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Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu

A flight across Borneo and the Death Marches

A flight from north Sabah’s Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu Town on Borneo’s west coast was an often scenic but otherwise unremarkable flight although it was reassuring to fly over some still extensive forest cover. Alas, from ground level – especially aside highways – it can seem that the dreaded oil palm plantations stretch all the way to the horizon.

Malaysia, Borneo, take-off from Sandakan
Take-off from Sandakan

Of more sobering note though as red-uniformed Air Asia hostesses proffered Pringles and nasi goreng as we looked down on range after range of jungle-clad hills was that just some 75 years ago nearly 3,000 Allied prisoners of war were forced to walk much of this very same route, often barefoot and while frequently suffering from dysentery, typhoid and/or malaria as well as the ubiquitous malnutrition. From 1942-45 the occupying Japanese military saw fit to relocate prisoners, mostly British and Australian, from the camp in Sandakan to Ranau district on the eastern slopes of Mount Kinabalu in a series of forced marches.

A total of just 6 Australian soldiers, who escaped en-route, survived what were to become known as the Sandakan Death Marches. Far worse then, if not in numbers but in casualty rates, than either the infamous Bataan Death March or the construction of Kanchanaburi’s notorious Death Railway.

Despite being far less known than those two WW2 atrocities there is still plenty of info to be found on the web so we won’t go into detail here. We will however in future be including a visit to the Kundasang War Memorial and Gardens in Ranau on both our Sabah tour and Borneo Adventure. An, as we said, a sobering but, we feel, essential moment amid the glorious sunsets, hornbills and orang-utans.

Malaysia, Borneo, Dinawan island
Malaysia, Borneo, Dinawan island

We’ll leave you on a lighter note with a view of Dinawan Island as we came into Kota Kinabalu Airport and where, just a little over a week before, we’d spent a day exploring, snorkelling and birdwatching.