Sandakan was until 1946 the former capital of British North Borneo. In the early colonial days the town prospered as the port was popular with traders from around the world. Today there is still a buzz of activity around the waterfront as barges, ferries and motorboats of all sizes come and go delivering fish and other products and exporting timber, rattan, rubber, palm oil as well as exotic things like “birds nests’ to China.
Besides the busy port, the great seafood and sunset views from the hills, there is not really much to see in Sandakan itself. The real attractions lie outside of the town such as Sepilok Orang-utan Reserve, the Kinabatangan River and Turtle Island.
Sandakan has good air-links with multiple daily flights from Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Kuala Lumpur.
"Sandakan" is derived from the Suluk word "sanda" meaning, to pawn and "kan" being town or place. Hence in the local language "Sandakan" is said to mean “the place that was pawned” although who exactly pawned it, and to whom, remains a mystery.