day trips from Sandakan

The Best Sandakan Tours to Take in Borneo

If you’re heading to or staying in Sandakan, then the chances are that you’re coming here because of some of the attractions nearby.  And unless you’re driving yourself, then you’ll need to take a Sandakan tour to get to see them.  This isn’t an expensive part of the world in which to take a tour, far from it.  There are great value tours here.  All the tours we’ve taken here have been with knowledgeable locals who genuinely care about the environment and their part of the world.  Here are our recommendations for the best Sandakan tours.



Pygmy Elephants Kinabatangan River


Taking a Sandakan Tour to the Kinabatangan River is just glorious. And this tour includes transport from Sandakan, your accommodation and food as well as several trips on the river and hikes in the forest.

Apart from visiting the animal conservation centers in Sepilok and Labuk Bay, while you are in this area you should visit some other key locations that are unique.  Some of these can be visited in a day, but for the best experience, you’ll want to take multi-day trips.  Here are the best Sandakan tours to take.

1. Take a cruise on the Kinabatangan River

The Kinabatangan River starts near the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and is 344 miles (560 km) long. Many wild animals such as crocodiles, orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and pygmy elephants live along the river.  This is an amazing place to visit.  I wrote about it here and how we visited and stayed in absolute luxury for several nights.  The best experiences are if you stay over for 2-3 days.

best Sandakan tour Elephants on the Kinabatangan River

This is, for me the best trip you can take from Sandakan, however, it’s recommended to book a multi-day trip, which usually lasts for 2 to 3 days.   The Kinabatangan River is a 4-hour drive from Sandakan. You don’t have to arrange transportation if you are booking a tour, you will be picked up from your hotel’s door.

Best 3 Day 2 Night Kinabatangan River Cruise This 2-night, 3 day Kinabatangan River stay includes 2 nights at the Bilit Adventure Lodge and cruises on the river. You’ll get to see wildlife in its natural habitat – there are elephants, orangutan, maroon langur (endemic to Borneo), Bornean gibbon (endemic to Borneo), snakes, crocodiles, civet cats, monitor lizards, macaques, and otters. If you want to stay in the rainforest and cruise on the Kinabatangan river this is a superb option. Reserve your place here.

For the BEST chance of Wildlife spotting in the Kinabatangan Area, take this 4-day, 3-night visit with a Kinabatangan River Cruise. This will let you experience everything that the Kinabatangan River has to offer, you’ll get one night at the Sepilok Jungle Resort and visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Center, then see the sun bears at the Sun Bear Conservation Center. Plus there’s a visit to the Rainforest Discovery Center to see red giant flying squirrels and birds. You’ll then spend 2 nights at the Bilit Adventure Lodge, where your visit will include river cruises, night walks, and forest trail walks. It doesn’t get better than this! See availability for this Kinabatangan River trip here!

2.  Visit Orangutans and Sunbears in Sepilok on a Sandakan Tour

I don’t believe that anyone could come to Sandakan and NOT visit the Orangutan rehab center at Sepilok.  You’re so close (you can even get here on a local bus, which I wrote about here).  However, this is quite simply a stunning Sandakan tour to take. 

Orangutan at Sepilok

Make the most of your time and get to see the Orangutans at feeding time.  There are several options you can take.

A half day Sandakan tour to Sepilok to see the Orangutans – and you can see the details here.

A 2 day and 1 night tour from Sandakan to Sepilok to see Orangutans & Sun Bears and stay at the fabulous Sepilok Jungle Resort.  You can check the prices here.

A 5 day and 4 night optional tour from Sandakan that includes visiting Sepilok AND the Kinabatangan River.  This is a super way to see all the highlights of this part of Borneo.  Check availability here.

Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Center

3 See turtles at the Selingan Turtle Islands

Northeast off the coast of Sandakan is Selingan Turtle Islands, don’t get it confused with Turtle Islands, because the latter one is a territory of the Philippines and the area is patrolled by the armed military of both countries. These groups of islands are focused on looking after turtles specifically in growing their population through a meticulous and safe hatchery. You can see the “set off” to the water or the hatchery season from July to October. 

Turtle Nesting at Selingan Island

If you are not visiting during these months, you can still book a boat tour and see the cute baby turtles. You can arrange a turtle-watching trip and stay on the island (the best time for turtle-watching is at dawn or in the evening) – and this is a great option from Sandakan.

4.  Visit Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary

This is a privately owned monkey sanctuary where you can watch these monkeys that are endemic to Borneo during their feeding times.  The monkeys are wild and roam the forests here, but at the sanctuary feeding time, they’re provided with fresh vegetables and fruit to supplement their diets.

You’ll find the center at Mile 19, Jalan Labuk, Sandakan, Sabah, 90000 and viewing times are at 09:30, 11:30 14:30, and 16:30.  It’s usually easiest to visit this center on a Sandakan tour that also includes visiting the Orangutans in Sepilok.

Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Center

We’ve also seen Proboscis monkeys in the wild on Borneo, both at the Kinabatangan River and also in Pulau Ranggu in Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.

5. Dive at Lankayan Island

North of the Selingan Turtle Islands is Lankayan Island which is a great spot for diving and snorkeling near Sandakan. It’s best if you’re diving to stay on the island during your trip.

Dive at Lankayan Island Sandakan tour

Regardless of if you are a diver or not, a visit to Lankayan Island has to be on your list of things to do in Sandakan Borneo because it offers something unique compared to other parts of Sabah; serenity. The island also has a turtle hatchery, where you may be able to see baby turtles. The entire island is also covered in fine white sand and surrounded by crystal-clear water.  It’s beautiful.

Malaysia Travel Tips

Final Words on the Best Sandakan Tours to Take

We truly enjoyed our time in Sandakan, and the opportunity to explore the wildlife and nature of the area.  This is a glorious part of Malaysia, possibly, I think, my favorite part.  The wildlife that we’ve seen here, from the elephants on the Kinabatangan River to the Proboscis monkeys, the sun bears, and the always marvelous orangutan are so worth the trip here.  And the tours you can take from Sandakan are truly good value, so don’t stint on them!

Stock images in this article are courtesy Deposit Photos.

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