Looking out across the teal-blue Bay of Sandakan dotted with Chinese trawlers and distant isles, it's hard to believe its population was once composed of such an exotic cast of foreign interests; German traders, Dutch and Chinese planters, Arab and Indian traders, and pearl divers. Sadly it was razed to the ground during WWII by the British in an attempt to shake off the grip of the invading Japanese. After the war, a roaring timber trade blossomed here with wood from Borneo imported all over the world, so much so that for a time, there were more millionaires per head here than anywhere in the world. Today this little city is buzzing again with the success of the palm-oil industry, its drab, hastily erected postwar buildings enjoying a much needed 21st century makeover – particularly the waterfront area and Four Points hotel.
Curiously, a completely new city centre is currently being built 2.5km west of the city, set to be completed within a few years.
As well as being a gateway to the Sungai Kinabatangan and Sepilok, Sabah's second city is dotted with religious relics, haunting cemeteries and stunning colonial mansions. You'll find loads of things to see here, most of them a short cab ride away.