The Unappreciated Beauty: Tawau


Tawau was formally known as Tawao. It is the third-largest town in Sabah after Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan and also the capital of the Tawau District. It is also the administrative center of the Tawau Division. Tawau has a big contribution in the Malaysian economy with its three major products, tobacco, cocoa and palm oil. It has a rich history of earlier being a land of controversy between British, living in Tawau and Japanese, living in North Borneo and later between Malaysia and Indonesia. Although having a tragic past, Tawau is a peaceful town to be in now.


Tawau is located in the southeast coast of State of Sabah, Malaysia, situated on Borneo Island. It has the Sulu Sea to the east and the Celebes Sea to the south at Cowie Bay. It shares a border with Kalimantan of Indonesia, where foreigners can get a visa to enter Indonesia.


Best time to visit:

Tawau can be really hot in the summer months, mainly May, June, and July. The ideal months to visit the town would be August and September, after which you are likely to encounter heavy downpour.

How to reach:

Daily flights are operated between Tawau Airport and Kuala Lumpur Airport. From the Tawau Airport, one can either hire a taxi or rent a car or even ride a bus to the town.

Another way is to reach Kota Kinabalu Airport from Kuala Lumpur and then another flight to Tawau. We’d suggest using this mode of transport only when you want to stop by KK. Buses also operate between KK and Tawau but it takes around 9 hours, hence not so practical for short vacations.

Places to explore:

Tawau is the largest agro-tourism destination in the State. It gives a vibe of an old-world with its friendly locals and lively markets with overpowering aromas.Here is the list of places you can enjoy while visiting here:

  • Japanese War Cemetery
  • Bombalai Hill
  • Tawau Hills National Park
  • Teck Guan Cocoa Museum
  • Balung River Eco Resort
  • Tawau Hot Spring
  • Shan-Shui Golf and Country Club
  • Bukit Gemok
  • Central Market
  • Fish Market
  • Madai Caves
  • Kalabakan Sabah Konfrontasi Memorial/ Confrontation Memorial
  • Tawau Bell Tower (The Belfry)
  • Al-Kauthar Mosque
  • Cocoa Culture Spring
  • Tawau Tanjung Markets
  • Columnar Basalt Balung Cocos (Sungai Giram)
  • SankinaHotspring Park
  • Thirumurugan Temple
  • Tawau International Cultural Festival
  • Pulau Sipadan Resorts & Tours

Tawau Airport also provides a gateway to several islands such as Sebatik, Mabul, Sipadan, Kapalai, Matalin and Nunukan islands.


Accommodation in Tawau mostly includes basic hotels and guesthouses. It also has a 4-star hotel, The Promenade Hotel, Tawau, which is located right next to the Eastern Plaza Shopping Centre, the biggest mall in Tawau.

Where and what to eat:

Tawau is really famous for its fresh and cheap seafood, especially Tiger Prawns. It is also home to authentic Indonesian cuisines due to a large number of Indonesians residing in the town.

Although there are several good places to eat in Tawau, here are a few to name:

  • Asian Cuisine and Curry House
  • MakananLaut 101
  • Sabindo Hawker Center
  • Kim Ling Seafood (open-air seafood stall)

The famous food available around the street include NasiKuning (Indonesian Cuisine) and Sulawesi Soto Makassar.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The Tawau International Airport itself has an ATM and a money changer. The money changer closes a little early. Just for a safe side, bring in some cash with you for at least taxi or bus.
  • Several local Malaysian telecom operators provide network coverage in Tawau. Check out the details for each and buy the one most suitable for your usage.