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.
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
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 transport||Duration||Best For?||Book|
|Flight||4.5 hours||People who want the quickest option||Book here|
|Bus||6.75 hours||People who want the cheapest option||Book here|
|Car||5 hours||People who are happy to hire a car or who like to stop along the way||Book here|
|Taxi||5 hours||Anyone who wants the easiest and most straightforward way to get between Sandakan and Semporna|
Option 1: Sandakan To Semporna Flight?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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