Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sandakan the gateway to ecotourism

Entering Sandakan
An arch welcomes visitors to the city
Many of the roundabouts have sculptures of animals native to the area
Pavilions in Sandakan City
Sandakan is the second port city of Sabah
An ariel view of Sandakan
Tall buildings around the city

Copyright © 2006 Brunei Press Sdn Bhd. All right reserved.

By Mohammad Abdullah

The gateway to ecotourism - that is what the city of Sandakan has come to be known as.

It is the second largest city in Sabah and is largely populated by illegal immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia, given its close proximity to these two countries. In Tausug (Sulu), Sandakan translates to 'the place that was pawned.'

Sandakan is only 297 km away from Kota Kinabalu (KK), however, it takes about six hours to reach the place due to the mountainous route.

Travellers will have to drive through the ghat roads from KK to reach the city of Sandakan. The drive there is relatively tame, however, the tough part is negotiating the steep and winding mountainous roads.

Sandakan boasts of many ecotourism destinations such as the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, Turtle Island Park, Kinabatangan River, Gomantong Caves, and a mangrove forest reserve which is home to the rare and elusive proboscis monkeys.

Sandakan Town centre is located closer to the ports. Here, the buildings are clustered together in an almost intangible entity. The roads are like a maze - though small, it is easy to take a wrong turn.

The cluster of tall buildings in the town centre gives a sense of closter phobia and the narrow roads between the buildings heighten the effect.

Residents of the city sprawl through the market places and commercial shops in the town centre. This gives the illusion that the city is bigger than it actually is, especially in the heart of the city.

In recent years, more businesses have shifted their operations away from the town centre, moving closer to the suburbs. The presence of illegal immigrants in the town centre deters investors, and new businesses shy away from the so called lawlessness brought about by the illegal immigrants.

One such new commercial district is the Batu Empat area, where businesses thrive away from the town centre. These commercial centres are similar to satellite cities, much like Gadong and Kiulap in Brunei Darussalam.

The commercial of Batu Empat could also be called the new entertainment centre, where there exist many types of pubs, clubs and discotheques.

Karaoke lounges are also abundant at the Batu Empat commercial center. These entertainment centres do not open until 9 pm, and they receive customers until late.

However, do no expect these clubs to be of the same standards as Singapore or Malaysia.

Although Sandakan is considered the second largest city in Sabah, there are some aspects of the city that mirrors it to that of a 'Cowboy Town,' where lawlessness is very much present.

Criminal elements are rampant, and they carry guns.

While on the surface everything may appear peaceful, there are some dangerous elements that traveller must be wary of.

While it is illegal to sell turtle eggs, they can be found in the black market. However, the buyers and sellers will be fined heftily should the authorities learn of such transactions.

Near the port sits a water village known as Kampung Buli Sim Sim, a stilt fishing village on the original site of Sandakan town.

While Kota Kinabalu is considered a metropolitan city, Sandakan still has quite a distance to go before reaching that status.

Courtesy of: Borneo Bulletin

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