Sandakan was the former capital of Sabah and is the location of the infamous Death March of Allied soldiers under the Japanese. History here dates back to the 18th century but its modern history starts in the 1870s when the Sultan of Brunei leased this land to and Englishman, William Pryer. He was named the Resident (most senior administrative official) of the east coast. By 1885 Sandakan was named the capital of British East Borneo and a thriving commercial city. Sandakan offered beeswax, rattan, edible bird's nests, and timber that was used in the construction of Beijing's Temple of Heaven. Much of the early trade was done with Hong Kong. In January 1942, the Japanese took control and a POW camp was set up at the start of the Death March to Ranau. The town was destroyed during WWII but rebuilt, mostly on reclaimed land, but the administration had moved to Kota Kinabalu. Post-war, the town experienced a huge boom with their timber business, and now with oil palm and cocoa.
Most visitors to Sandakan use it as a base for day trips to the surrounding Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Turtle Islands National Park, and the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. But the town itself also has some worthwhile stops. The three-story Central Market has any kind of fresh produce you may want, plus many restaurants that offer delicious Malay food. Also, leave time for a visit to Sandakan Memorial Park on the site of the former WWII POW camp.