I arrived in Sandakan (山打根) town in Sabah state of Malaysia on the night flight from KL on 16/10/11. The next morning, the whole stretch of street in front of the hotel was used as a weekly day market. The shops in the town centre where the hotel is situated is like a typical small Malaysian town, except for the language the local people use.
This part of Malaysia is near the Phillipines, and Sandakan has received large influx of Filipinos people fleeing the the war and poverty in Southern Philipines to make Sabah very attractive destination for them to migrate (legally or otherwise).
The next day, we moved to the newer part of the town, where there are more crowds and eating places at night – much of the downtown area seems to be quiet in the evening.
Sandakan is suprisingly quite well developed, particularly the newer areas that are further away from the town centre. It is also pretty laidback when compared to larger cities in Malaysia, but the facilities and infrastructures are pretty good. There are sport complexes, golf courses and driving ranges, all sorts of food and entertainment outlets etc.
The main tourist attraction is the Sepilok orangutan rehabilitation centre. A nearby botanical garden with aerial walk is worth a visit too. Inexpensive seafood is another great attraction for visitors. The locals will vouch that their seafoods are fresher and taste better than those in Kota Kinabalu.
Sandakan was the former capital city of Sabah. It has a fine harbour and possesed large quantity of the good timbers from the hinterlands. The heydays were the 50s, 60s and 70s, when the logging industry soared and many millionaires were created. Today, most of the large trees have been felled, except for those forest in protected reserve areas along the Kinabatangan river. However, the town is still economically well off today, thanks to the extensive oil palm plantations in surrounding areas.