We arrived in Sandakan early in the morning from Kuala Lumpur on the first day of our holiday in Sabah. Our first stop is to visit the Sandakan Heritage Trail.
We will be in East Sabah for more than a week, savoring the iconic and unusual food items, learning about the culture, and eventually looking for near-extinct animals and bird watching in the jungle.
This article will show you what we have seen at the Sanakan Heritage Trail, the Sandakan Central Market, and Sandakan Memorial Park.
Sandakan Heritage Trail
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 interesting sites. The trail takes about two hours to complete if you take the time to appreciate each of them.
Don’t miss the Sandakan Heritage Trail tour video shot at Sandakan. It is at the end of this article. 👇👇
1. Masjid Jamek Sandakan
Masjid Jamik is the oldest mosque founded by a traveling cloth merchant. The design of this wooden mosque was inspired by local and regional craftsmanship, mostly hidden now by layers of extension.
Although it was not destroyed during World War Two, it saw heavy gunfires evident by bullet holes in some of the concrete pillars inside the mosque.
2. William Pryer Monument
History tells us that Sandakan was founded on 21 June 1879 by an Englishman named William Burgess Pryer.
He was the first resident of the British North Borneo (Chartered) Company, established in 1881.
The monument was built in memory of the founder.
3. 100 Steps
By taking the 100 steps, one is physically retracing the bygone era of early Sandakan. It is widely believed that the local Chinese community living behind the hill used this road to bring down the farm produce to sell at the open market in town in the olden days.
As the latest attraction, murals at the 100 steps were completed in May 2021.
Sandakan War Monument is located near the 100 stamps. It commemorates the town citizens who lost their lives during World War Two. It bears the encryption of three languages, Malay, English, and Chinese.
4. Agnes Keith’s House
This museum house is established in memory of Agnes Newton Keith. (1901-1982), an American who came to Sandakan with her British husband, Harry Keith. It is located opposite the English Tea House & Restaurant and was the original house where they lived.
He served primarily as a conservator of forests, among others, during the British administration.
She coined the phrase ‘Land Below The Wind,’ the title of her award-winning nonfiction book, published in 1939, about her life in Borneo.
Her second book Three Came Home, was about her family’s ordeal as a POW during World War Two and was later made into a Hollywood movie in 1950.
A third book White Man Returns is about the reconstruction of Sanakan after the war when the American couple returned to continue working in Sandakan.
5. Remains of the old staircase
The ruins that we see today are part of a building used as a pre-war Chinese consulate Mr. Cho Huan Lai。 He was captured and imprisoned, later killed on 6 July 1945 in Keningau, Sabah.
6. Goddess of Mercy Chinese Temple
This small holly hidden temple is considered one of the oldest temples in Sandakan, built on the hillside of Singapore Road.
A red arch at the front entrance is your only indication of the goddess of mercy temple. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we did not manage to visit the temple.
7. St. Michael and All Angels Church
Reverend Henry Alton was perhaps best known for constructing this Anglican church from 1893 to 1925.
It is Borneo’s first stone walls church and the oldest in Sabah.
The Window of Remembrance, a beautiful stained glass windows memorial, was installed in 2005 to commemorate the Australians and British soldiers who died in the infamous Death Marches.
8. Sam Sing Kung Chinese Temple
Sam Sing Kung Temple was initially established as a religious center for Chinese migrants from Guangdong province.
Besides being an old temple, it is also a repository of historical artifacts and plaques containing a wealth of information on the early history of Sandakan.
9. Malaysia Fountain
The fountain was commissioned to commemorate the formation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963, which saw the departure of the last British governor, Sir William Goode.
The Sandakan Town Board Chairman officiated it on 16 April 1966. The current design was modified in the 80s.
10. Wisma Warisan
The building was used as the main administrative center during the British era from the 50s.
It was used to house the General Post Office and many other government departments until the new modern block was ready in 1966.
Sandakan Heritage Museum is located on the 1st floor of this building.
Sandakan Central Market
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.
It is more than a tourist attraction. Instead, it is the place for the locals to purchase almost anything they need.
The back of the market is the fish section. There are different types of seafood over here, such as fish, prawns, squid, etc.
More stores sell nonfood items on the first floor, such as handicrafts, souvenirs, T-shirts, etc. However, our tight schedule did not allow us to stay any longer, so we decided to visit the Sandakan Memorial Park.
Sandakan Memorial Park
The Sandakan Memorial Park is adjoining the site of the original Sandakan Prisoner of War camp.
The park commemorates the death of approximately 2400 Australians and British prisoners of war held by the Japanese in 1945.
The boiler and the remaining piece of an alternator were part of the electricity generation plant for the Sandakan POW camp.
During that time, 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.
Only six prisoners of war survived Sandakan and the death marches to Ranau. Two escaped on the second death march in June 1945. Four others managed to flee in July at Ranau
The memorial has a floral representation of three nations whose citizens suffered at Sandakan during the Second World War.
Checking into Sepilok Jungle Resort
We also tried various unique food in Sandakan and visited some famous restaurants in between our visits.
There is a separate article about Sandakan’s amazing food and famous restaurants, which you can learn more about by following this link.
It was a hectic day since we woke up at 4:00 am to take the earliest flight from Kuala Lumpur.
Finally, we headed to Sepilok Jungle Resort after our full-day whirlwind tour.
Then we will head to Bilit at lower Kinabantangsn River, about 2 hours from Sandakan, and check in to the Bilit Adventure Lodge late afternoon.
You can read the articles about these places once I have uploaded the related articles.
Watch our Sandakan Heritage Trail video shot at Sandakan. 👇👇
If you have read this blog post this far, don’t miss out on the Sandakan Heritage Trail video shot at Sandakan. Click the image below to watch on YouTube (shot in high definition!).
Other places we visited in Sabah, Malaysia
If you like this article, you may also want to read about other articles we wrote during our visit to Sabah, Malaysia.
- (EP1 Sabah) Sandakan food guide: Ten best restaurants in Sandakan
- (EP2 Sabah) Sandakan Heritage Trail & Memorial Park guide- Best places to visit in Sandakan
- (EP3 Sabah) Sepilok Jungle Resort review- Our true experience (with amazing hospitality)
- (EP4 Sabah) Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary- feeding session (amazing photos)