The second largest city in Borneo’s Sabah state, Sandakan is a jumping-off point for those who want to venture into the island’s wild areas, in particular its sanctuaries for animals such as orangutans and turtles, as well as national parks. These attractions tend to draw a younger crowd, so in addition to the standard business class hotels of a Malaysian town this size, Sandakan is home to a handful of welcoming hostels.
Located just north of Sandakan and practically looming over the town, this multi-storey hotel block features rooms that are neat and inviting, decked out in calming tones of stained woods and teal. It’s the kind of place where your bath towel will be lovingly folded into the shape of a swan and where you might consider sending a postcard to the staff after you leave.
Although it’s situated a little over a kilometre north of town, the Sabah Hotel Sandakan has an overtly rural feel. Surrounded by lush vegetation verging on jungle, the rooms couldn’t provide more of a contrast with their calming, contemporary cream and grey hues. The pool has a pond-like feel, and lobby and communal areas also make an effort to let nature in.
This charming structure along Sandakan’s waterfront strip is the home of this cheery budget crash pad. Accommodation spans both beds in a dorm and private rooms (including larger family rooms), and the staff here will assist you in your excursion, whether it be inland to Sabah’s jungle or along the coast. Public areas are inviting and offer breezy sea views.
The bold red-and-white theme here makes Borneo Sandakan Backpackers easy to find among the several budget places that line Sandakan’s waterfront area. The colours continue inside to the communal areas, dorms and private rooms, the facilities get good feedback, staff can help with excursions into the countryside, and it’s a short walk to the town’s street vendors and budget-friendly restaurants.
This modern-era shophouse has been converted into inviting budget accommodation. Opt for a bed in a dorm or one of several private rooms, then take advantage of the communal TV room, or kitchen, and perks such as free luggage storage and lockers. Service-minded staff have lots of experience in pointing visitors in the direction of Sabah’s rural destinations.
A stay here feels less like a stint at a hotel and more like crashing at the house of a relative. Housed in a block of shophouses just west of central Sandakan, the rooms here are cosy and functional if somewhat tight, sporting flashes of colour in the form of blue carpets and bright-red throw pillows and bed runners.
You can visit Sabah’s wild areas for the day or you can stay there overnight. The latter is more or less possible at Sepilok Forest Edge Resort, located just north of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, outside of Sandakan. Sleeping options range from beds in a dorm to free-standing chalets, with rustic woods, puffy beds and colourful throw pillows as a common design thread. There’s an on-site restaurant and a brick-lined pool, and staff can arrange all manner of tours and excursions.
Obsessed with orangutans? Then a stay at Sepilok Jungle Resort is a no-brainer. Located a five-minute walk from the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sepilok Jungle Resort is as close as you can get to the creatures without scaling a tree. Opt for a bed in a dorm or one of the simple but handsome rooms, and leave some post-orangutan time for a dip in the pool.