygmy elephant, proboscis monkey, sun bear, and orangutan. We also tried the unique Sandakan food and had the freshest seafood.

You will feel disappointed by not including east Sabah in the itinerary if you are from another country.

If you are from West Malaysia and Sarawak, this is the place you should put as your priority for your next adventure.

Nam Chai Sabah itinerary food tour
Above: Seafood Bak Kut Teh

The ultimate Sabah itinerary to the East Coast of Sabah – Sandakan, Sepilok, Lower Kinabatangan, and Tabin

Below is the 9-day itinerary based on our trip, which will be helpful to you in planning your next trip to Sabah.

I have written a few specific articles on places that I visited. A full-length video also accompanies each article on Youtube. You can refer to this article for more in-depth details about these places.

I invite you to join us on this unforgettable adventure. Let us begin right now!

rhinoceros Hornbill s
Above: Rhinoceros hornbill

Our 9D8N east Sabah Itinerary

Day 1
1. Arrived at Sandakan Airport
2. Hunt for various unique food in Sandakan
3. Sandakan City Tour and the Sandakan Heritage Trail
4. Visit the Sandakan Memorial Park
5. Visit Sandakan Central Market
6. Check in to Sepilok Jungle Resort
Day 2
1. Continue our food tour
2. Visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre
3. Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
4. Continue trying the unique Sandakan food
Day 3
1. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC)
2. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
3. Check in to Bilit Adventure Lodge
4. Join the late afternoon river cruise safari
5. Night safari
Day 4
1. Wake up early to join the early river cruise at 6.00 am
2. Depart for a guided jungle walk to experience the riverine forest
3. Join another late afternoon river cruise safari
Day 5
1. Wake up early to join the early river cruise at 6.00 am
2. Guided boardwalk at Bilit Adventure Lodge.
3. Learn how to make batik.
4. Learn how to plant a tree.
5. Join another late afternoon river cruise to look for more wildlife.
Day 6
1. After breakfast, depart from Bilit to Tabin
2. Jungle trekking to Lipad Mud Volcano
Day 7
1. Walk around the resort to spot birds and animals
2. Trekking through the lush green forest to visit Lipad Waterfall
3. Visit the Tabin giant tree
4. Join an extended dusk drive/night safari for more nocturnal wildlife and birds
Day 8
1. Visit the Tabin Visitor Center
2. Depart Tabin and back to Sandakan
3. Dinner and check into Hotel Sabah
Day 9
1. Breakfast at Sim Sim Water Village
2. Transfer to Sandakan Airport, and goodbye

Click here to download the Sabah itinerary (PDF file) or read it here (Flipbook).

Sabah itinerary

Detail of the East Sabah itinerary

Below is the detailed east Sabah itinerary of our trip. I have also included the link to the respective blog post for more detail.

Day 1 – Sandakan food and city tour

We woke up early at 3:00 am, partly because we were so excited and partly because we had to catch the flight to Sandakan. The excitement of starting the trip kept us awake and fresh.

1. Arrived at Sandakan Airport

Sandakan airport , Sabah itinerary

Upon arrival at Sandakan, our guide, Johnny, from Sepilok Tropical Wildlife Adventure, brought us on a food tour in Sandakan.

2. Hunt for various unique food in Sandakan

If you are a gastronome, get a local to show you where you can find the amazing food only available in Sandakan. Our guide Johnny promised to let us try the most unique and tasty food in Sandakan.

Our first stop is to try the seafood Bak Kut Teh at Nam Chai Restaurant. The seafood Bak Kut Teh is perhaps Sandakan’s most exceptional local cuisine.

Nam Chai 5s
Above: Bak Kut Teh at Nam Chai Restaurant.

After lunch, we had the famous UFO Tarts at Kedai Roti Gold Crown and the coconut pudding at Kedai Makan Ngee Lee. Both shops are located next to each other.

Gold Crwon 1s

Dinner was prawn noodles at Empire Seafood Restaurant

Empire Seafood restaurant , Sabah itinerary

We also had a round of avocado shaved ice at Crowd 99 Café opposite Empire.

Crowd 99 Café , Sabah itinerary

Trying all the food in a day was impossible, so we left the rest the next morning, and the day we returned from Tabin.

Click here to read the blog post: Sandakan food guide: Ten best restaurants in Sandakan (with unique food).

Between our food adventures, we also visited some of the most iconic places in Sandakan.

3. Sandakan Heritage Trail

Heritage trail head (1)s

Sandakan was the former capital of North Borneo. Unfortunately, it was almost destroyed during the Second World War. 

The Heritage Trail connects several historical sites and relics of this formal capital, where we can learn more about the history of this town.

We started the Heritage Walk (Jejak Warisan Sandakan) from the entrance, a colorful staircase. There’s also an official heritage trail map to show you all the ten exciting sites. These sites are all within walking distance, and you can complete the trail within two hours.

St. Michael and All Angels Church (1)s
Above: St. Michael and All Angels Church

The Heritage Trail connects several historical sites and relics of this formal capital, where we can learn more about the history of this town.

The Sandakan heritage trail is an hour-long walk that takes you back 100 years history of Sandakan.

The trail begins at the town’s oldest mosque, Masjid Jamek; go through Pryer Monument, 100 steps, explore Agnes Keith’s house, the oldest temple that managed to survive the bombing of World War Two, that is good Yum temple, St Michaels and All Angels Church and Sam Sing Kung Chinese temple.

Click here to read the in-depth blog post on Sandakan Heritage Trail.

4. Sandakan Central Market

Sandakan Central Market (3)s

After visiting the Heritage Trail, we strolled in Sandakan Central Market, looking through hundreds of stores selling fish, vegetables, fruits, local foods, and snacks. Here is where you can learn what Sabah people eat and buy. That is the place for the locals to purchase their daily groceries. 

5. Sandakan Memorial Park

Sandakan Memorial Park

Lastly, we visited the Sandakan Memorial Park adjoining the original Sandakan Prisoner of War campsite.

The park commemorates the death between January and August 1945 of approximately 2400 Australian and British prisoners of war held by the Japanese in the Sandakan prisoner of war camp.

During world war two, the Japanese decided to move the prisoners of war 260 km west to a small settlement called Ranau.

On three forced marches between January and June, approximately 500 prisoners died. The remainder died at the Ranau and Sandakan camps.

6. Check in to Sepilok Jungle Resort

Sepilok Jungle Resort signboard

Today is by far the most tiring day of the trip. The resort is located near the places that we want to visit tomorrow.

Sepilok Jungle Resort offers a different experience, although there are four to five-star hotels in Sandakan. Instead, staying in here is like escaping into the paradise of nature.

The landscape garden is breathtaking. Several bridges join the rooms, and the resort’s restaurant, Banana Cafe, with certain sections crossing over a man-made lake. 

Sepilok Jungle Resort , Sabah itinerary

There is also an outdoor pool if you like to swim and relax.

The food served is selective but delicious. It ranges from English breakfast to local dishes. Lunch was ala carte style, and breakfast was a buffet.

Click here to read our review of Sepilok Jungle Resort.

Day 2 – Proboscis Monkey, Rainforest discovery center

1. Continue our food tour

Kong Teck , Sabah itinerary

We had our breakfast at Kedai Makan Kong Teck, famous for its fishball and serving the best fish noodles in Sandakan.

Juxiang , Sabah itinerary

Then stop by Ju Xiang 聚香 Sandakan to get some tasty jerky to bring home.

2. Visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre

rainforest discovery centre , Sabah itinerary

After breakfast, we visited the rainforest discovery center in Sepilok, just 5 minutes from our resort.

This center is created for public awareness and appreciation of the importance of conserving the forest and sustainable use of forest resources.

The 347-meter-long canopy walkway provides a spectacular view of the lush rainforest of Sepilok from 25 meters above the ground.

The weather was not very good, and we hardly spotted any birds or animals. However, the disappointment was made up by an unexpected encounter. An orangutan nearly chased us, and we had to climb up to the observation tower as quickly as possible.

We were not sure why but that orangutan was in an angry mood, and he tore down the poster along the way.

And an English woman was also trapped by a long-tailed macaque on another observation tower. The long-tailed macaque was about 2 feet tall, blocking the way from coming down.

Never mind not seeing many animals because we have a different experience that we will never expect.

3. Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary

proboscis monkey alpha male , Sabah itinerary

Next, we head to Labuk Bay proboscis monkey sanctuary to catch the 11:00 am feeding session.

This sanctuary is home to about 150 free-ranging proboscis monkeys.

Found only in the coastal forest of Borneo, these monkeys are listed as endangered or on the Red List of threatened species and are also a protected species in Sabah.

The sanctuary offers the opportunity to view Borneo’s indigenous proboscis monkeys, which come in twice a day from the surrounding swamps for feeding near a comfortable viewpoint.

Read our article on Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary here.

4. Continue trying the unique Sandakan food.

Sim Sim Seafood 1s

We head back to Sandakan to have dinner and have the freshest seafood at Sim Sim Seafood Restaurant, store H90.

The food was excellent. You should come here and have the freshest seafood in Sandakan.

Sim Sim is a seafood paradise with rows of seafood restaurants, but I prefer H90 because the master chef of this Chinese restaurant is always the one who cooks for you. 

Day 3 – Sepilok-Lower Kinabatangan

We visited the Sepilok Orangutan Center and the Sun Bear Conservation Center on the third day. Both are located at Sepilok, within 5 minutes of driving distance from our resort.

1. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC)

Sun bears (honey bears) are the smallest in the world. Honey, fruits, and termite are your favorite food.

Sun bear survival is threatened by habitat loss, illegal hunting, and killing by the capture of the illegal pet trade.

The BSBCC was established as a non-profit organization in Sabah by the sun bear researcher Dr. Wong Siew Te. 

We were honored to meet Wong during our visit to the center.

2. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

sun bear

The best way to watch orangutans closely is during the feeding session at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

According to our guide Robert, sometimes the orangutans may not show up because they might have already gotten enough food in the jungle.

We are fortunate today because we saw 8-10 orangutans during the feeding session. 

3. Check in to Bilit Adventure Lodge

Bilit Adventure Lodge (30)s

The Lower Kinabatangan River is our next destination.

After lunch, we took a two-hour drive to Lower Kinabatangan. After that, we will stay at Bilit Adventure Lodge at Kampung Bilit for three days, looking for wildlife and birds.

Day 3- 5 Lower Kinabatangan River

We stayed at the Lower Kinabatangan River for two nights and joined a few cruises. 

We had morning and evening cruises because animals were active at different times of the day. So I have grouped all that we have seen on various cruises together.

You may stay only one night at the Lower Kinabatangan River if you are short of time. We chose to stay for two nights because we wanted to join more cruises, looking for more wildlife.

1. Kinabatangan river cruise

Borneo pygmy elephant 6s

We were lucky to sight a herd of Bornean pygmy elephants at the riverbank in the evening. It was pure luck to spot the elephants. The elephants roamed into the inner land the following day, and visitors could only see one elephant the next day!

Proboscis monkeys are the largest monkey species in Asia. The male is generally about 70 centimeters tall, and his weight can go up to 20 kilos. They have large and long noses for males. Female noses are not as large as the males but larger than most monkeys. In addition, both females have bulging stomachs that look like potbellies.

We saw a few saltwater crocodiles during our cruise, but it was pretty tricky to photograph because they were mostly beneath the water.

Saltwater crocodile 1 s

We spotted a variety of birds during our cruise.

great egret 2s
storm's stock  Sabah itinerary

2. Night Safari

jaded tree frog s

Besides the Kinabatangan River tour, we went for a night walk in the jungle, searching for more wildlife.

Walking in the jungle at night was a different kind of experience because it was pitch dark.

palm civet 4 s

Our guide helped us spot insects, nocturnal animals, and birds while meandering through the muddy bushes. 

3. Trekking through a swampy area

wear boots at bilit adventure lodge

We had another guided nature jungle walk to experience the riverine forest the following day.

Our guide brought us to a different area without any clear trail at certain parts. 

This area is swampy, and the boots given to us came in handy. Few animal animals were found, but walking through the swampy area was quite an experience.

Read our article about the Lower Kinabatangan River here.

4. Activities by Bilit Adventure Lodge

Bilit Adventure lodge provides other activities besides the cruises.

  • Our guide brought us on a boardwalk in one of the mornings, identifying some small animals and explaining to us the species of some plants.
  • We had some free time on the 3rd day, and the staff of Bilit Adventure Lodge taught us how to make the traditional batik.
  • We also participated in the tree-planting activity in the garden.
least pygmy squirrel, Sabah itinerary
batik drawing, Bilit Adventure Lodge (17)s
Bilit Adventure Lodge (28)s tree planting

Read our review article on Bilit Adventure Lodge here.

Day 6 Lower Kinabatangan to Tabin

1. Depart from Lower Kinabatangan to Tabin

We depart from Lower Kinabatangan to Tabin Wildlife Reserve on day six. It was a long journey which took more than four hours.

Tabin Wildlife Resort is located within the reserve, making it highly accessible to jungle trails, waterfalls, and mud volcanoes.

We arrived at Tabin Wildlife Resort at 1.30 pm and had lunch at Sunbird Café.

tabin wildlife resort ebtrance

2. Jungle trekking to Lipad Mud Volcano

The first destination after lunch was the Lipad Mud Volcano. Our guide suggested putting on our leech socks and boots to avoid leech bites.

dusk drive Sabah itinerary

Our four-wheel drive passed through the narrow and muddy road throughout the twenty minutes ride. Finally, we arrived at the trailhead of the trek leading to Lipad Mud Volcano.

We were lucky to spot a mouse deer.

mouse-deer s

We walked for about 20 minutes to reach the mud volcano.

The mud volcano acts as a salt lick and is visited frequently by birds and animals. It is an essential source of minerals for the health of wildlife.

Lipad mud volcano erruption

We climb up to the top of the observation tower to have a panoramic view of the mud volcano.

Since the mud was newly formed and still soft, our guide said it was unsafe to step inside the mud volcano. So we chose to apply the mud on our face, which we believed to be good for the complexion!

Mud mask

After dinner at Sunbird Cafe, we were supposed to go for a night jungle walk. However, due to heavy rain, we had to cancel this program. However, our guide said he would arrange an extended dusk drive cum night safari for us tomorrow to make back what we missed today.

Day 7 Tabin

Walk around the resort to spot birds and animals

The following day, we walked along the Reserve’s to spot wildlife and birds searching for food. 

crested serpent eagle , Sabah itinerary

We spotted a Crested Serpent Eagle and some butterflies dancing in front of our chalet.

2. Lipad waterfall

It took us twenty minutes to trek through the humid trails and trod across the river to reach the waterfall.

Tabin Wildlife Reserve Lipad waterfall trail

We threw ourselves under the pool of the waterfall. There were damselflies surrounding us, and they finally landed on our fingers. It seemed that they knew we were harmless visitors.

Damselfly, Sabah itinerary

3. Visit the Tabin giant tree

Tabin Wildlife Reserve Lipad waterfall trail

We also stopped by the Tabin Giant Tree, known as Tualang or Mengaris.

The tree trunk is so huge that it is bigger than four, all of us with our arms extended.

4. Dusk drive/night safari

night safari trip, Sabah itinerary

Our dusk drive continued into the night safari, searching for more nocturnal wildlife. 

Blue-throated bee-eater

We were fortunate to witness the flying squirrel in action at dust.

Our guide spotted various birds and nocturnal animals with his huge spotlight.

Buffy fish owl , Sabah itinerary

We found a civet cat, owls, and a monitor lizard.

Day 8 Tabin -Sandakan 

On day 8, we visited the Tabin Visitor Centre before heading back to Sandakan.

1. Visit the Tabin Visitor Center

tabin visitor centre, Sabah itinerary

Tabin Visitor Center is just a ten-minute walk from Tabin Wildlife Resort. 

A replica of the Sumatran rhinoceros is displayed, which is now extinct in Malaysia. 

Besides that, many posters detail different species of wildlife and interesting places at Tabin Wildlife Reserve. It also acts as a center to provide rainforest education to any interested parties.

2. Departed from Tabin and returned to Sandakan.

We drove back to Sandakan after lunch, which took us another 4 hours on the bumpy road.

It was already 6:00 pm when you reached Sandakan. So we decided to go for dinner at the Sim Sim restaurant we visited on the first day. The food was worth it for us to patronage this restaurant again.

After dinner, we check in at Sabah Hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Day 9 – Last day of our itinerary in Sabah

1. Breakfast at Sim Sim Water Village

H84 food at sim sim, Sabah itinerary

The following morning, Johnny from Sepilok Tropical Wildlife Adventure picked us up to have the last round of specialty food in Sandakan. 

He brought us to Sim Sim water Village again. This time we went to store H84 to try their specialty Century Egg dumpling and fried pork noodles.

2. Transfer to Sandakan Airport and goodbye.

Finally, we will transfer the sun account airport to take the flight back to Kuala Lumpur.


This wraps up our nine days Sandakan food hunt and wildlife adventure tour in east Sabah.

This east Sabah itinerary is catered made for us by Sepilok Tropical Wildlife Adventure. 

I have also created a summary of our nine-day Sabah itinerary, which you can download from my website. 

And if you want to watch all the videos, I have shot during our trip. Please click this link to the Sabah playlist on my YouTube channel.

Watch our video- the ultimate Sabah itinerary, Borneo. 👇👇

If you have read this blog post this far, don’t miss out on our Sabah itinerary in the form of a video. Click the image below to watch on YouTube (shot in high definition!).

Sabah itinerary video

Appendix 1- Restaurant we visited in Sandakan

  1. Kedai Makan Kong Teck – Famous for its springy fishballs and fish noodles
  2. Go to Ju Xian, A shop where you can find the best beef jerky in Sandakan.
  3. Try the century egg dumplings at Sim Sim Water Village store H84.
  4. And the freshest seafood at Sim Sim Seafood Restaurant Store H90.
  5. I ordered the UFO tart at Kedai Roti Gold Crown, A specialty that only can be found in Sandakan.
  6. Enjoy the coconut pudding at Ngee Lee in the scorching afternoon next to Gold Crown.
  7. Have a round of seafood Bak Kut Teh at Nam Chai restaurant.
  8. Try the famous avocado shaved ice at Crowd 99 cafe.
  9. You must try the prawn noodles at Empire Seafood Restaurant.
  10. And lastly, have a relaxing afternoon at the English tea house and restaurant.

Note: The above is the collective list of all the restaurants and shops we visited during our food tour. We visited these restaurants on days one, two, and the day before we left Saba.

On day one, we visited most of the shops and restaurants on the above list, except a few. We went for another food tour on the day we returned from Tabin before leaving Sabah.

Renuka Devi

Saturday 12th of November 2022

Thank you for sharing your itinerary & contacts. Overall, informative video. Useful.