Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sandakan's vibrant attractions

A panoramic view of Sandakan

The Four Points by Sheraton, a new international hotel in Sandakan

Photos courtesy of and Copyright to NYL and Brunei Press Sdn Bhd


Sandwiched between sea and cliffs, Sandakan, Sabah's second largest city on the east coast, holds hidden secrets, which are gradually being unlocked.

Derived from the Suluk word "sanda" meaning "to pawn", Sandakan means "a place that was pawned". Who pawned it and to whom, remains a mystery.

Englishman William B Pryer founded Sandakan in 1879. But it was William Clarke Cowie, a Scottish adventurer and engineer, who set up the first European settlement on Pulau Timbang in Sandakan Bay where a small Suluk village existed. Cowie called his base Sandakan, later known as Kampung German due to the number of German traders who visited Cowie.

The settlement was relocated to Buli Sim-Sim in 1879. It was an uninhabited jungle and mangrove area with one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world. He named the new settlement "Elopura" meaning "The Beautiful City" but the name reverted to Sandakan.

By 1885, Sandakan was the capital of British North Borneo, its natural harbour and proximity to sources of timber, beeswax and edible birds' nest transforming it into a thriving commercial centre. Sabahan timber was used in the construction of Beijing's Temple of Heaven, and much of Sandakan's early trade was with Hong Kong; there is still a strong Cantonese influence in the town.

World War II saw a lot of destruction to the town and it lost its capital status to Jesselton (subsequently, renamed Kota Kinabalu) to the north.

Today, Sandakan is more notably a springboard to several fascinating destinations, including the offshore Turtle Islands Park, the divers' paradise Pulau Lankayan, Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre and Sungai Kinabatangan. Despite its lively colonial history, Sandakan's main attraction is its hot, steamy waterfront - a teeming, chaotic multi-purpose place where the fish and central market, hawker stalls and transport all seem to combine in a profusion of colour and activity.

From dawn to late morning, fruit and vegetable sellers line the front of the general market and, on the top floor, food stalls sell innumerable noodle dishes and seafood delicacies. The next building eastwards is the fish market, Sabah's largest, just behind which a row of weather-beaten old fishing boats are moored.

The streets set back from the sea are a little more serene, lined with simple coffee shops and garment stalls. To the west of the centre lies the padang - a reminder of the town's colonial heritage which is only used once a year on Independence Day.

A 10-minute walk east of the town centre, along Jalan Buli Sim-Sim deposits you in front of Sandakan's town mosque, which stands on a promontory and commands fine views of the bay. Flanking its eastern side is Kampung Buli Sim-Sim, the water village around which Sandakan expanded in the 19th century, crisscrossed by walkways.

In recent years, businesses have shifted their operations away from the town centre to the suburbs: Bandar Ramai-Ramai, Bandar Leila, Bandar Nam Tung, Bandar Maju, Bandar Kim Fung, Bandar Labuk Jaya and Bandar Sibuga Jaya, due to the presence of significant illegal immigrants in the town centre.

In 2003, the Sandakan Harbour Square, an urban renewal project, was launched in an attempt to revive the town centre as the commercial hub in Sandakan. It features new shop lots, the Sandakan Harbour Mall and the Four Points by Sheraton, a new international hotel situated at the waterfront, which has recently opened for business.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend