Getting into town from the airport in Kota Kinabalu was simple. Taxis have a flat rate of RM30, and many others use the app Grab to call a car. Within 20 minutes, we were at our hotel!
We stayed at Hotel Gaia 95, not far from the coast and nightly markets.
Upon arrival in Sandakan, we also booked a taxi at the counter at the exit for the airport, with another set rate of RM30.
We had heard great things about the Four Points Hotel in the city center, however, their pool (with the famous sunset views) was under construction during our time (womp womp). Instead, we booked the Sabah Hotel, which we ended up loving as an oasis outside the city. They have a large swimming pool, gym, cafe, breakfast buffet, and room service. We also loved the beautiful trees and plants surrounding the deck.
Street food: Some foods we enjoyed included: fried bananas, meats on a stick, Goreng Kuih Lobak (a stir fried dish made with radish/rice patties), and beef curry. We didn’t sample the durian fruit, although we found it interesting that it is banned from most hotels due to its odour!
Island Hopping from KK: From our hotel in KK, we walked to Jesselton Point, where ferries run to and from the neighbouring islands. We had a short amount of time before the final 5pm ferry back, but convinced a company to take us over to Mandukan Island. The ride is only 15 minutes in a small boat. By this time, several ferries of tourists had returned from their day on the beach, so it was peaceful and empty. The resort next to the pier seemed like a nice getaway.
Turtle Island from Sandakan: Three islands off the coast of Borneo are the center spots for sea turtles. They have been claimed and protected to make efforts to maintain their population. Tours leave every day between 9:30-10:30am and must include an overnight stay. We tried to book with Crystal Quest, but they are notorious for not responding to emails. Since I was planning shortly before our trip, I quit awaiting a response and instead booked a company with the island included in the package. The itinerary is the same for everyone: 1 hour boat ride, lunch, free time on the beach, educational video, dinner, late night watch for female turtles laying eggs, hatchery info, and releasing recently hatched babies into the sea. We loved every bit of it, and I would recommend to anyone.
Kinabatangan River Cruise: From Sandakan, a two-hour bus ride took us to Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort, one of the many lodges planted alongside the Kinabatangan river. We booked through a tour company, but you can also book lodging directly with any of the lodges, which will include the cruise itinerary. We arrived for a two-hour afternoon cruise, where we saw crocodiles, King Fishers, Hornbills, macaques, and loads of proboscis monkeys. They also included a night walk and 1-hour morning cruise. Sunrise on the river was stunning!
If I get dive certified, I would absolutely come back for diving. Several of the islands in Malaysian Borneo are famous for this.