Shops along the street in Sabindo quarter of 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 neighbouring islands such Sebatik, Nunukan, Tarakan, Jolo and Semporna islands.

Get in

By plane

Tawau International Airport (IATA: TWU) 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 and AirAsia. In addition, there are also flights from Sandakan (40 min, daily) on MASwings. 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

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: +60 13 879 7779)

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

By ferry

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

To/from Nunukan: Two departures daily from Tawau, Tawindo Express, Labuan Express, at 10AM and 3PM. 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.

NOTE: there is NO visa on arrival into Indonesia; be sure to have one made prior!

Get around

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.


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 (Malay), but most residents, especially the locals, are able to understand and speak basic English as well.


The historic belfry of Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia; it's the last historic pre-war building of Tawau



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:


Lions Club Tawau Monument at Jalan Utara

- 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.


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



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.



Jalan Haji Karim, 91000 Tawau, Sabah, has decent double rooms for 77RM and up but bad wifi connection.

Stay healthy

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 8PM respectively. Tow other clinic, Fajar and Jalan Paya opens until 5PM. 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.

Go next

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