Based in the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain Rainforest, Sabah, The Great Orangutan And Pygmy Elephant Project is one of the most fascinating and 'wild' volunteer trips any budding conservationist could hope to visit. The project encompasses jaw-dropping diversity in terms of both flora and fauna, and even introduces volunteers to an incredible and unique community known as the 'Orang Sungai' ('people of the river.') But what more is there to know about this alluring area of Malaysian Borneo? And how can our volunteers make the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure?
Like many of us, you may find yourself wanting to make the absolute most out of your time away. The Great Orangutan And Pygmy Elephant Project has much to offer, but while you're over this side of the world, you might as well check out what else there is to do! To give you a hand in creating the best possible itinerary for your time away, we've put together a selection of our top five experiences in Malaysian Borneo (namely, around the Sabah/Sandakan region.) Check out our list below, and discover even more ways in which this destination is unlike any other on earth!
(Photo by Warren Apel [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
First on our list, why not consider visiting the house which once belonged to the American author Agnes Newton Keith? The writer is best known for her three autobiographical accounts of life in North Borneo (specifically the area known today as Sabah.) These accounts were written before, during and after the Second World War, during which she was imprisoned alongside her family. Her story is a remarkable one, and leaves behind a legacy not only to be found in her publications; and for tourists looking to catch a glimpse into the life of this noted writer, a visit to Agnes Newton Keith Home is a must. The building, now a heritage house, provides fascinating insights to the life of the writer and her family, with reproduced colonial furniture and antiques allowing visitors to imagine life during this unusual and trying era.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 9am-5pm.
Getting there: A 20 minute walk from Sandakan Town, or a short taxi ride.
Admission fee: Yes. Check the Sabah Tourism website for further information.
(Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia Commons)
Located at the hilltop of Tanah Merah, Puu Jih Shih Temple is the largest Chinese temple in the town, situated around 4km west of the town centre. The view from this temple is spectacular: atop the hill, there are stunning panoramic views of the ocean; elsewhere, visitors love to look up at the warm glow of the temple’s lanterns. At night, Puu Jih Shih is peppered with shades of red and pink; its vibrancy a beautiful contrast to the soothing blues of the nearby Sandakan Sea Port and the bay below. Whether visitors come here just for the view, or to receive blessings from the Buddhists at the temple, Puu Jih Shih is a landmark not to be missed.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 8am-6pm (but be sure to double check this before leaving your hotel!)
Getting there: Take a taxi from the Sandakan Sea Port, or from Sandakan Town itself.
Admission fee: Free, but donations are warmly welcomed.
(Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia Commons)
The Sandakan Memorial Park is a memorial site built in the former grounds of the former Sandakan Camp, Sabah. An emotional addition to your itinerary, Sandakan Memorial Park is dedicated to the memory of the camp prisoners who died during the Sandakan Death Marches, as well as those who died during a march to Ranau. The site was built in 1995, borne out of an agreement between the state government of Sabah, the government of Australia, the veterans association Returned And Services League Of Australia, and the Sandakan Municipal Council. Weighted in sentiment, the park is set within a beautiful forest orchard and a series of gardens, and stands to recognise the suffering and sacrifice of the native population. Visitors can observe accounts from survivors, as well of photographs from personnel, inmates, and liberators.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 9am-5pm
Getting there: Take a 15-minute taxi from Sandakan town.
Admission fee: None.
For those looking for a truly authentic Malay experience, look no further than the Fishermen’s Village. Also known as Sim Sim Village (or Kampung Buli Sim Sim), this traditional stilt village is located around 3km east of Sandakan Town. Interestingly, this curious water-village is actually the original settlement from which Sandakan eventually grew, and while life may have moved on, Sim Sim retains much of its classic charm. More than 1000 inhabitants stay here, making their living by producing some of the best seafood in all Malaysian Borneo. The marketplace is arguably the highlight of a day trip here, offering up cheap and unusual delicacies as well as more typical dishes such as tofu and noodles. Whether you’re here to try some of the interesting food on offer, or to embrace the picturesque scenery, be sure to take a little time to speak to the friendly locals too!
Opening hours: 24/7
Getting there: Either stroll along to the promenade, or take a taxi from Sandakan itself.
Admission fee?: None, but you may want to take a little money to spend on trinkets and snacks!
Finally, the Gomantong Caves are a must-see for tourists – or, at least, those with a strong enough stomach! The caves are carved entirely by nature; the light slicing through its cathedral-like chambers almost as intimidating as any supreme deity. Swathes of emerald moss line the walls of the cave…as do the ruby-red shells of the thousands of cockroaches that inhabit these sheltered hollows. If visitors can excuse this abundance of insects (and indeed, their accompanying smell), the Gomantong Caves are a visceral treat to behold. A large number of animals live within the chambers, from various species of bird to the hundreds of thousands of bats inhabiting the upper reaches of the cave. And it is these bats, with their nightly migration from the depths of the cave, which leave visitors with a sense of awe. Elsewhere, visitors may even be lucky enough to spot one or two wild orangutans – so if continuing your wild adventure is paramount, look no further than this incredible day trip.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 8am-noon; 2pm-4:30 (however, closing periods do apply – be sure to check before leaving your hotel!)
Getting there: Take a bus (1.5 hours) from Sandakan, or join a local tour.
Admission fee?: Yes. Entrance fees vary across ages and for those with cameras/photographic equipment; please check the Sabah Tourism page for more information (or speak to a member of staff at your accommodation for further advice.)
Interested in this itinerary? Why not consider beginning your Bornean adventure now by booking your place on The Great Orangutan And Pygmy Elephant Project!
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