EXACTLY How To Go From Sandakan to Semporna [2024]

Published Categorized as Sabah, Sandakan
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Exploring Sabah and wondering how to go from Sandakan to Semporna? We can help!

Sandakan and Semporna are both must-visit places when you are in Sabah so it makes sense that you’d want to visit both. They both have amazing experiences on offer from the absolutely amazing snorkelling and diving round Semporna to the orangutans and sun bears around Sandakan.

While it’s not far from Sandakan to Semporna, this journey can seem complicated – at least until you take it step-by-step. It’s actually quite straightforward with many people taking this trip each day.

Mataking Island Semporna The crazy clear water at Mataking. We could easily see colourful fish straight from the boat
The crazy clear water at Mataking near Semporna. We could easily see colourful fish straight from the boat

Below, I break up exactly how to get to Semporna from Sandakan so you know exactly what you need to do, when, whether you are looking for a bus from Sandakan to Semporna or driving to Semporna from Sandakan. This way, you will be in paradise as quick as possible!

I also describe the reverse journey from Semporna to Sandakan.

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Map: Sandakan to Semporna

Sandakan to Semporna map
Click the Map to open in Google Maps. You can then access directions to each of the locations discussed in this article.

It takes just under 5 hours to drive between Sandakan and Semporna depending on traffic. The distance Sandakan to Semporna is about 300 kilometres.

BEST OPTION: How To Go From Sandakan to Semporna

The easiest option for travelling from Sandakan to Semporna is to take a private taxi. This is followed by a flight to Tawau and then a taxi onto Semporna

The cheapest option is to take a bus.

Here’s a summary of your options:

Mode of transportDurationBest For?Book
Flight4.5 hoursPeople who want the quickest optionBook here
Bus6.75 hoursPeople who want the cheapest optionBook here
Car5 hoursPeople who are happy to hire a car or who like to stop along the wayBook here
Taxi5 hoursAnyone who wants the easiest and most straightforward way to get between Sandakan and Semporna
Durations take into account an approximate time getting to and from bus stations/airports to a central location as well as waiting time

Option 1: Sandakan To Semporna Flight?

Coupon taxi stand at Tawau Airport
Coupon taxi stand at Tawau Airport

There is no airport in Semporna so it is not possible to fly from Sandakan to Semporna directly.

However, you can fly from Sandakan to Tawau Airport. This takes about 40 minutes, and there is a daily flight with MASWings.

You can check out the latest prices and schedule here.

From Tawau Airport, you can take a taxi to Semporna. This costs around RM100 and takes about an hour and a quarter. Using the Grab app will get you the best price, but there is also a coupon taxi counter as soon as you exit arrivals.

This is your fastest option, but not by much. It can be easier to take a private car or taxi to travel this distance (and cheaper to do this if you are a few people).

Option 2: Bus Sandakan To Semporna

Sandakan Central Bus Station
Sandakan Central Bus Station

There are currently two buses a day that run between Sandakan and Semporna. At the time of publishing, these ran at 8am and 2pm, and it was not possible to buy tickets online.

You can buy tickets at the counter where the bus departs. This is at the Sandakan Long Distance Bus Station. The price is RM40.

Buses take around six hours.

Hopefully, the schedules and tickets are online again soon.

Click here to see if they are online at the time you are reading this.

If you miss these buses, there are frequest departures to Lahad Datu so take a bus or minibus there. Once in Lahad Datu, there are frequent departures to Semporna.

Click here to read more about how to travel to Lahad Datu from Sandakan.

Option 3: Sandakan to Semporna By Car

If you hire a car, you can also travel between Sandakan and Semporna by driving yourself.

The journey is on a major highway for most the way and the turn-offs are signposted. You won’t get lost. It’s straightforward and will take around three hours.

You simply take Route 22 out of Sandakan and then turn on to Route 13/AH150 when you hit it. Drive along here until you reach Jalan Kunak Spur by the town of Kunak.

Turn left here and drive for 3.2 kilometres until you hit a roundabout with a right turn onto Jalan Semporna-Kunak.

Follow this road until the end where you turn left onto SA51. Semporna is straight ahead.

Closer to the Sandakan end, there was some damage to parts of the road when I last took this journey. Otherwise, the journey is super smooth. There are some great views on parts, and I especially enjoyed the journey between Lahad Datu and Semporna.

Click here to read more about driving in Malaysia or here to see car rental prices.

Semporna island hopping
Semporna island hopping

Option 4: Sandakan to Semporna By Taxi

The easiest way to travel between Sandakan and Semporna can also be the quickest, depending on whether your flight arrives on time and how long you need to be at the airport beforehand. This is taking a private taxi.

In a private taxi, you can be picked up at your hotel in Sandakan and dropped at your hotel in Semporna (or wherever else you choose). It doesn’t come easier than this!

The harder part can be finding a taxi to book. Your accommodation or tour providers in either Semporna or Sandakan should be able to organise this. This journey is too far to be covered by Grab.

Semporna To Sandakan

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

The journey from Semporna to Sandakan is exactly the same as the journey here. You just reverse the instructions.

If you want to take a flight, you’ll need to take a taxi to Tawau Airport and fly from there. Taxis are readily available for this journey. Ask at your hotel or use the Grab app. This costs around RM100.

To take a bus from Semporna to Sandakan, there are a couple of departures a day. There is no real bus terminal in Semporna and buses leave from around the Jalan Hospital/Milimewa Supermarket. If you can’t spot it, ask for directions.

If you miss the Semporna to Sandakan bus, you can take a more frequent departure to Lahad Datu and then a bus on from there to Sandakan.

Final Words

Semporna and Sandakan are both awesome places to visit when you’re in Sabah. I hope you can easily visit both now you know how to travel between them.

The easiest (and often the quickest) way is to travel by private taxi. The next best option can be a flight, although if you can get a direct bus, this is not a bad way to travel either.

Enjoy the journey!

I hope you found this guide to how to travel from Sandakan to Semporna useful. Check out all the best things to do in Semporna here and our full guide to Semporna island hopping here. You can also find our complete travel guide to Sandakan here and Semporna in our Sabah travel guide here.

Planning a trip to Malaysia? Have any questions? Join our Malaysia Travel Planning Facebook group here now! It’s the perfect place to ask any questions and to be inspired!

By Sharon Gourlay

Sharon is a certified Malaysia travel expert and can't get enough of travelling and talking about Malaysia since she first visited 21 years ago. She travels around Malaysia multiple times a year both alone and with her kids. She used to call Penang home and especially loves this food paradise. Sharon also has a Bachelor of Arts in Asian Studies, a Certificate III in International Travel Sales and has been certified by Tourism Malaysia as a Malaysia Travel Expert. Through this site, she'll help you have the perfect trip to this amazing destination.