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Tawau is a town in the southeast corner of the east Malaysian state of Sabah, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. It is the third largest town in Sabah after Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. In 2010, the population of Tawau was estimated at around 113,000 people in the town itself, and almost 400,000 people in the entire municipality.

Due to Tawau's strategic location near Malaysia's borders with the Indonesian province of North Kalimantan and the Sulu islands of the Philippines, it has become a major transit point for both passenger and cargo traffic between Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Tawau is also a major contributor to Sabah's agricultural sector as the district is home to large oil palm and cocoa plantations.

In terms of tourism, Tawau is not in itself a major tourist destination. However, it is a popular transit point for tourists headed for the beaches and coral reefs located off the coast of the neighbouring district of Semporna. It is also the nearest major town to Maliau Basin, an untouched tract of forest sometimes touted as "The Lost World". Tawau itself also has several modest tourist attractions for tourists who find themselves in the area.


Get in[edit]

Tawau port.
Bustling fish market in Tawau.

By plane[edit]

Tawau Airport (IATA: TWU, ICAO: WBKW) is one of two international airports in Sabah. Malaysia Airlines [2] and AirAsia [3] operate daily flights to Kota Kinabalu (45 minutes) and Kuala Lumpur (2 hours 45 minutes). Additionally, Malaysia Airlines' regional subsidiary, MASWings [], operates flights to Sandakan and the Indonesian city of Tarakan.

The airport is located in Balung, 33km east of downtown Tawau along the Tawau-Semporna road. While the airport has ATMs and a money changer, note that the money changer closes relatively early and the ATMs do not always work properly. Therefore, if you are arriving late and intending to take a taxi or bus, do ensure that you have at least enough Malaysian Ringgit to pay your fare.

Getting there/away: Airport taxis charge RM45 for a one-way trip to downtown Tawau. To take an airport taxi, go to the airport taxi counter and inform the staff of your destination. Once you have paid the fare, you will be given a coupon to show the taxi driver.

Kasah Transport (Tel: +6089-950208) operates buses to downtown Tawau at RM10 per passenger. These buses depart Tawau Airport at 5:40am, 8:00am, 8:30am, 10:30am, 1pm, 2:30pm and 5pm. However, as these times are subject to change without notice, you are advised to check directly with Kasah Transport when planning your journey.

Cars may also be rented at the airport.

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).

As an alternative route, you can take a bus from Keningau along the southern highway all the way to Tawau. Busses leave at 10am. This is a good way to get to the Maliau Basin.

All long distance buses now depart and arrive at the new Terminal Bus Sri Indah 17km away from town. You can use Grab to get to town or walk 2 min to the main road and wait for any minivan that passes. Fare is RM 4-5 to get to town.

Instead of buying your tickets at the counter, you can also use an app/website called EasyBook.

By ferry[edit]

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

Update April 2018: Ferries leave to Nunukan at 1130, 1230 and 1600. Not clear if there is an earlier ferry. Price 90RM for adults, 45RM for children, tax included. One way.

Baggage allowance - 10kg / adult, 5kg/ child. Excess baggage charged at 1.30RM/ kg.

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 11:00am. Tickets cost RM140 one-way and travelling time is 4 hours. Note that before mentioned baggage allowance applies to this too and the fee will be charged at the arrival pier in Tawau.

Indomaya Express at Tawau pier.

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.


As in other parts of Sabah, the lingua franca in Tawau is Bahasa Malaysia, albeit spoken with a distinct Sabahan accent. Within the local Chinese minority, Hakka and Mandarin are the most commonly-spoken dialects.

Tawau's large community of foreigners is comprised mainly of Indonesians. In addition to Bahasa Malaysia, they also speak the languages of their respective ethnic subgroups, particularly Bugis and Timorese.

Most people in Tawau (with the exception of non-Malaysians, who generally speak little to no English) can understand and speak at least basic English.

See[edit][add listing]

Do[edit][add listing]


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: [email protected]) (Address: FL08, First Floor, Terminal Building, Tawau Airport)
  • SWV Travel and Tours (+6089950023) (Email: [email protected]) (Address: First Floor, Terminal Building, Tawau Airport)
  • Watch some awesome sunsets (September 2019), along the waterfront on Jalan Persisiran, next to the ferry terminal (east of). Meet the locals and eat the local food. This area starts to come alive around sunset, with the local street foods stalls being set up and the locals sitting along the waterfront footpath.

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.
  • Sthamin Cafe (Its really a restaurant) on Jalan Habib Hussien, close to the junction of Jalan Abaca and Jalan Bakau (google maps). After spending two months in Indonesia eating local food, this restaurant was a pleasant surprise. Both a very comprehensive western and local menu. The service, the food and the price was a good combination. Lots of locals at this restaurant. Probably a 10 minute walk from the ferry terminal (North-west).

At night, numerous stalls set up around the town. Many of these stalls sell the following:

  • 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. 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.


  • 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.
  • Hotel Ocean Villa - Jalan Stephen Tan. RM41 for a single room (September 2019) with AC, HW, TV, WIFI (wifi is good), filtered water + tea and coffee. About 100 meters from the local bus station (Terminal Bas Terminal - at the western end of Jalan Stephen Tan), about 400 meters to the ferry terminal. Staff were friendly and helpful.
  • 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,(NOTE, September 2019, this Hostel would not allow foreigners to use the 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 [email protected]


  • 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: [email protected]), [5].
  • King Park Hotel Tawau, TB30, Jalan Haji Karim (Fajar Commercial Center), +6089 767 700 / 766 699 (), [1]. 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: [email protected]), [6].
  • 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 safe[edit]

Stay healthy[edit]

Tawau Specialist Polyclinics (TSPC) is a walk-in clinic located at Taman Hilltop and is open 8:30am-9pm Monday-Friday and 8:30am-2pm Saturday-Sunday. TSPC has an on-site medical laboratory and radiology department with x-ray, CT-scanner and MRI-scanner. To book an appointment at TSPC call +6089 755222.

Klinik Famili has courteous doctors throughout the 5 branches around Tawau and its branch at Kompleks Tanjung. Hours of operation are 8:00am-10:00pm everyday including weekends and public holidays.

Sabindo and Sabindo Square are open from 9:00am-8:00pm respectively.

Fajar and Jalan Paya are open until 5 pm. In case of emergency, please contact 089-767878 during office hours or 089-760817 if you need help after office hours.

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

Get out[edit]

  • Bus to Kota Kinabalu the Long Distance Bus Terminal is situated approximately 16 kilo meters east of Tawau.(Some locals refer to it as "Mile 10". To take the local bus to this terminal, the white with orange strip buses leave from the local bus terminal at the junction of Stephen Tan and Jalan Dominic. Several buses leave from the long distance bus terminal not only to Kota Kinabalu, but to other destinations such as Lahad Datu and Sandakan. The bus company "Optisjaya Express" has an office in Tawau on Jalan Chen Fook, close to the junction of Jalan Hiew Fook (Near Sabindo Square). This company has two departures per day to Kota Kinabalu and you can leave from their Tawau office. Salam Bumimas Express Bus has a terminal about 3 kilo meters from the center of Tawau (On the way to the Long Distance Bus Terminal, near the Tinagat Plaza). This bus leaves about 0900 in the morning from the long distance bus terminal and goes via their Tawau terminal. The advantage of this particular bus is that it goes via Keningau before reaching Kota Kinabalu, and more importantly, does a drop off very close to the center of Kota Kinabalu before it final stop at the Northern Bus terminal about 8 kilo meters north west of the city. This city drop off point is along Jalan KK Bypass, at the an airport bus pickup point (Also minivans to Ranau and to Kinabalu National Park) near the Atkinson Clock Tower, (Padang Merdeka). This drop off point is a bout 800 meters from the main accommodation areas. This trip took 12 hours.Create category
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