Clear, blue sky and open ocean fills the floor-to-ceiling windows, split by a clean stretch of horizon interrupted only by silhouettes of outlying islands. It is this view that first enchants visitors on their arrival at Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan. Situated along the coast of Sabah’s second-largest city, the 300-room hotel boasts unrivalled views of the Sulu Sea. “As you’ll experience at The Eatery [the hotel’s signature restaurant] and in the meeting rooms, this hotel was built to have outstanding views of its surroundings,” says general manager Syntio Camilleri.
Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan, which officially opened in October, anticipates a new wave of meetings and incentives groups coming to the city. A stone’s throw away from the emerging central business district, the first international hotel brand in the area is within easy access of key attractions and conference facilities, as well as itself housing some of the best venue options.
The Elopura Grand Ballroom, which is divisible into two, occupies the 13th floor, covers 620 sqm and accommodates 500, and is designed with a pre-function area suitable for up to 400 people. Adjacent to the ballroom is the poolside deck, with an infinity pool positioned for spectacular sunset views. The deck is perfect for casual gatherings, with standing room for 120 people.
Seven meeting rooms fill the 12th floor, with seating for between six and 80. One level down, accessible via staircase as well as from the Sandakan Harbour Mall, is the Sandakan Convention Center. The largest conference facility in Sandakan covers 1,500 sqm and seats 1,500 banquet style.
Sandakan is slowly building itself up as an eco-tourist destination, focusing on preserving its forests and indigenous wildlife. The establishment of Four Points is intended to assist in these efforts, and the hotel is more than glad to arrange group tours around the city. The Sandakan Heritage Trail is a good place to start. There are 11 sites of historical and cultural significance, and the tour can be completed in about two hours on foot, although big groups will find it more convenient to get around by bus.
One stop on the trail is the Sandakan Memorial Park, which comprises part of the original Sandakan prisoner of war camp. Groups take a quiet and educational stroll around memorial stations and monuments that tell the story of Allied Australian soldiers who perished in death marches during the Japanese occupation in World War II.
The St Michael’s & All Angels Church is also worth a visit, being among the oldest stone buildings in Sabah. The church, which took 30 years to complete, was spared from damage during the war. Another stop that takes visitors back in time is the reconstructed house of American writer Agnes Newton Keith, a two-storey bungalow perched on a hilltop. The writer is known for her account of life in Sabah before, during and after the war, penned in the books Land Below the Wind, Three Came Home and White Man Returns.
Sandakan is better known for its wildlife, however, and no trip to the city is complete without a visit to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. The sanctuary, established in 1964, is located within the 4,300-hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. Here orphaned baby orangutans are rehabilitated into the wild. Guests are first shown a documentary screening of the sanctuary’s work, before proceeding to a viewing deck from which they can watch the apes during their feeding time.
Nearby, the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre is currently undergoing development, scheduled to open in mid-2013. It was set up in 2008 to care for the world’s smallest – and least-known – bear, which is native to Borneo. Aside from viewing decks, an educational centre is planned for the area, and companies are invited to partner with the centre as a form of CSR activity.
At the Rainforest Discovery Centre there are excellent opportunities for trekking and hiking through the jungle, and a 300-metre canopy walk provides spectacular treetop views of the rainforest from 25 metres above the ground. Within the vicinity is also an amphitheatre for staging conferences and events.
To wrap up the day, groups have a number of options. Banquets can be arranged within the hilltop Puu Shih Jih Temple complex, which offers a different vantage point of the old town, the new waterfront development, the fishing port and surrounding islands within the bay. Dinner at the English Tea House is another option; also positioned on a hill, groups can book the grass area, alfresco dining hall or one of its private rooms.
For a more casual gathering, a barbecue at Four Points’ The Best Brew pub is a good choice. High tables can be arranged next to a buffet on the terrace for cocktails and a light dinner, with entertainment provided by the resident band, or through trivia contests that can be arranged as a group activity.