EXACTLY How To Go From Tawau To Semporna [2024]

Published Categorized as Sabah, Tawau
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Arriving in Tawau and wondering how to go from Tawau to Semporna? We can help!

Semporna is a beautiful part of Malaysia thanks to the stunning islands and marine life located off the coast here. It’s a great place to head. But getting here is made more complicated by the fact that there isn’t an airport in Semporna.

This means that many people heading to Semporna fly to Tawau first. This is a great option as it’s not hard to find transport from Tawau to Semporna. It’s quite straightforward to travel Tawau Semporna with many people doing it every day. It doesn’t even take that long.

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 Island near Semporna. We could easily see colourful fish straight from the boat

Below, I break up exactly how to get to Semporna from Tawau so you know exactly what you need to do, when, whether you are looking for a bus from Tawau to Semporna or driving from Tawau to Semporna. I also describe how to get from Tawau airport to Semporna since you may want to go straight from the airport on arrival.

This way, you will be in paradise as quick as possible!

I also describe the reverse journey from Semporna to Tawau. 

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Map: Tawau To Semporna

Tawau to Semporna map
Click the map to open it in Google Maps.

The distance Tawau to Semporna is about 107 kilometres, and it takes about 1.75 hours to drive this depending on road and traffic conditions. There can be a surprising amount of traffic going into and out of Semporna.

The good news is that if you are going direct from Tawau Airport to Semporna, it’s a little closer. The distance is 82 kilometres and it takes about an hour and a quarter.

BEST OPTION: How To Go From Tawau To Semporna

The quickest and best option for travelling from Tawau to Semporna is to take a private taxi.

The cheapest option is to take a bus.

Here’s a summary of your options:

Mode of transportDurationBest For?Book
Bus2.75 hoursPeople who want the cheapest optionBook here
Car1.75 hoursPeople who are happy to hire a car and like to stop along the wayBook here
Taxi1.75 hoursAnyone who wants the easiest and most straightforward way to get between Tawau 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: Bus From Tawau To Semporna

Regular minivans depart from the Sabindo Square minibus stand in Tawau for Semporna throughout the day. They leave when full (so this can take awhile) and take about two hours to arrive in Semporna. They cost around RM28.

There was an express bus option before the pandemic as well, but it seems that this bus does not run anymore. If anyone has a different experience, please let us know.

You can also check here to see if it’s running again.

Tawau Airport
Tawau Airport

Option 2: Tawau To Semporna By Car

As stated above, it takes around 1.75 hours to drive from the centre of Tawau to Semporna depending on traffic and road conditions.

The roads are in good condition and it’s an easy drive.

You follow Route 13 until you get to the turn-off for the SA51 to Semporna. This is signed and will take you all the rest of the way.

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

Option 3: Tawau To Semporna By Taxi

The easiest way to travel from Tawau to Semporna is by taxi. You can be picked up at your hotel in Tawau (or the Airport or anywhere you want) and dropped off at your hotel in Semporna or at your ferry.

This means no dealing with bus stations. No lugging round your suitcase in the heat. You’ll get to Semporna with a minimum of fuss.

It’s usually not hard to find a taxi willing to take this journey as it’s a popular route. I booked a taxi via my hotel easily and for a good price so this is an option too.

It’s also possible to get a Grab taxi to take you. This was around RM124 when I was there, but Grab prices do vary depending on how busy the network is.

Tawau Airport To Semporna

From Tawau Airport to Semporna, the best option is to take a taxi. There is a coupon taxi counter and the cost ranges from RM100-150. They will take you straight to your accommodation or the jetty in Semporna.

You can also organise a taxi through your accommodation in Semporna. I did this via the Agoda messaging system after booking my hotel, and it cost me RM100.

You can also get a Grab taxi for this journey. Prices vary depending on how busy the network is.

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

There also used to be minivans from Tawau Airport to Semporna. These cost around RM40 and left when full. They may also go into Tawau and look for people if they can’t find enough people at the airport which can waste a lot of time.

I did not see any evidence that these were running when I was last here in April 2023.

You can also take a taxi to the Sabindo Square minibus stand in Tawau. From here, you can take one of the minivans to Semporna as described above. This taxi costs around RM40. You can also use the coupon taxi stand at the airport to take this taxi or the Grab app. On Grab, I was able to get a taxi for RM31.

Semporna To Tawau

Tawau Waterfront

It’s easy to travel from Semporna to Tawau. You just need to reverse the directions above. This also holds true if you want to go from Semporna to Tawau airport.

You can take a bus from Semporna to Tawau. Buses and minivans leave from around Jalan Hospital and Milimewa supermarket.

You can also get a taxi to Tawau or Tawau Airport. Bargain with taxi drivers or book through your hotel or the Grab app. My hotel in Semporna booked me a taxi for RM100 to the airport.

Final Words

It’s straightforward to travel between Tawau and Semporna whether you’re starting at Tawau Airport or in the city. It’s a popular journey and you’ll have no problems travelling between these spots in Sabah.

A taxi is the best way to go and is quite affordable. To save money, you can also take a minivan.

I hope you have a great time exploring the islands and marine life around Semporna. It’s really special!

I hope you found this guide to how to travel from Tawau to Semporna useful. Find out exactly how to get to Semporna from Sandakan here and all the best things to do in Semporna here. You can also find our complete travel guide to Semporna and Sabah here or Tawau 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.