Monday, 13 April 2015

From the Coral Sea to the South China Sea
(Part 22)

Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia: Tuesday, 10th February 2015

After our visit to the Agnes Keith House and lunch at the English Tea House and Restaurant (described in Part 21), the coaches took us to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. These two important conservation locations are side-by-site near Sepilok, about fourteen miles from Sandakan town.

We first toured the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). This was set up by biologist Wong Siew Te in 2008 to rescue and rehabilitate Sun Bears kept in unhealthy captivity in Sabah with support from the Sabah Wildlife Department, the Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People. In 2008, the Centre started with 7 Sun Bears and by 2013, 28 Sun Bears were being cared for. We passed through the rather smart reception building and climbed steps to an extensive overhead viewing area, looking down on a large area of forest which had been fenced off for the Sun Bears. We watched a number of the small, attractive Sun Bears snuffling around the undergrowth. The bears share the space with a number of monkeys who kept us amused with their acrobatics.

The Entrance to BSBCC.

One of the Bornean Sun Bears.

There's a Wikipedia article on Sun Bears here.

Leaving BSBCC, a short walk took us to Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. This was founded in 1964 in a 43 square kilometre reserve to look after orphan Orangutans. There are now up to 80 Orangutans living free in the reserve. A boardwalk for visitors circles around part of the forest with a large viewing area overlooking the feeding platform. Basic food is delivered to the feeding platform twice a day. It's a deliberately boring diet to encourage the orangutans to forage for their own food in the extensive forest so there's no guarantee orangutans will appear at the feeding platform. Our visit had been timed to co-incide with the afternoon feeding so the viewing area was already crowded with visitors when we arrived. We'd watched at least one orangutan performing gymnastics high in the trees before one of the staff delivered a basketful of food to the Feeding Platform. A couple of orangutans arrived, sat down and slowly munched their way through the food. They seemed happy to let monkeys steal some of the food.

The Entrance to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Two orangutan (and the inevitable monkey) at the feeding platform.

There's more about Sepilok on the U.K. Appeals site here.

After watching the orangutans, we made our way back to the entrance. Some of our group watched a video presentation in the air-conditioned theatre, some visited the shop, others did a spot of bird watching. We then re-joined our coaches for the drive back to Sandakan after a fascinating, if tiring, day. We drove to the Four Points by Sheraton hotel at Sandakan Harbour Square, where check-in was very promptly carried out. Issued with a room access card (which also was needed to make the lift work), I was soon in my room on the 21st Floor, with my luggage waiting for me. The views of the town and the bay were stunning.

Later, we enjoyed a buffet dinner in the modern dining room. After the meal, I was tempted to retire but, remembering the maxim "I may never pass this way again", decided I should make the effort to have a walk around the town. Although now dark, there was plenty of artificial lighting. I joined two of my fellow-passengers and we made our way along the shore line which featured a number of bars and cafes overlooking the Bay. I declined their offer to join them for a drink at one of the open-air bars and pressed on, passing the bus station thronged with local people, and then the Navy Base. Beyond the Navy Base, there was a long promenade which seemed to attract a number of young couples enjoying the warm evening. The sea wall had been built from pre-cast concrete sections and each one had been used as a canvas where locals had added graffiti on various topics. There were the usual declarations of love but I was fascinated by a rather crude depiction of a Malaysian Airways aircraft crashing which I took to be a commemoration of the loss of Flight 370 or Flight 17 (or both). By now quite tired, I returned to the hotel and slept soundly in the large bed.

View of Sandakan from the Four Points by Sheraton hotel. The dock we arrived at is on the extreme left of the promentary in the distance.

Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia: Wednesday, 11th February 2015

I took a fairly light breakfast and determined to make one final foray into the town before leaving by coach for the airport. First, I walked around Sandakan Central Market - a modern building offering anything you can imagine, including a large fish market with many unfamiliar species on display. I continued walking along the main road near to the shore as far as the base of the Marine Police, with its large covered slipway. I then retraced my steps and took the direction of the previous evening, passing the bus station and Navy Base. The road next to the sea wall had lost its young couples - these had been replaced by a long row of white 'minibuses' about the size of a small van, waiting for business. Beyond the next rounabout lay a pleasant, wooded park overlooking the bay. A building in the corner of the park is the Dewan Masyarakat Sandakan, which is shown as an 'Event Space and Convention Center'. At the far end of the park, I had a good view of the first of a number of jetties serving fishing vessels. A few boats were still returning, presumably after a night fishing. I decided I'd better turn round and return to the hotel in order to catch the coach transfer to Sandakan Airport. On the way back, I completed an artistic photo-essay of Sandakan (using my mobile 'phone, as my Fuji camera had failed much earlier in the trip), which I'm sure you would have enjoyed, had I not left the telephone on the table in the hotel reception in the rush to board the buses. I discovered the loss as soon as we arrived at the airport and alerted the agents, who contacted the hotel. Alas, 'phone and pictures were never discovered.

Sandakan has a fairly small airport. We enjoyed the usual hanging-around whilst waiting for check-in to commence. Most of the passengers off the ship were travelling on the same flight to Kuala Lumpur together. There, the majority would transit to a British Airways London flight, after a fairly long wait. After an even longer wait, I was booked on an Emirates flight to Dubai, changing there for a Birmingham flight. And so my cruise from the Coral Sea to the South China Sea came safely to an end, leaving me with memories of exotic locations and friendly people.

You can find all the posts on this trip here.

My pictures

Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre.
Four Points by Sheraton, Sandakan.