The waterfront at Semporna

Semporna is a city on east coast of Sabah. It has a population of around 135,000. While there is not much to see and do in Semporna itself, it is frequently used as a gateway for diving and snorkeling trips to the nearby islands of Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Mataking, Maiga and others.

Get in

By plane

Most travellers take a flight to Tawau from either Kuala Lumpur (IATA:KUL) or Kota Kinabalu (IATA:BKI), then travel overland by taxi (Tawau airport to Semporna town at RM 95). First time travelers are advised to either take an airport taxi or if possible, arrange for shuttle service if one has booked for accommodation or diving packages from tour/diving operators operating in Semporna. Some of the more established ones are like Sipadan Water Village Resort and Uncle Chang's.

By bus

From Kota Kinabalu: Direct from Inanam station to Semporna (or Tawau), 8-10 hrs, 75 MYR one-way. Departs 7:30AM & 7:30PM. To get to Inanam station you can take the public bus from the long distance bus station in KK city on Jalan Padang (Bus #3 to "Terminal" or "Inanam", purple bus stop, 20 min, 1.50 MYR) to the Inanam bus station, or a taxi (~20 MYR). Call 088-384701 or 088-384702 to book tickets for the Dyana Bus to Semporna. Note that in high season (Jun-Aug) these buses fill up fast so book at least a day in advance.

From Sandakan: there are two direct buses to Semporna run by Dyana Bus at 7:30AM and 2PM (5-6 hrs, 40 MYR). If you miss the direct bus, you can also try taking a bus to Lahad Datu (at least 1PM, 18RM), and from there take a minibus to Semporna (leaves when it's full, 24RM).

From Sepilok: Take a taxi to Sandakan and take a bus from there, or hail down the bus at Sepilok junction (works if there are seats available on the bus). A taxi can be booked through your accommodation in Sepilok for ~30 MYR pp (shared) and takes 1 hour.

From Kinabatangan River: Let your tour agent drop you off at a bus station (or a bus stand) on the main road to Semporna. There your tour guide might also help you find a bus to Semporna: either the one heading straight to Semporna (a bus passing by that left from Sandakan early in the morning) or, when you missed that bus or when it is full, a minibus to Lahad Datu. From Lahad Datu you can catch another minibus to Semporna. Costs for the minibusses are about RM 20,- to Lahad Datu and RM 29,- from Lahad Datu to Semporna.

Get around

Because of its small size, Semporna town is easily explored on foot. However, there are also commercial passengers' vans and 'kereta sapu (prebet)' for getting around. Usually the fare is RM1 to RM3 to where ever within the city, but the ' prebet' will charge tourists with higher prices (about RM5 - RM10), make sure you make a deal with the driver before take a ride.

One may also attempt to get around the town and to surrounding villages/beach resorts using private taxis (commonly referred to as "prebet" or "kereta sapu"). These taxis are usually not color-coded, and the drivers usually drive around the town honking their taxis to attract passengers or converge around points of interest such as the supermarkets. This mode of transportation is favored by the less economically-able locals and the taxis usually charge between RM1 to RM3 to go anywhere and may charge more for tourists. Since these taxis are not licensed for commercial purposes (hence lacking business insurance), travelers are advised to avoid using these taxis at all cost. One will also notice that this kind of taxi usually wait until they have sufficient number of passengers (4 to 6 people) before heading to the passengers' destination.

Commercial passengers' vans are also available for travels to nearby villages and to Tawau. These vans are usually color-coded in yellow and can transport 8 to 12 passengers. These vans are usually available near the KFC fast food outlet and around supermarkets. Charges vary and one should establish an agreed price with the driver before boarding these vans. These vans also travel to Tawau daily and is usually available as early as 5:30AM.


Semporna City Mosque

The Bajau ethnic houses on stilts by the jetty and around the town's mosque.

Unlike the Land Bajaus and Kadazan usually found in northern Sabah coastal areas, the Sea Bajaus which dominate Semporna celebrate Regatta Lepa-Lepa annually during the entire month of April. Being the focal point of Semporna's identity, the festival is of extreme importance to the locals and the State Government, in which the State's Head of State is always invited to grace the event. Regatta Lepa-Lepa is similar to dragon boat race in which different villages around Semporna will commission their own boats and decorate their boats for parade near the jetties. The culmination of this event is the Ratu Lepa pageant event.



The nearby island of Sipadan offers some of the world's best scuba diving opportunities with large pelagics including sharks, rays and sea turtles. Many visitors to Semporna join a scuba diving trip to Sipadan. As of October 2011, a 3-dive day at Sipadan is 560-600MYR including equipment rental and marine park fee. Snorkelers to Sipadan pay about 440-580MYR all fees included. The boat ride from Semporna to Sipadan takes about 45 minutes.

Other nearby islands include Mabul and Kapalai, which are also popular destinations for both scuba divers and snorkelers. Day trips to both of these, as well as other islands nearby, are available from most of the half dozen or so dive operators in Semporna.

Dive operators:


Moon stones and pearls are sold, often on the jetty by the Dragon Inn hotel. Bargain hard to get a good price. Moon stone pendants (without necklace) should go for about RM 4-5.


Chinese food. Chinese restaurants can be found easily in every block. recommendation : seaside seafood restaurant. easily found because it is situated among the dive shop.

Nasi kuning (yellow rice), sold in the morning by the street. traditional breakfast for sabahan. it consist of rice, fish cook with chilli and vegetables.

mee soup (bakso), sold by indonesian immigrant. RM1 for each bowl. Good if you are in tight budget.

pisang goreng (fried banana), 10-20 cents each, sold by the street (same street with bakso and grilled chicken).

ayam panggang (roasted chciken), can be found near to mee soup stall. both sold only during night.

putu (local traditional carb) 50 cents for a portion.

grilled tuna fish (RM2-RM3 per fish).

latok (fresh seaweed) 50 cents for a portion.


The restaurant at the beginning of the causeway serves big mugs of fresh fruit juices (mango, honeydew, lychee and others) for RM 5.




At the seafront:

In the city center:

Go next

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