Many people think that Sandakan is on the tourist map because of its proximity to the world famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Sandakan is much more than Sepilok. I didn’t know, until I stood at the waterfront in Harbour Square and looked out into the bay.
Sandakan, in north-eastern Sabah, has one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world. If Sabah looks like a dog’s head, then Sandakan is somewhere near its eye. The waters of the bay open up to the Sulu sea, just south of the Philippines.
The town derived its name from the Suluk word “sanda”, which means “to pawn”. Exactly who pawned what to whom is none too clear, the truth being lost in the murky annals of Borneo’s history.
In the early 1870s, William Clarke Cowie, a Scottish adventurer and engineer, delivered guns and ammunitions to the Sultan of Sulu, who needed them to fend off a possible onslaught by Spaniards who had by then overrun much of the Philippine islands.
In return, the Sultan granted Cowie permission to set up base in Pulau Timbang, a sparsely inhabited island within the bay. Cowie christened his territory “Sandakan”, but strangely enough, it soon became known as “Kampong German”, due perhaps to the increasing number of German traders who dropped by to visit the Scotsman. And there you have it, Sandakan’s early international connections!
Continue reading at: So much more to Sandakan