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Shops along the street in Sabindo quarter of Tawau

Tawau is the third largest town of the state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. A relatively new town in Malaysia, boomed in early 1980s for its lumber and cocoa farming industry, has become a bustling place, and a transit point to all neighbouring islands such as Sebatik, Nunukan, Tarakan, Jolo and Semporna islands.

Get in


By plane

  • 1 Tawau International Airport (TWU  IATA). 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. Tawau Airport (Q1433031) on Wikidata Tawau Airport on Wikipedia

As of 2023, there are no international routes connecting Tawau.

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.

There are mini busses from Semporna, starting near the Shell station.

By ferry


The only ferry connection is to the Indonesian citiy of Nunukan in North Kalimantan province.

To/from Nunukan: Multiple departures daily from Tawau, Tawindo Express, Labuan Express, including around 10AM and 3PM. From Nunukan, departures are around 9AM and 2PM. Tickets cost RM 130 one-way including port tax and journey time is 1 hour.

Ticket sales end half an hour before departure, due to border formalities.

Get around


By taxi


Taxi fares around town would cost around RM5, and to housing area at RM7 at most. Grab (the Southeast Asia equivalent to Uber) is easily available throughout the town area.

By bus


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



Tawau's large Bumiputera community mainly speaks Bahasa Melayu but in certain accents for examples Bugis, Bajau, Timor, Suluk and many more. Tawaurians fortunately can understand or speak English pretty well. 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:

JUNGLE TREKING Tawau Hill Park is about 30 minutes from Tawau center. it is a wonderful nature reserve with jungle and clean water river for trekking, swimming, a lot of wildlife viewing. it has good and cheap hostel accommodation.


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.


  • Sabindo Hawker Center offers a variety of seafood stalls at Sabindo centre. From Chinese, Malay and Thai tom yum seafood stall, it is just located along the waterfront in town. The stalls offer very competitive prices for the 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 Coto Makassar (Makassarse beef soup), a Bugis specialty; Saggar/Pisang Goreng (banana fritters), 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.
  • Mee Tauhu or tofu noodles, a classic Sabahan breakfast. Noodles served with several variations of tofu sauce.


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


  • Hotel Emas Tawau, +60 89-762000.
  • Promenade Hotel
  • Prince Hotel, +60 89-778989.
  • Shervinton Executive Boutique Hotel, +60 89-770000.
  • Belmont Marco Polo Hotel, +60 89 777 988.
  • De Choice Hotel, Phone: +60 89–776655, +60 89–776761, +60 89-776760
  • Kingston Executive Hotel, +60 89-769996.
  • Kingston Hotel Phone: +60 89–702288, +60 89–702388, +60 89-702588

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 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 until midnight.


  • Hotel Murah - RM41 for double room.
  • Hotel Monaco 2000


  • Kingston Hotel, TB4581 - 4590, Lot 6-15, Ground Floor,

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: +60 89 762222, (Fax: +60 89 767222, E-mail:, [1][dead link].
  • King Park Hotel Tawau, TB30, Jalan Haji Karim (Fajar Commercial Center), +60 89 767 700, +60 89 766 699, . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 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.
  • Belmont Marco Polo Hotel, Jalan Clinic, Phone: +60 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: +60 89 762222, (Fax: +60 89 767222, E-mail:, [2][dead link].

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

  • Nunukan - an island in North Kalimantan, Indonesia, is just one an hour away by ferry. 2 departures daily from Tawau port.
  • Tarakan - a town on an island of the same name in North Kalimantan, which is about 120km south of Tawau. As of 2023, no direct ferry connection exists anymore, you have to go to Nunukan first.
  • Semporna - a town famous for its many dive operators offering dives to Sipadan island.

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