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This article is about a place in Sabah. For a fictional novel, see Sandokan.
(Formerly, Elopura)
Other transcription(s)
 • Jawi سنداکن
 • Chinese 山打根
Sandakan town centre.
Sandakan town centre.
Official seal of Sandakan(Formerly, Elopura)
Nickname(s): The Nature City, Little Hong Kong
Location of Sandakan in Sabah
Location of Sandakan in Sabah
Sandakan(Formerly, Elopura) is located in Malaysia
Sandakan(Formerly, Elopura)
(Formerly, Elopura)
Sandakan is located in Malaysia
Coordinates: 5°50′0″N 118°07′0″E / 5.83333°N 118.11667°E / 5.83333; 118.11667Coordinates: 5°50′0″N 118°07′0″E / 5.83333°N 118.11667°E / 5.83333; 118.11667
Country  Malaysia
State  Sabah
Division Sandakan
Settled by BNBC 21 June 1879
Declared capital of North Borneo 1884
Discontinuation as capital 1946
 • Council President Ir. James Wong
 • Total 2,266 km2 (875 sq mi)
Population (2010)
 • Total 396,290
 • Density 170/km2 (450/sq mi)
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
 • Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postcode 90000 to 90999
Area code(s) 089

Sandakan (Malaysian pronunciation: [ˈsan daˈkan], Jawi: سنداکن‎, Chinese: 山打根; pinyin: Shān Dǎ Gēn) formerly known at various times as Elopura, is the second-largest town in Sabah after the Kota Kinabalu City, on the north-eastern coast of Borneo in Malaysia. It is located on the east coast of the island in the administrative centre of Sandakan Division and was the former capital of British North Borneo. The town has an estimated population of 157,330,[1] while the whole municipalities area has a total population of 396,290.[1]


William B. Pryer, British Resident of Sandakan.[2]
British North Borneo Company administration building in Sandakan on 1899.

Beginning in the early 1870s, the east coast of Sabah was under the control of the Sultanate of Sulu.[3] The first European settlement was built by a Scottish arms smuggler named William Clarke Cowie who named the settlement "Sandakan," which in the Suluk language means "of seized place".[3] The settlement was soon renamed Kampung Jerman, due to the presence of several German bases there.[3]

In 1878, the settlement, along with the entire territory of North Borneo was sold to the Austro-Hungarian consul Baron von Overbeck, who had signed a concession contract with the Sultan of Sulu.[3] This early settlement was burnt down on 15 June 1879 and was never thereafter rebuilt.[4]

The British Resident, William B. Pryer, moved to the settlement on 21 June 1879 to a residence in what is today known as Buli Sim Sim near Sandakan Bay. It was Pryer who gave the settlement the name Elopura meaning "Beautiful Town". Several years later the settlement was again renamed Sandakan.[5] The name Elopura, however, is still used for some local government functions of the Sabah State Legislative Assembly, including elections.[6]

A street scene of the town in 1939 just before the beginning of World War II.
Sandakan was heavily damaged by bombing from Allied forces in 1945. The bombing was intended to flush out the Japanese who occupied the town during this period. The heavy damage to the town eventually led the British move the capital of British North Borneo to Jesselton.

Japanese occupation[edit]

During the Japanese occupation of Sandakan, the Japanese had restored the name Elopura to the town. It was during this period that the Japanese established a prisoner-of-war camp which would later serve as the starting point for the death marches. Thousands of British and Australian soldiers lost their lives during this forced march in addition to Javanese labourers from Dutch East Indies.[7][8] Only six Australian soldiers survived from this camp, all of whom had escaped. Sandakan was completely destroyed both by bombing from Allied forces and the Japanese occupation.[9][10][11]

Original names[edit]

After the settlement been moved, the first name for the new town were Elopura which means "Beautiful Town".[12] The name was given by the British Chartered Company but the locals persisted to use the old name which later it was changed back to Sandakan.[11][13][12] Beside Elopura, the town also called as Little Hong Kong due to a strong presence of ethnic Chinese migration from Hong Kong mainly Cantonese and Hakka.[14][15][16]


Sandakan Municipal Council building.

There are three members of parliament (MPs) representing the three parliamentary constituencies in the district: Libaran (P.184), Batu Sapi (P.185), and Sandakan (P.186).

Local authority[edit]

The town is administered by the Sandakan Municipal Council (Majlis Perbandaran Sandakan). The current President of Sandakan Municipal Council is Datuk Ir. James Wong, who took over from Mr. Yeo Boon Hai in 2009.[17] The area under the jurisdiction of the Sandakan District covers the town area (46 square miles), half-town area (56 square miles), rural areas and islands (773 square miles) with all the total area are 875 square miles.[18]


When William B. Pryer became the first Resident of Sandakan, one of his first tasks was to establish law and order. But since the local natives, although cowed by the guns of the British Navy, considered the British as transgressors in their land, hostility towards the authority of the British North Borneo Company Chartered was natural. Hence, Pryer had to import his police from India or Singapore. His first contingent of police was made up of Indian Sikhs whose stature alone must have been quite frightening to some of the natives. The Indian police were probably from the Sepoy Company in India and were generally called 'Sipai' by the locals.[19]

Today, Sandakan is one of the six districts that involved in the eastern Sabah sea curfew that have been enfored since 19 July by the Malaysian government.[20]


Sandakan is located on the east coast of Sabah confront with the Sulu Sea and the town were known as one of Malaysia port town.[21] The town is located approximately 1,900 kilometres from the Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur while only 28 kilometres from the international border with the Philippines and 319 kilometres from the capital of Sabah.[18][22] The district itself is surrounded by Beluran (known as Labuk-Sugut District before) and Kinabatangan district.[23] Not far from the town, there are three islands which are part of the Malaysian Turtle Islands namely the Selingaan, Gulisaan and Bakkungan Kechil.[24] The nearest islands to the town are Berhala, Duyong, Nunuyan Darat, Nunuyan Laut, and Bai island.[23]


Sandakan has a tropical rainforest climate under the Köppen climate classification. The climate is relatively hot and wet with average shade temperature about 32 °C, with around 32 °C at noon falling to around 27 °C at night. The town sees precipitation throughout the year, with a tendency for October to February to be the wettest months, while April becomes the driest months. Sandakan mean rainfall varies from 2184 mm to 3988 mm.[25][26]

Climate data for Sandakan
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 29.2
Daily mean °C (°F) 26.2
Average low °C (°F) 23.3
Precipitation mm (inches) 436.8
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 18 12 10 7 9 12 12 13 13 15 18 19 158
Mean monthly sunshine hours 155.6 160.9 217.5 247.0 248.9 206.9 220.9 221.5 194.9 190.7 174.5 159.9 2,399.2
Source: NOAA[27]


Ethnicity and religion[edit]

Sandakan District Mosque, the main mosque for the town as well for the district.
Puu Jih Shih Temple, built in 1987 is the main Chinese temple in Sandakan.
Parish of St. Michael's and All Angels, the oldest granite church in Sandakan.

According to the Malaysian Census in 2010, the whole town municipalities area has a total population of 396,290.[1] The population now is a mixture of many different races and ethnicities. Non-Malaysian citizens form the majority of the town population with 144,840 people followed by other Bumiputras (100,245), Chinese (63,201), Bajau (38,897), Malay (22,244), Kadazandusun (16,616), Indian (974), Murut (519) and others (8,754).[1]

The non-Malaysian citizens are mostly coming from the southern Philippines.[28][29] While the Chinese like other places in Sabah, are mostly Cantonese and Hakka who has arrived since the British period and has their original settlements before in the town which now known as the Chinese Farm River Village.[15] The Bajau and Malays are majority Muslims, Kadazandusuns and Muruts are mainly practice Christianity with some of them had become Muslim while the Chinese are mainly Buddhists and some Christians. A small number of Hindus, Sikhs, Animists, and other small number of secularists also exist.

The large group of non-citizens has been identified as a majority Muslims and there is also a small numbers of Christian Filipinos especially women who later converted to Islam to married with a Muslim Filipinos here.[28] Like in Kota Kinabalu, the first wave of this immigrants arrived in the late 15th century during the Spanish colonisation, while the others arriving in the early 1970s because of the troubles in southern Philippines.[28] They consist of migrant workers with many of them have been naturalised as Malaysian citizens, however there are still many who living without proper documentation as illegal immigrants in the town with their own illegal settlement.[28]


Like the national language, the people of Sandakan mainly speak Malay, with a distinct Sabahan creole.[30] The Malay language here are different from the Malay language in the west coast which resembles Brunei Malay.[31] In Sandakan, this language has been influenced with many words from the Suluk language.[32] As Sandakan also been dominated by the Cantonese Chinese, cantonese widely spoken and taught as official language in the school back then. While for the east coast Bajau, their language has a similarities with the Sama language in the Philippines and also borrowed many words from the Suluk language which different from the west coast Bajau who had been influence by the Malayic languages of Brunei Malay.[33][34]


Part of Sandakan port, port has become one of the economic source since the British period.
A tank ship for the transportation of edible oil in Sandakan.

During the British period, Sandakan grew quickly as one of the largest British settlements in the east coast of North Borneo including has ever become the former capital for the territory.[35] It grew rapidly due to the export activities as a port town. The port is important for palm oil, tobacco, cocoa, coffee, manila hemp and sago exports.[12][36] In the mid-1930s, the export of tropical timber from Sandakan has record a level of 180,000 cubic metres which made the town as the world's largest exporter of hardwood.[12] Many Sandakan wood logs are now found in Beijing's Temple of Heaven.[35] Sandakan also enjoyed modern developments such as telegraph service to London and paved streets before Hong Kong and Singapore.[35]

As the capital of North Borneo, Sandakan become an active commercial and trading centre. Main trading partners were Hong Kong and Singapore. It is not surprising, therefore, that many Hong Kong trders eventually settled in Sandakan so that in time the town was called the 'Little Hong Kong of North Borneo'.[19]

The overseas Chinese has contributes to the development of the town since their immigration in the late 19th century.[37] Their original role in Sandakan including becoming farmers and labours with some of them work as a businessmen and entrepreneurs.[15][37] Now, Sandakan are currently poised to become one of Sabah business hub.[38] The town itself are one of Sabah's major port, other than in Kota Kinabalu, Sepanggar Bay, Tawau, Lahad Datu, Kudat, Semporna and Kunak.[21][39] Sandakan district known for its eco-tourism, such as the orangutan rehabilitation station in Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, the Turtle Islands Park, the Kinabatangan River and the Gomantong Caves which famous for its edible bird's nest.[38] Due to Sandakan geographical proximity with the Southern Philippines, there is also a barter trade connection and Sandakan is considered as a transit point for foods entering into the Southern Philippines. The state government has assisting traders to improve their trading system and providing infrastructure facilities.[40]

Fish market in Sandakan, fisheries are also one of the economic source for the town.

Sandakan main industrial zones are basically based on three areas such as the Kamunting area known for its oil depots, edible oil refinery and glue factories.

In Batu Sapi, a shipyard, fertiliser oxygen gas and wood-based factories are situated. The main highway, Jalan Batu Sapi, had been upgraded by 2014. A grand specialised Industrial Park Majulah Industrial Centre will start running since 2015.[41] The proposed Seguntor industrial area consists of 1,950 hectares (4,833 acres) are originally an agricultural area and the area is now in the process to be re-zoning into an industrial area. 2,531 acres will be for wood-base industries while another 2,302 will be used for general industries. At present, 55 wood-based factories have been approved, of which 35 has been into operation. While another total of 340 hectares area for general industries and 30 hectares for service industries are located in various parts of Sandakan.[42]

But in recent years, many businessmen have shifted their operations away from the town centre to other suburbs due to a large presence of illegal immigrants from Mindanao islands in the Philippines which has causing trouble mostly in crime such as theft and vandalism on public facility and also solid waste pollution in marine and coastal areas.[28][36][43] But later in January 2003, an urban renewal project, was launched to revive the town centre as a commercial hub in Sandakan and since 2013, the Government of Malaysia has launched a major crackdown on illegal immigrants.[36][44]



Indah Intersection in Indah Jaya Town, the main intersection in Sandakan.

All the internal roads linking different parts of the town are generally state roads constructed and maintained by the state's Public Works Department, while the local council (Sandakan Municipal Council) oversees the housing estates roads.[45] Currently, most road in Sandakan were undergoing major upgrade due to such issues like the lack of road networks and overloading.[45][46] There is only one federal arterial road which links Sandakan to the west coast of Sabah, the Federal Route 22, while other roads including the internal roads are called state roads.[45] Most major internal roads are dual-carriageways. Highway routes from Sandakan include:[47]

Public transportation[edit]

Regular bus services with minivans and taxis also can be found.[48][49] There are three bus terminals operating in the town such as the Buses to Sepilok, Local Bus Terminal and the Long Distance Bus Terminal.[50] The long-distance bus terminal is located about 4 km north of the town while the local bus connects with the centre of the town.[48]

Sandakan Airport serves a domestic flights to around Malaysia.


Sandakan Airport (SA) (ICAO Code : WBKS) provides flights linking the town to other domestic destinations. As the town has a twin towns agreement with the Zamboanga City and for the ASEAN spirit in the BIMP-EAGA, there is an international route from Sandakan to Zamboanga International Airport.[51][52] Local destinations for the airport including Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Kuala Lumpur and many others. It is also one of the destinations for MASWings, which serves flights to other smaller towns or rural areas in East Malaysia. The airport is still undergoing upgrade and expansion for the comfort of air travellers.[53]


The Sandakan Port.

There is one ferry terminal which connects the town with some parts in the Southern Philippines such as Zamboanga City, the Sulu Archipelago and Tawi-Tawi.[54] At before, the state government are proposing to build a new Ferry Terminal in the town to attract more tourist particularly from the Philippines and also from Indonesia.[55] However, soon the ferry service was later terminated due to the trouble in the southern Philippines which could spread to the state and there is also a call from the former Chief Minister of Sabah and the Current President of Sabah Progressive Party Yong Teck Lee to suspend the ferry service to counter the high level of people migration from the Philippines which now has become the major problem to Sabah when they overstaying in the state and becoming an illegal immigrants.[56][57][58]

Other utilities[edit]

Courts of law and legal enforcement[edit]

Sandakan town police station located beside the Wisma Sandakan.

The current court complex is located along Lebuh Empat.[59] It contains the High Court, Sessions Court, and the Magistrate Court.[60] Another court for the Sharia law were also located at the town.[61]

The district police headquarters were also located at Lebuh Empat,[62] along with the town police station located not far from the court beside the Wisma Sandakan.[59] Other police station can be found throughout the district such as in KM52, Ulu Dusun and in Seguntor.[63] Police substations (Pondok Polis) are found in Sg. Manila, Suan Lamba, Sibuga and Kim Fong BT4 areas,[63] and the Sandakan Prison is located in the town centre.[64]


Specialist Clinic at the Duchess of Kent Hospital.

There are one public hospital, eight public health clinics, one child and mother health clinic, eight village clinics, three mobile clinics and two 1Malaysia clinics in Sandakan.[65][66] The Duchess of Kent Hospital, which is located along Jalan Utara, is the main and second largest public hospital in Sabah after the Queen Elizabeth Hospital with (400 beds).[67] Build in 1951, it is also become the first modern and one of the important hospital in Sabah.[67]

In 2008, a private hospital also been proposed to be build at the Jalan Utara. The Fook Kuin Medical Centre would be the largest private hospital in Sabah with (276 beds) surpassing the Sabah Medical Centre with (134 beds) in Kota Kinabalu once it finished in 2011.[68][69]


One of the secondary school in Sandakan, the SMK Sandakan II.
SMK Elopura II.
The Sandakan Regional Library.

There are many government or state schools in and around the town. Among the secondary schools are Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Elopura, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Elopura II, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Batu Sapi, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Datu Pengiran Galpam, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Gum-Gum, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Muhibbah, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Taman Fajar, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Perempuan, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Paris, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Merpati, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Segaliud, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Libaran, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Sandakan, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Sandakan II, Sekolah Menengah Tiong Hua, Sekolah Menengah Cecilia Convent, Sekolah Menengah St. Mary, Sekolah Menengah St. Michael, Sekolah Menengah Sung Siew, Sekolah Menengah Teknik Sandakan and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Agama Sandakan.[70][71] One independent private school also available in the town such as the Yu Yuan Secondary School.[72]

While for tertiary educations, there are Sandakan Polytechnic, ILP Sandakan, GIATMARA Sandakan and Kinabalu Commercial College. All universities such as the University of Malaysia Sabah, Open University Malaysia and Universiti Putra Malaysia has a campus here.

St. Mary Town Primary School was the first school opened in Sandakan and Borneo. It was opened by Rev. Fr. A. Prenger being the first headmaster, with Rev. Fr. Pundleider, Mill Hill's priests. It is an all boys Catholic Mission School. It have been opened on 24 July 1883 and the oldest school running in Borneo.[73][74]


The Sandakan Regional Library is located in the town and is one of three regional libraries in Sabah, the other in Keningau and Tawau. All these libraries are operated by the Sabah State Library department.[75] Other libraries or private libraries can be found in schools, colleges, or universities.[65]


The first newspaper established at Sandakan was the British North Borneo Herald. The newspaper was established in 1883 monthly until 1942 during the Japanese occupation.

Culture and leisure[edit]

Attractions and recreation spots[edit]


A number of cultural venues has their place in Sandakan. The Sandakan Heritage Museum, situated at the Jalan Lebuh Empat, is the main museum of Sandakan. The museum located in the right-hand side of the ground and in the 1st floors of the Wisma Warisan Building which is next to the municipal building.[76] Beside that, a cultural festival known as Sandakan Festival were celebrated once a year on the town since been introduced in 2000 by the Sandakan Municipal Council.[77][78]

Sandakan Death Marches Memorial Park, the site where the Sandakan prisoner of war camp located.


Another museum in Sandakan is the Agnes Keith House which is located at the top of the hill along Jalan Istana. The house known for the former home to Harry Keith and his wife Agnes Newton Keith.[79] Other historical attractions including the Malaysia Fountain, Chartered Company Memorial, Chong Tain Vun Memorial, North Borneo Scout Movement Memorial, Sandakan Japanese Cemetery, Sandakan Liberation Monument, Sandakan Massacre Memorial, Sandakan Memorial Park, Sandakan War Memorial and the William Pryer Memorial. While for the oldest religious buildings are the Parish of St. Michael's and All Angels, the Sam Sing Kung Temple and the Masjid Jamek who was opened by a Muslim cloth merchant from India, known as Damsah in 1890.[80]

Leisure and conservation areas[edit]

Sandakan Golf and Country Club.

A number of leisure spots and conservation areas are available around Sandakan. The Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary is the place where orphaned or injured orangutans are brought to be rehabilitated to return to forest life. Established in 1964, it is one of only four orangutan sanctuaries in the world.[81][82] Other conservation areas are the Malaysian Turtle Islands where many turtles lay their eggs on the islands. They cover an area of 1,740 hectares which includes the surrounding reefs and seas and the islands are also ideal for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving.[83]

Another attraction is the Gomantong Caves, which become home to hundreds of thousands of swifts who build their nests high on cave walls and roofs. Other than swifts, the caves are also inhabited by millions of bats.[81] Much more, the Sandakan Orchid House has a collection of rare orchids and along the Labuk Road from Sandakan there is a crocodile farm, which housing about 1,000 crocodiles of various sizes.[84]

Sandakan Harbour Square, the main shopping destination for the citizens of Sandakan.


The main shopping area in Sandakan is the Harbour Mall. Launch in 2003, it is located in Sandakan's new central business district and build on a bay of reclaimed land.[82] It is part of the Sandakan Harbour Square and considered as the first modern shopping mall in the town.[85][86] In 2014, a new mall project with 341 units of store has been launched and will become the second main shopping destination for Sandakan once it finished.[87][88]


Sandakan has a vibrant hawker food culture, and is also well known for its seafood. Some of its specialties include the century egg dumpling (Chinese : 皮蛋饺), a variation of boiled jiaozi-style dumplings from Sandakan, with a filling made from century egg pieces, minced fish, and minced pork or chicken. The wrappers used for this type of dumpling result in a texture that is closer to wontons, being thinner and less elastic. Century egg dumplings may be served with broth and eaten by themselves, or as toppings for Sandakan's local variant of egg noodles (Chinese : 彈弓面) which are very springy in texture.[89]

The UFO tart (Chinese : 牛屎堆) is another speciality endemic to Sandakan. It consists of a flat, thin base of baked mini butter sponge cake topped with a creamy egg custard, which is in turn crowned with a meringue slurry. Its name in Chinese literally means "cow pile dung", which alludes to the piped shape of the cake base's toppings and the meringue's darker shade as a result of caramelisation. Popularised by a Hainanese bakery in Sandakan in the 1950s, the popularity of these treats has spread to Kota Kinabalu and several other towns in Sabah.[90]


A signpost shows a different sport venues in Sandakan Sport Complex.

Rugby is very popular in Sandakan. Eddie Butler, a former Welsh Rugby Union captain, described it as the "Limerick of the tropics".[91] In 2008, at the newly built Sandakan Rugby Club, the Borneo Eagles-Sabahans (a team which included a few professional Fijians), hosted at the Borneo 10-a-side tournament for the eight and last time. Next year, the tournament will change to seven-aside.[91]

Other than rugby, a sport complex containing a badminton court, swimming pool, weightlifting room, hockey stadium, football stadium, cricket field, boxing facility and field archery available on the town.

Notable peoples[edit]


International relations[edit]

Twin towns[edit]

Sandakan currently has two twin towns:

See also[edit]


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