Feeding Time in Sandakan and beyond

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by Cassie Forsythe

Another long weekend again (bliss) and I was an eager beaver to bring my three-year-old daughter, Sophie, to visit Sandakan and Kinabatangan; further probed by my good friend Jessy Ann who was also keen to explore more of the destination. Our itinerary was prepared in a snap and all the essentials were included. Jessy’s two requests were to visit the Agnes Keith House and have a meal at Sim Sim Seafood Restaurant.

The mission of our trip was to sightsee and eat all we can within a small budget of around RM600 per adult. Keeping in mind that we have Sophie coming along, the trip will be slightly more challenging and to expect the unexpected. Having a detailed itinerary prepared and a rough knowledge on nearby petrol stations and convenience stores certainly helps give perspective to the traveller.

Gomantong Cave

Day 1We took the 8:45am flight from KK to Sandakan. Upon arriving, we picked up our rental car from the airport and headed for brunch at Kedai Kopi Kong Teck at Taman Pak Tak. Their specialty is Fish Paste noodles served in clear soup or prawn broth. Their version of Kon Lau Mee noodles is complemented with pickled green chili. They are also popular for their Lo She Fun. Coincidentally this restaurant is also enroute to Kinabatangan. 

A petrol station pit stop was essential: fill up petrol, toilet run and to get the toddler ready for the two-hour drive to Kinabatangan. Our first stop was Gomantong Cave. Bird nest harvesting is still carried out in this cave by the locals.

Myne Resort, Kampung Bilit is strategically located at the famous Kinabatangan river curve. I decided to stay here for a few reasons: the price of accommodation that would suit our budget, it was easily accessible (the other two options close by are Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort and The Last Frontier Resort), and more importantly, a visit to the Merbau tree is just a short walk away. The Merbau tree holds a significant piece of history that goes back to the 1940s. During WW2, the female villagers would hide in the tree’s wide bark. The tree still stands tall today. The activities across lodges are more or less the same – a river cruise and jungle walks. The basic comfort of the room was satisfactory. Just note that no hairdryer is provided. 

What was it like cruising with a three-year-old? A gazillion questions. Short attention span and a handheld camera proved to be less useful. Indeed she was astonished to see the animals and what probably brought on more excitement was that I had made a printout of the seven possible animals she’d see and if she spots any, she could color them. They were  Orangutan, Proboscis monkey, saltwater crocodile, hornbill, kingfisher, Langur, and the Bornean Sun Bear which we would see the following day.

Sepilok Outddor Nursery

Day 2

We checked out and departed at 9:30am to make it in time for the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary feeding time. Even though we saw the Proboscis monkeys during the river cruise at Labuk, you can see them in closer proxi

mity at the sanctuary. For lunch, the next must-eat in Sandakan on the list was the Seafood Bak Kut Teh. We decided to head over to Nam Chai, located at Jalan Leila of Bandar Nam Tung. It’s slightly after downtown Sandakan which indirectly gave us a quick drive through the city center. The Bak Kut Teh is different as they use Lai Mang fish and the soup is flavored with scallions and pepper. As a typical Sabahan, dessert and a dire need for coffee was next on the agenda. We headed to Kedai Roti Gold Crown which is well known for their freshly baked pastries. If only we had another spare barrel in our tummies, we would we have indulged in their Mee Soup of fish ball wrapped in pork skin. 

Now happily filled to the brim, it was time to head over to the Agnes Keith House. Agnes Keith is an American author who lived in Sandakan and experience the pre-war and war years that hit the area. The house was restored by the Sabah Museum and fitted with colonial furniture and items very much resembling that era. While Jessy Ann explored the house, Sophie and I briefly walked about the gallery and I explained (in simple terms) the items we saw – the most unique was the cradle telephone with the round dial and the gramophone. 

That night, we stayed at the Sepilok Jungle Resort (SJR) located in Sepilok, about 30 minutes away from the city center. Enroute, we (had to) visit the Kim Fung market to try their famous Ca Kui and indeed it was not a disappointment. I joined in the line for one ca kui glazed with kaya (coconut jam). After we checked into SJR, I brought Sophie over to their pool while I enviously let Jessy Ann take an afternoon nap. We chose to stay in the Superior room which was comfortable and clean. 

It was time for dinner and seafood is synonymous to Sandakan. After being denied of Ketam Panggang (salted baked crab) for about 3 years, I finally devoured the dish once again. Ken, of Empire Seafood Restaurant, recommended prawns wrapped in yam and we had the crispy noodles with gravy and prawns. As you guessed, dessert was just across the street at Crowd 99, famous for their soft serve ice cream. 

Day 3 

Since we stayed in Sepilok, we slept in a bit and got ourselves ready for the 10:00am Orangutan Feeding session. Before that, we made our way to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center. The facility CEO and Director, Dr Wong is usually around the platform and is ever ready to provide storytelling about the bears. We then headed over to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, just in time for the feeding session. Once Sophie started rambling about the Orangutan showing her their armpits, I knew that was the cue of restlessness and we made our way to the outdoor nursery where there were a few more Orangutans showing off their cute antics. 

Once again, it was time for human feeding time and I fulfilled Jessy Ann’s wish for a meal at Sim Sim Seafood Restaurant. Besides the noodles, the recommended dish is the Sotong Kicap (cuttlefish in black sauce). 

It was time to end the trip and we drove over to the airport, dropped off the car, and bid farewell to lovely Sandakan. 

“Did you enjoy your holidaySophie?”
Yes, I no need go school.

Travel Tips:

  •  Sandakan has a lot of other amazing food besides the few we tried. Don’t overeat if you intend to try more as you would be too filled up to savor the rest. We chose locations which were suitable with our travel time and enroute our journey. 
  • Hydrate! Especially before you head into the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation centre. There is a vending machine that accepts small denominations and is located at the outdoor nursery but it is quite a walk from the viewing platform. 
  • There are also many other accommodation options, choose according to your preferred style of travel and budget. 
  • This itinerary was conducive for travelling with a kid. Now it’s hot and humid and tiring. Kids naturally get more cranky and tired. This is absolutely normal and I encourage parents not to be too ambitious as this could make or break your holiday. Accept that things may not go your way – in my case, I was a little disappointed that I could not use my camera to take better pictures, but in return, Sophie had more attention as I explained the things we saw.