We have just returned from 10 days in Malaysia, 4 being spent in and around Sandakan. We had an incredible trip. Our kids are 9, 7, 3, and 1. We travel very regularly, but I must admit, this was a stretch even for us. However, it was so worth it.
We arrived in Sandakan from KK around 2pm and we spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing as we knew we had some big days ahead of us. We checked out the new "mall" and I use that term loosely as there were really only 5 shops in it, and went to the grocery store to get some instant noodles for our picky eaters. We stayed at the Four Points Sheraton, which was a nice enough hotel and had 2 interconnecting rooms. After looking in the mall, we went to the big local market next door and walked around looking at the produce and fish market in the back. Then it was time to head back to the room to get ready for bed.
The next morning, we prepared for our trip to Turtle Island. We hit a couple of snags this morning, our tour was meant to start at 9, but they called us at 8:15 to say they were coming early, and they wanted us to consolidate our luggage. This would have been nice to know the day before, but after some rushing around, we made it downstairs to meet our guide at 8:45. After dropping some luggage at the tour company, and a quick stop for bottles of water, we were off to the jetty. We boarded the boat to the island around 9:30, and within an hour we were there. Upon our arrival we were given a short orientation to the island and then given our room keys. I read many reviews of this place before we came and the word "basic" kept coming up, but the rooms were more than just that, they did not seem cared for at all. Be prepared if you go, the accomodations are a bit rough. And, it is a long walk from the boat to your room, so pack light. After settling in, we had lunch, then an afternoon of snorkeling and walking around the island. It is quite peaceful out there and very interesting to wander around. We saw several 4 foot long monitor lizards while hiking around. The snorkeling was actually pretty good, and the gear they rent is quite nice as well. We got cleaned up, and returned for dinner, but before we ate, the guide came to show us the display upstairs, and to watch the movie. After dinner, we waited until about 9:30 for the rangers to tell us the turtle had arrived. I was glad to hear the announcement, as my poor kids were about to fall asleep on the floor. The "turtle time" yell, however, woke them right up. We got to see the mother lay the eggs, then watch them be deposited into the hatchery, and then release some babies back into the ocean. My boys had so much fun with this. My 7 year old is planning to tell all his friends about the turtles he helped "save." Anyway, once the excitement was over, we all headed to bed as a very early wake up call was planned for the next morning. We departed the island the next day at 7am.
The next day after returning from Turtle Island, we got in the van and drove to Sepilok Orangutan Reserve. This is definitely the activity that we could have skipped. While the movie was interesting, the place was packed with people. Only 2 orangutans came to the feeding and there was very little to see. It was also extremely hot there, and just a bit of a disappointment. We left there and headed to lunch, which was delicious at the Sepilok Lodge. Then we drove to Bilit adventure Lodge on the river. I wasn't sure what to expect from the jungle lodge (especially after where we had just stayed), but it was great. Very homey feeling and the people were so incredibly friendly there. You could also tell that they care for the lodge so much as things were in good repair with many thoughtful touches. We then headed out for our first cruise. It was so much fun, all of our kids had a great time spotting the wildlife and enjoying the river. The highlight was at the end of the cruise when we saw a wild orangutan and her baby climbing down from a tree. Just amazing. We went back to the lodge for dinner, and we were meant to have a night trek, but our kids were just too tired. It was disappointing as our guide said some of the best animals come out at night, but we had reached our limit, so we skipped it. The next morning, we went out on another cruise. The animal spotting was a bit more difficult as it had rained very hard in the night so it was quite foggy. We still saw some great animals, so it was worth it. After that, it was back to the lodge to pack up and go back to town. I so wish we had one more night at the lodge. It was so relaxing there, and just incredible to see so many wild animals. For all of us, the lodge was the best part of our trip.
We headed back to Sandakan, and stopped at Labuk Bay to see the proboscis monkeys. This was a big hit with the family as well. There were so many of them, and you can get really close and appreciate their unique features. I am very glad we got to have a stop here. After that, it was off to lunch and then the airport to head to KL.
So, while it was a challenge with all of our kids, I am so glad we went to Sandakan. A few things, pack light!! You will be glad you did. Bring flashlight, turtle island was quite dark, and at the jungle lodge, the power went out for a lot of the night. It was dark, dark, dark with no electricity. Bring your own water and drinks to both places. For some reason, neither place provides water or anything with your meals. You can buy drinks, but they are expensive, just bring your own. Also, bring a thin poncho. The boats are not covered on the cruise, so if it was raining, you would be soaked. We are already talking about our next trip to the area, but will probably wait until the kids can carry their own stuff!!