Sandakan airport is a drive of about 15 minutes from the centre of town. There are plenty of taxis waiting outside the terminal and there is a fixed price of 25 RM to get to town. Travelling back to the airport, the price is similar but can vary depending on time of day. We paid 30 RM booking through our hotel for a taxi leaving at 5.30 am. (In fact the airport wasn't even open when we arrived - there goes checking in 90 minutes prior to departure!) But, if you hail a taxi on the street during the day you should be able to bargain down to 20 RM.
Flights from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan are frequent - both Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines travel there several times a day. If you book early tickets are cheap!
The flight is only about 50 minutes long, but what a spectacular flight it is. Travelling across to Sandakan, try to get a seat on the left side of the plane for fantastic views of Mt Kinabalu and the surrounding landscape.
The pictures I have included really don't do the scenery justice. Even for those on a budget, flying one way and bus the other is well worth it. (Bus is 7 to 8 hours.)
There is a Minibus leaving from Sandakan around 12 to 1 pm at the western end of the Minibus station area near Jl. Coastal / Jl. Singapora, RM 65 (touristprice? normal preise RM 35 ?).
Package tour (from Sandakan agent, Kota Kinabalu agents probably similar priced) might be more reasonable RM 200 for a daytip with boattrip on the Kinabatangan river and food, RM 320 with 1 night, RM 400 with 2 nights (overnight trip with RM 30 supplement for single travellers)
There is a bus from the city center to the Orangutan Sanctuary for about 2 dollars. Most of the other things would then be accessible either by taxi or your own personal car.
I personally found that if we had 2~3 destinations to visit in a day, it was better to rent a car. It was about the same price if not cheaper, more flexible with time and less hassle to locate a taxi when returning from a remote location.
I personally felt comfortable driving in Sandakan and Sabah. The drivers were generally respectful and not aggressive. They even for the most part used turn signal indicators and everything!
I have details for the bus and rental cars in my other tips.
If you do not already have transportation, a rental car may be a cost effective alternative for you.
If you go to Sepilok, there is an hourly bus (bus No 14 for 4MYR). However, if you wish to go anywhere else, taxi fees can add up rapidly. Take into account that foreigner fares for taxis will be 15~20MYR for most in town destinations, one-way. Out of town destinations like Sepilok will be 60MYR or greater.
Calculating all of those costs, if could be cost effective to rent a car for a day or two. Including insurance, rental costs start at 90MYR/day. This could be much cheaper than the package tours to places like the Gomantong Caves, Sepilok, Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, etc.
For a 1.2L manual transmission with A/C, cost starts about 90MYR/day. Larger cars and luxury vehicles are available for prices up to 600MYR/day.
JC Car Rental was very accommodating and straight forward. They even let us drop off after their office hours at no extra charge by leaving the keys with the Hotel desk. They will arrange for pick-up and drop-off at any address, including the airport.
For charges starting at about 100MYR depending on the destination, JC Rental Car will allow for one-way rentals. Drop places could be Lahad Datu, KK, etc.
Main office is located in the Swiss-Inn Hotel lobby, on Jl. Tiba, central Sandakan
The airport is located about 13km (8 miles) north of the city centre and is connected to Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur by AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines. I got a flight with AirAsia to K.L. and took a taxi to the airport which cost RM22.
We left Kota Kinabalu by bus to Sandakan in order to see the Orang-Utans at Sepilok. We took a local bus (RM1.50) to the large Inanam bus station which is located a rather inconvenient 10km north of the city centre. We got to the bus station only to be met by several touts trying to get us on their bus. We got on an express bus to Sandakan which left just after 10am, took about 6 hours and cost RM35.
The Sandakan Jetty is where you go to board your boat if doing a tour up the Kinabatangan River.
This is also a good place to see the Boats that operate around the area.
A WORD OF WARNING!
We left on our tour on a Boat the same as Photo 1, across the sea on very calm water. Very nice and enjoyable!
The return journey was the complete opposite.
Once we emerged from the Kinabatangan River, the Sea was wild and woolly!
We had to hang on tight to our bench seats, the water was so rough it was coming in the Boat, and we were being thrown from our seats it was THAT ROUGH!
One Woman (a local) was so petrified, she was in tears.
If you are prone to sea sickness, it would be advisable to take something, as this was ROUGH!
Sandakan city is about 26 KM (taxi fare RM40) to Sepilok. The feeding time of orang utan is at 10am and 3pm. Airport is located between Sandakan city and Sepilok, so if you go direct from airport to Sepilok, it is about RM20-30.
Transportation by land from KK to Sandakan. Take the morning bus from KK and the ride is about 7 hours. Bus fare I think is about RM60 (not sure). Get off at Miles 14 (before arriving Sandakan city) where there is a roundabout with a stautus of orang utan.
1. Transportation by plan from KK. Take flight from KK to Sandakan city, then it is about 13 KM (taxi fare RM20) to city.
2. Transportation by land from KK to Sandakan. Take the morning bus from KK and the ride is about 7 hours. Bus fare I think is about RM60 (not sure).
If you need to rent a car to go around Sandakan, I will recommend : BM Rent A Car. You can pick up from Airport or Hotel in town. They have Proton car from price RM 100~250. Please call En. Annuar for more info.
I am quite happy to drive around in Sandakan and just drive back to airport & catch my flight.
We flew to Sandakan in the morning but miss our Airasia flight so we end up paying full fair on Malaysia airlines. On our return to Kuala Lumpur we took Airasia and were late for our flight but luckily we only have hand luggage so they allow us to board the plane.
I guess we were so excited in enjoying Sandakan town that we almost miss our flight. We did not have lunch so end up having some snacks on the aircraft.
If you arrive in Sandakan by plane and you don't have any transportation there, a taxi is a perfect way to get around. Don't expect an high class car with airconditioning and leather seats. Instead the only airconditioning in one taxi I took were the windows that were opened and couldn't close anymore. And the car sounded like it was driving its last trip ever.
But if you don't mind all that it's a great way to get around. Just make sure you agreed on a price before you go. And if you want to go to Sepilok by taxi it is very normal to ask the taxidriver to wait for you, even if it's two hours of waiting. He will ask you for a little fee for his waiting time, but that really isn't that much.
Although Sandakan is only a few hundred kilometres away from Kota Kinabalu, it's a long trip to get there by car, if not by bus. The fastest way to get to Sabah's eastcoast is to catch the airplane in Kota Kinabalu and fly to Sandakan. That will only cost you 45 minutes, and will provide you a great view of the island.
The connection between the two largest cities of the state is taken care of by Malaysia Airlines. The flight is by not as luxurious as the intercontinental ones, but still the Boeing 737 looks ok. During the flight you have some stunning views of Mount Kinabalu and the landscape with countless big and small rivers.
The Airport in Sandakan is very simple, so on your way back, don't check in too early because you will be very bored, but connection-wise it's a perfect solution. From the airport you will find enough taxis to bring you anywhere you want.
Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia both fly to Sandakan from Kota Kinnabalu.
There is also a bus that does this route.
If you are staying at Kota Kinabalu and want just a daytrip to Sandakan, you can take the early flight MH2042 which is takes off at Kota Kinabalu Airport 7.00am and arriving Sandakan Airport at 7.40am. Transport can be arranged to pick up at Sandakan Airport and transfer to the Proboscis Sanctuary to view the morning feeding session. (11.30am to 12.30noon). You still got the time to travel to Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary. which is only 24KM away to view the feeding of Orang Utan at 2.30pm.