Sandakan – one of the richest and most accessible wildlife regions in all of South-East Asia. It is a lush green area that’s already the home to a plethora of birds and animals that range from the unique proboscis monkey, which can only be found only in Borneo.
After a two-hour drive, you can hit Labuk Bay where you can witness a plantation owner created a proboscis monkey sanctuary. It’s a little further out than the rather infamous orangutan sanctuary so thankfully it does misses some of the traffic. In an area of around 300 monkeys, you will not be disappointed to see well over 30 of them visit the feeding area.
It feels a as if it was Christmas. Not just because you are eager to see them, but just because of their big overstuffed Santa bellies. You can also see as the dominant male – the one that has the bigger snout – tries to force a younger, wily one away from a warm spot on the wooden platform that is just meters away. The big guy slowly gives the younger one a nudge, but he strike back with a daring thump across the chops and then dashes off with the big man’s woman.
By now you should be champing at the bit to get into the water – if only it can help you to beat off the raging heat! So you can continue south to Tawau, Semporna, and then a hop, skip and a 45-minute boat-ride away to what being described as some books as ‘an eyesore’. A brightly colored offshore oil rig that looms threateningly over the deep-blue Celebes Sea – Seaventures do certainly catches everybody attention.
The oil rig-cum-dive center (the only one in the world) is actually being a rabbit warren of rooms and manages to offers spectacular views toward Mabul Island’s roofing chalets, white-sand beaches and turquoise water, with the turtle-stuffed seas of Sipadan that is only minutes away from here.
Later you return to camp like battle weary soldiers. The sundrenched deck is terrific as the perfect cure to the day’s eye-popping events. Popping the top on a couple of cool beers from the bar and hand them around to your nearly breathless friends. The breeze is pretty warm and the sounds of the generator buzz softly in the background, as you watch the sun-ripened sky slowly trying to turn everything pink.
It’s not until the last night some 30 kilometers away on private Mataking Island that you really want to take it all in. A mere fragment in a sea of turquoise, Mataking is officially two islands with just one resort but with abundance of about one thousand sea turtles, which are routinely hatched and released right from the beach.
Try snorkeling off a tiny gem of an islet with gin-clear water where you can see an astounding 15 turtles in the space of what must be around 15 seconds. There really is something which you might find quite magical about this whole region – from dragons and dumplings, to torpedoes and turtles – the spirit of Sabah has it all.