For travellers, Sandakan is well known for her amazing nature sites where they can witness the natural beauty of Sabah, and of course (for locals alike), the mouth-watering delicacies are a “must-try, must-eat” in Sandakan.
But wait, did you know the wonders of heritage fills city of Sandakan?
Sandakan was the second capital city of Sabah (after Kudat) before Kota Kinabalu (formerly known as Jesselton). The Chinese settlement first came to Sandakan as both businessmen and labourers. Most temples in Sandakan were built by them because they deemed that it was important to their spiritual needs.
Buddhists believe in karma, the cycle of rebirth, and building some truly epic temples. Here is a list of a few oldest spiritual temples to visit during your temple run!
Tham Kung Temple
The temple was gazetted as an ancient monument under the antiquities and treasure trove enactment, 11/77 in 1993. Conservation work to incorporate the old temple which was built in 1894 into the new temple began in 1994 and was completed in 1998, with the support of Sabah Museum and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah. The temple is also endowed with many wooden plaques and wooden ceremonial boards which contain valuable epigraphic materials.
In preserving Sabah’s precious heritage, the conservation of Tham Kung Temple 谭公圣祖庙was hailed as a first in Malaysia, when the original shrine was lifted and brought into the new temple complex built around it. It is also uniquely known as the “temple within a temple”.
Location icon: Batu 1, Off Jalan Utara, next to SJK (C) Chi Hwa
Sam Sing Kung Chinese Temple (Three Saints Temple)
Situated in the heart of the old Sandakan, the temple was built on a slope overlooking the Sandakan town field. The Sam Sing Kung Temple is one of the oldest standing buildings found in Sabah. First constructed in 1885, the temple was completed in 1887. It was first established as a religious centre for the Chinese from the Guangdong province, namely the Cantonese, Hakkas, Teochew, and Hainanese. The temple honours the three deities ‘San Yuan’ or ‘San Kuan’ – Liu Bei, Guan Gong and Zhang Fei, in the ancient stories of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
One of the more important artefacts is a bronze bell presented to the temple in 1887 on the occasion of the temple’s dedication. Donated by the first Kapitan Cina of Sandakan, Fung Ming Shan, it is an interesting fact that the Chinese characters ‘Xian Da Gang’ is engraved on the bell which means the “harbour where fairies alighted”. The bell is the oldest surviving bronze bell found in Sabah and can still be seen in the temple today.
Location: Opposite Sandakan Town Field
Goddess of Mercy Chinese Temple (Kun Yam Temple)
A small and inconspicuous temple built in the late 1880s, this chinese temple is one of the oldest temples in Sandakan named after the Goddess of Mercy or Kuan Yin on the hillside off Singapore Road in Sandakan. The original structure, probably built in the late 1880’s still stands, but was later enlarged. Unfortunately, no proper records were kept because most of the historical information was recorded orally. According to the temple’s signboard, it was built in 1868.
Location icon: Hillside, off Singapore Road
Now, it’s your time for temple run! The best time to visit the temples in Sabah is in the morning, before the afternoon sun comes up. Most of the temples close before 3:00 p.m., so it’s best you finish your “run” before tea time!
To know more about the Chinese temple heritage in Sandakan, please contact:
Facebook: Sandakan Heritage Trail