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Tawau

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Tawau port.
Bustling fish market in Tawau.

The third largest town of the state of Sabah, situated on the island of Borneo. It is a relatively new town in Malaysia, boomed in early 1980s for its lumber and cocoa farming industry. Today Tawau is a bustling town where it is a transit point to all neigbouring islands such Sebatik, Nunukan, Tarakan, Jolo and Semporna islands.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

Tawau International Airport (IATA: TWU, ICAO: WBKW) is the second international airport of Sabah. There are flights from Kuala Lumpur (2 hr 45 min, daily), and Kota Kinabalu (45 min, daily) on Malaysia Airlines[1] and AirAsia[2]. In addition, there are also flights from Sandakan (40 min, daily) on MASwings[3]. The airport is about 33 km away from the town. There are ATMs and a currency exchange at the airport but if you're arriving late, it'll almost certainly be closed and the ATMs do not always work, so make sure you've got some Malaysian ringgit before you arrive as you'll need it for the taxi or the bus.

The sole international flight into the airport is operated by AirAsia to/from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, and Singapore . This service, however, has been discontinued by AirAsia since March 2010.

Getting there/away: Airport taxis are available and charge RM45 for one way trip into town. There is also an airport bus service operated by Kasah Transport (S) Sdn. Bhd. (Tel: +6089-950208) to the city for RM10. The departure times of the airport bus from the city to the airport are as follows: 5:40AM, 8AM, 8:30AM, 10:30AM, 1PM, 2:30PM and 5PM.

By coach[edit]

There are daily buses from Kota Kinabalu's North City Bus Station, but it's a long nine-hour journey. There are half a dozen companies and the fare is RM55.50. (Tel: +6013 879 7779)

There are also bus from Lahad Datu, 2.5 hours away. Departure at 3:30PM, RM15.

Leaving Tawau all buses leave from close to the port a 10 minute walk from central down town (next to a very cheap local clothes market). There are lots of vendors, all 50rm to KK.

The bus will also drop you at Lahad Datu, Sandakan or Kinabulu national park (45rm). Buses leave between 7am and 2pm.

NB Some buses make no stops on the long journey so it's wise to bring plenty of water and something for lunch (toilet inside).

By ferry[edit]

The main ferry connections are to the Indonesian cities of Nunukan and Tarakan, both in East Kalimantan province.

To/from Nunukan: Two departures daily from Tawau, Tawindo Express, Labuan Express, at 10 AM and 3 PM. From Nunukan, departures are at 9AM and 2PM. Tickets cost RM41 one-way and journey time is 1 hour.

To/from Tarakan: One departure daily except on Sunday from Tawau. Tawindo Express sails every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11.30am, while Indomaya Express departs every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10.30am. Tickets cost RM140 one-way and travelling time is 3 hours.

Get around[edit]

Taxi - Taxi fares around town would cost around RM5, and to housing area at RM7 at most.

Bus - RM 2 to travel within town areas. And about RM2 to the rural areas like Balung and Merotai.

Talk[edit]

Tawau's large Indonesian community mainly speaks Bahasa Indonesia and various other Indonesian languages such as Bugis and Timor, but most are unable to understand or speak English except for a few basic words. As with the Chinese in other parts of Sabah, Tawau's Chinese community is majority Hakka speaking but most can understand and speak Mandarin as well as Cantonese. The lingua franca among Tawau's various races is Bahasa Malaysia, but most residents, especially the locals, are able to understand and speak basic English as well.

See[edit][add listing]

Do[edit][add listing]

Diving[edit]

Within the region of Tawau, tourists can also dive from the islands of Roach Reefs or take an hour drive to Semporna to dive at popular destinations like Mataking, Mabul, Pompong, Kapalai and the Great Sipadan - The only oceanic island in Malaysia, rising about 5000 feet above seabed. Popular dive shops and agents in Tawau includes:

  • Aquatastic [4] (Tel: +60128187844) (Email: info@aquatastic.net) (Address: FL08, First Floor, Terminal Building, Tawau Airport)
  • SWV Travel and Tours (+6089950023) (Email: info@swvresort.com) (Address: First Floor, Terminal Building, Tawau Airport)

Buy[edit][add listing]

  • Central Market or known as Pasar Sri Tanjung Tawau, Pasar gantung tawau,Pasar fish market.It offers goods arrived locally and neigbouring islands.(such as Nunukan and Tarakan).

- Tawau Bazaar opposite to Marco Polo Hotel is the best place to buy goods such as Batik sarongs, merchandises, Sabah T-Shirts, handicrafts, branded cosmetics with cheaper price.

Eat[edit][add listing]

  • Asian Cuisine and Curry House has a mixed menu of Indian, Malay and Indonesian dishes, as well as some western options that would appeal to those with a less adventurous palate (including children). Vegetarian friendly. Prices are very reasonable, from 3-15MR. Open 0630 - 2300. Located at TB 210, Lot 3, Jalan Bunga; across from the Monaco Dynasty Hotel; next to the Heritage Hotel. Tel: 089 749 320
  • Sabindo Hawker Center offers a variety of seafood stalls at Sabindo centre. From Chinese, Malay and Thai tomyam seafood stall, it is just located along the waterfront in town. The stalls offer very competitive prices for selective catch of the day.
  • Makanan Laut 101 serves excellent crab and shellfishes with vegetables at incredibly low prices.


At night, numerous stalls set up around the town. Many sell

  • Sulawesi Soto Makassar (buffalo soup), a Bugis specialty; Pisang Goreng (fried bananas), Ubi Goreng (fried tapioca), Onde-onde (glutinous rice with savoury taste roasted in banana leaves), Kuih Pandan (Pandan rice cake), Karipap (Curry Puff), Kuih kacang (Peanut pancake spread with coconut jam), Bubur Chaca(a dessert broth with tapioca, sweet potato and sago), etc.
  • Nasi Kuning or yellow rice is an Indonesian specialty that cannot be found anywhere else in Malaysia. The rice is cooked with coconut milk and turmeric (known as kunyit in Malay), which in turn made the rice look yellow in colour. In Tawau it is usually served with a piece of fish deep-fried in dried chilli sauce. This can be found in almost any Malay restaurants or stalls around Tawau but sometimes also sold in some Chinese coffeeshops. To further enhance the taste, the rice is usually wrapped in banana leaves. Price ranges from RM 0.40 to RM 3.00 per serving.
  • Kam Ling Seafood, 25 Sabindo Open Air SeaFood Stall, Tel: 089-756457, 016-8262511, 017-8982511, 019-8832511. contact Mr Wong to place reservation if you like to taste fresh seafood. Dinner for 2 with fish and 2 dishes costs about RM35. You may like to try Kam Ling's very own Kam Kat Lemon (金秸柠檬, lime lemon juice, RM3.10) drink after seafood to clear the heat.

Drink[edit][add listing]

  • Zenzi Dance Club, behind Maxim seafood restaurant, Sedap corner at Fajar. RnB Club formerly known as Frequency.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

There are many hotels in Tawau, a few of which you can book online, but often there are promotions available when you walk up. One comprehensive website to check for hotels is http://www.etawau.com/Hotel/index.html which also lists prices. There are apparently no hostels in Tawau. Also, be aware that in many of the hotels the internet connection is sporadic, only available in the lobby, or not available at all. There is one gaming internet location in the hotel area called Command open til midnight.

Budget[edit]

  • VS Guest House - From RM58 nett - New, clean, free wifi, LCD tv, air-conditioning, heater, bathroom attached - Book now 089-774 000 / 014-671 1610.
  • Hotel Murah - RM41 for double room.
  • Ocean Villa - Jl Stephen Tan RM41 for a single room (Nov 2012) with AC, HW, TV, WIFI, filtered water. Right by the local bus station, close to the port.
  • Hotel Monaco 2000

Economy Hostel- As basic as the name suggests, but cracking value if you're easily sated. Two 2nd floor hostels next two each other around the corner from down town KFC. Look for the banner on the back of the building. Double fan room with fast wifi, hot outside shower, 25rm. Next door has no wifi but is only 20rm a night.

  • T-hotel Tawau new budget hotel 2013 june located at TB 251,Jalan Bunga, Fajar Complex. Opposite (Depan) Milimewa Superstore, phone 089-751498 hp:012-8401000, 019-8996668 for booking.email: t-hotel@hotmail.com

Mid-range[edit]

  • Kingston Hotel, TB4581 - 4590, Lot 6-15, Ground Floor, Phone: +60 (0) 89-702288, +60 (0) 89-702388, +60 (0) 89-702588
  • Jalan Haji Karim, 91000 Tawau, Sabah, has decent double rooms for 77RM and up but bad wifi connection.
  • Heritage Hotel, TB 210-213, Jalan Bunga, Fajar Complex, Tel: 6 089 762222, (Fax: 6 089 767222, E-mail: info@heritagehotel.com.my), [5].
  • King Park Hotel Tawau, TB30, Jalan Haji Karim (Fajar Commercial Center), +6089 767 700 / 766 699 (), [6]. checkin: 2.00p.m.; checkout: 12.00noon. Newly renovated 10-storey 3 star hotel. Free internet and buffet breakfast. Central location with great views. Function rooms and shuttle to airport available. Rated as one of the best value hotel in Tawau! RM98-RM388nett.  edit
  • Belmont Marco Polo Hotel, Jalan Clinic, Phone: +60 (0) 89 777 988. The best hotel in Tawau, large room with reasonable price.Comfort and clean pillows and beds! The location also strategic, at the town center of Tawau.
  • Heritage Hotel, TB 210-213, Jalan Bunga, Fajar Complex, Tel: 6 089 762222, (Fax: 6 089 767222, E-mail: info@heritagehotel.com.my), [7].
  • Hotel Emas Tawau, Phone: +60 (0) 89-762000
  • Promenade Hotel
  • Prince Hotel, Phone: +60 (0) 89-778989
  • Shervinton Executive Boutique Hotel, Phone: +60 (0) 89-770000
  • De Choice Hotel, Phone: +60 (0) 89-776655, +60 (0) 89-776761, +60 (0) 89-776760
  • Kingston Executive Hotel Phone: +60 (0) 89-769996
  • T-hotel Tawau located at TB 251,Jalan Bunga, Fajar Complex. Opposite (Depan) Milimewa Superstore, phone 089-751498 hp:012-8401000, 019-8996668 for booking.

Stay healthy[edit]

There are a number of medical and dental clinics available. Majority of them only operate until 5PM but some open until 10PM. Klinik Famili have courteous doctors at 5 branches around Tawau and its branch at Kompleks Tanjung operate until 10PM everyday including weekend and public holiday. Other clinic, Sabindo and Sabindo Square open until 9 and 8 pm respectively. Tow other clinic , Fajar and Jalan Paya opens until 5 pm. In case of emergency, please contact 089-767878 during office hour or 089-760817 if you need help after office hour.

General Hospital Tawau has 24x7 ER department open to all who need it.

Get out[edit]



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