Sunday, December 10, 2006


Sandakan, here we come!

This wonderful eagle's-eye view of Sandakan is taken by a mate of Steven888's aboard a paramotor during a Merdeka Day fly-past, 2006. Thanks a million, Steve the paraglider & his buddy, the paramotor man!

Please click image for a much better view, and after reading this Sandakan yarn, you may want to revisit this pic.

The LCCT 051206

We are spending the next few days in Sandakan, some 1,800km away from KL, on the east coast of Sabah facing the Sulu Sea. Orang-utans are definitely at the top of the to-see list!

Not yet 7.00am, and the gates at the Low-cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) of KLIA are already a hive of activities. We have a 7.15am departure.

20min before departure, our gate for Sandakan is open.

As the sun rises, the workhorses of AirAsia, the Boeing 737-300s and the Airbus 320s, are getting ready for the day's tasks. Ours, an A320 (reg. 9M-AFH), is the one on the right.

Next to us, the ManUtd plane, 9M-AFC, is being loaded for its flight to Sibu (Sarawak).

As I pause the enter the plane, late passengers are still doing their leisurely morning stroll.

The Sea 051206

Soon after we are cruising at 29,000ft above the South China Sea.

Close-up of the fuel-saving winglets of the A320.

Tiga Island, just off the coast of Sabah, where they filmed the first 'Survivor' reality show in 2000.

And yes, Kota Kinabalu to the left, as the plane tracks towards Sandakan.

A slight right turn towards Sandakan, and we almost touch majestic Low's Peak atop Mt Kinabalu.

The Arrival 051206

We land in Sandakan on schedule, after a 2hr-45min flight. This has to be the longest non-stop domestic flight for Malaysia.

The all-white Welcoming Committee in full force. These egrets are not bothered by the plane a single bit, and if they get sucked into the jet engine, it's definitely bad news for the critters and the pricey engine!

Actual track of the flight as recorded by my GPS receiver. Pls click for better view.

The Sabah leg of the track.

By 10.10am, we are ready to enter the terminal, and to join the immigration queue. Yes, it's like entering a foreign state for a non-Sabah national like me!

Hello Sandakan 051206

One thing I notice, Sandakan is just too far away from anywhere!

We soon find our hotel, the orange-ish 'Seafront'. Well, close enough to the sea at the far end of the street.

Opposite it, 'Singapore' eating place next to 'Singapore' street. Cases of Singapore-philia?

Where mean-looking, tough men roam. Sandakan is virtually a frontier town facing restive southern Philippines, and security is paramount, needless to say.

And a major landmark of the town is virtually next door.

For orientation, please refer to this TOWN MAP.

The Heritage Trail 051206

After checking in at the Seafront, we go on the Sandakan Heritage Trail. First stop is the Museum to catch up with some ancient stamps ...

... and to learn how old Sandakan was razed to the ground by the Japanese in 1945, upon hearing news of their defeat. Sore losers!

Then up the curiously named 'Tangga Seribu' (and it's equally curious English translation of 'One Hundred Steps') which goes up the woody hills behind Sandakan town.

In the hills, a quick gawk at the pre-war Agnes Keith's House, a fine sample of colonial architecture, ...

... before heading to the Rotary-sponsored lookout platform. Sandakan was founded in the early 1870s, and was built along a flat strip of land sandwiched by the hills and the deep water of scenic Sandakan Bay.

The Bay 051206

The Sandakan Bay to the south is both huge and pretty, ...

... especially in the setting sun, ...

... while its deep water is a good place to park your boat.

A new coastal road is a popular place in the late afternoon.

A spot for families, couples and joggers, and far-from-home visitors like us.

The Base 051206

Smack in the middle of Sandakan, there is this Royal Malaysian Navy base, the KD Sri Sandakan.

At the gate, the RMN emblem stands proud. The vast Sulu Sea, off the east coast of Sabah, bordering southern Philippines, is a high security area due to smugglers, illegals, pirates, the odd terrorists, and what-have-you.

Mean-looking, armed-to-the-teeth boats moored for supplies. A day here, and they are gone for a week or so, patrolling the waters to keep the country secure.

More navy boats at the other side of the base.

And this fast boat accompanies every patrol boat when on duty. So there's always a pair of them at work together.

The Sunset 051206

Walking east past the navy base, we come to the new face of Sandakan. An on-going seafront development project will transform the town ...

... into something like this, for better or for worse.

We soak in the fresh air of beautiful Sandakan Bay, as a passenger boat heading for Zamboanga (in Mindanao, the Philippines) glides past. Twice weekly, overnight run, I'm told it costs US$30 one-way.

Sandakan Bay has a harbour, which used to be in Sandakan itself, but has since been re-located further inland, to a place called Karamunting.

More boats in the bay, and as the sun disappears below the horizon, it's time for us to call it a day. Tomorrow we go orang-utan spotting. Come join us!