Going on a Lahad Datu trip and want to know all the best things to do in Lahad Datu? We have you covered! Below, you will find our guide to all the best places of interest in Lahad Datu so you can plan your ultimate trip.
Meaning “a place of royals” in the local Bajaw language, Lahad Datu is a city of 27,000 people located in the southeast of Sabah. It’s by the main highway, and if you are exploring Sabah, you’ll no doubt come through here at some point.
While many people do just pass through on their way in between Sandakan and Semporna or Tawau, there are also reasons to stop in Lahad Datu. It’s the gateway to some amazing wildlife experiences at Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Danum Valley Conservation Area. There’s also some great diving to enjoy by the coast here.
So there are plenty of reasons to stop in Lahad Datu on your way through.
Below, you will find everything you need to know about the best places to visit in Lahad Datu, where to go in Lahad Datu surrounds as well as the best places to stay for your ultimate trip to Lahad Datu!!
Travelling to Malaysia? Click here to download your free Malaysia Trip Planning checklist. We’ll help you get ready for your trip!
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.
Top 7 Things To Do In Lahad Datu
Here are the best things to do in Lahad Datu. Read through and select the ones that fit your interests and timeframe.
See The Spectacular Views From The Tower Of Heaven
The Tower of Heaven (Menara Kayangan in Malay) is a great option of the Lahad Datu tourist attractions. It has some of the best views you’ll ever see!
It’s located at the highest point in the Lahad Datu district by the top of Mount Silam which is an elevation of 884 metres. The tower itself is 30 metres high which gives you great views over the forest to the Darvel Bay Islands, Lahad Datu town and all around. It’s magnificent.
This attraction opened in 2012 inside the Sapagaya Forest Reserve so it’s not just great for views of the coastline. You should also keep a look out for views of the forest and birdlife.
To get to the top, you’ll need to climb eight floors of stairs. There is also a viewing platform at the bottom if you don’t want to climb up. The elevation makes it a little cooler than down at the coast, so it’s not that sweaty to climb to the top.
You’ll also find nature trails, a camping ground and a guest house. While you are here, keep a look out in the forest for the Silom Crab. The Silom Crab is a land crab which is only found around here. It’s an orangey-red colour.
The Tower of Heaven is located about 40 minutes drive from Lahad Datu. There is no public transport so you’ll need to take a taxi or your own vehicle. There is a car park and toilets. There’s a small entry charge for this attraction.
Have A Great Stay At The Tabin Wildlife Resort
If you want to go on safari Sabah-style, the Tabin Wildlife Resort in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve is the place to head.
This fantastic 1,120 square kilometre reserve is about an hour and a half bumpy drive from Lahad Datu. This place is a great place to spot pygmy elephants and primates as well as orangutans. In fact, orangutans and sun bears from Sepilok are released here.
This reserve was established in 1984 to protect the endangered sumatran rhinoceros and other wildlife species such as the borneo pygmy elephant, orangutan, clouded leopard and sun bear. The reserve is also known for its diverse bird species, including the endemic bornean bristlehead. Unfortunately, the rhinoceros are no longer found here but you can still see the other animals and many others.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve is best known for its mud volcanoes where wildlife like to gather for their minerals. There are viewing platforms for guests where you can watch the animals at these volcanoes. It’s a more up-market experience than some others in Sabah and has great accommodation.
Visits here require multi-night packages which include fabulous accommodation, drives and nature walks, all meals and transfers to and from Lahad Datu.
I have stayed here and had an absolutely fantastic experience. The activities felt quite personalised with excellent guides and top-rate experiences. The rooms are also great with stunning views. I really can’t say enough good things about visiting here.
If you have the time and budget, this is your #1 thing to do in Lahad Datu.
Hop On A Boat Ride In Sungai Kapur
Sungai Kapur is a river in the northeastern part of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Visiting here on a river cruise and a jungle trek feels about as untouched an experience as you can have in Sabah.
This area has ancient mangrove forest and it made me think of what the Kinabatangan River must have been like once upon a time. It’s like a combination of everything that is best about visiting both Kinabatangan River and Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
Visits here are off-the-beaten-track like experiences so it’s for true nature lovers who like getting far away from it all and don’t mind basic living conditions. You need to take an overnight safari which you can find here.
Explore The Madai Caves
Located about 50 kilometres from Lahad Datu is this attraction in the Madai Baturong Forest Reserve Nature Centre. There is plenty of forest to enjoy while checking out the flora and fauna of the area. There are also waterfalls and a canopy walkway.
However, the main attraction here is the Madai Cave. This is a huge, limestone cave which is home to many swiftlet birds. The swiftlet birds are famous for their bird nests which are considered a delicacy in Chinese food. These nests are worth a lot of money.
They are harvested three times a year by the Ida’an communities and it’s quite a process.
While this is a forest reserve, the Ida’an people first discovered this cave centuries ago and have the right to harvest here. They live just outside the cave.
To visit the cave, there is a security gate just before you enter the village where you need to get a visitor pass. Visits are only by guided tour. There are also security huts both inside and outside the cave to prevent anyone from stealing the nests.
There is a boardwalk, as pictured above, which you should keep to. There’s quite a smell thanks to all the bat and bird poo and if you walk off the boardwalk, you’ll be walking in it. There are plenty of creepy crawlies like many cockroaches and cave centipedes.
The cave is surprisingly noisy thanks to the hundreds of swiftlets that use voice to navigate in the dark.
Madai Cave is definitely a unique place to visit in Lahad Datu that is worth adding to your list. You’ll need your own car or a taxi to get here.
Visit Danum Valley Conservation Area
Along with Tabin Wildlife Reserve, the Danum Valley Conservation Area is the place to head for amazing wildlife and nature experiences in this part of Sabah.
It is home to 440 square kilometres of pristine rainforest. Many wildlife live here, and there is an incredible diversity of species including orangutans, gibbons, tarsiers, bearded pigs, sambar deer, pygmy elephants, clouded leopards, leopard cats and many other types of primates and birds.
It’s not just the diversity of wildlife that is amazing. New species of plants are found here regularly.
Like with Tabin, visits here are multi-night with meals, transfers and many excursions including guided hikes, jungle treks and night safaris. There is also a Canopy Walkway that offers stunning views of the surrounding forest and wildlife.
This conservation area is committed to preserving the natural habitat of its flora and fauna and promoting sustainable tourism practices.
Accommodation within the conservation area ranges from basic camping sites to luxurious lodges. This makes it accessible to a wide range of visitors. The lodges provide an opportunity to experience the beauty of the forest while enjoying modern amenities and comfortable lodging.
Visiting the Danum Valley Conservation Area is a must-do experience for nature lovers and for those looking to explore the natural beauty of Sabah.
Go On A Jungle Hike At Taliwas River Conservation Area
Taliwas River Conservation Area, located about 50 kilometres west of Lahad Datu, is a hidden gem for nature lovers and adventure seekers. It is home to 9,546 hectares of lowland forest, and is a well managed area where you can explore and camp.
Within the Taliwas River Conservation Area you can take guided hikes, jungle treks and camp. Biking is also popular. You can also swim here, and it’s a great place for birdwatchers.
There are good facilities here with toilets and cooking areas. There is an information building where you need to get a permit before camping and maps of the trails. You can also get a camping permit from their office in Lahad Datu opposite the airport (look for the Danum Valley Field Centre).
While it is well set up for visitors, many people don’t know about this great place which helps keep visitor numbers low. You’ll need your own transport to get here.
Dive At Darvel Bay
The bay that Lahad Datu calls home, Darvel Bay, is a great place to go diving. Experiences start at Silam, only 20 minutes from Lahad Datu.
There are beautiful coral reefs, shipwrecks and more and without the crowds around Semporna. There’s also a blue hole and at least 60 dive sites. A blue hole is a sinkhole, and there is so much to explore here.
You can see blue and yellow tail fusilier, mackerel, barracuda, stonefish and nudibranch. Schools of tuna fish are in the bay from October to December and whale sharks from March to May.
You can dive with PADI certified, Bike and Tours Diving Centre. They have everything from snorkelling and fun dives to full PADI courses.
What To Do In Lahad Datu Map
You can find all the Lahad Datu attractions mention above and the Lahad Datu hotels mentioned below on the following map.
Best Places To Stay In Lahad Datu
When it comes to where to stay in Lahad Datu, there is a small, but solid, range of hotels in the city centre as well as a couple of great wilderness experiences in the surrounds. No matter what your budget, your holiday style or who you are travelling with, you’ll find a great place to stay.
Below, I’ve listed a few different places to consider including a budget, mid-range and more expensive option.
BEST – Tabin Wildlife Resort Review
The best place to stay is at Tabin Wildlife Resort. This resort is fantastic and visits here give you access to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve as detailed above. Your rate includes your accommodation, all meals, transfers and treks and park drives to explore this great reserve.
There are two types of rooms available with river lodges and hill lodges. All have private balcony, air-conditioning, fan and hot water showers. Your choice depends on which view you want.
All rooms can accommodate up to three people and have twin or double bed options.
MID-RANGE – Bike and Tours Bed and Breakfast Review
The Bike and Tours Bed and Breakfast is the top choice for accommodation in Lahad Datu. It consistently gets amazing reviews with a 9.6 rating on Booking.com at the time of publishing.
The rooms are all doubles apart from one which has two double beds. You can choose to have either a private bathroom or shared bathroom. All rooms have air-conditioning and free wifi. While the rooms are on the simple side, nothing else here is.
A fantastic breakfast is included as well as unlimited local coffee and tea. There is a laundry service for an extra charge.
The best part has to be the beautiful garden which has a small pool. Another big pro is that they also run tours and have a dive centre, so it’s easy to organise your time in this area if you stay here.
It’s about a 15 minute walk into the centre from here or an even shorter taxi ride. It’s close to the airport.
BUDGET – Grace Hotel Review
The Grace Hotel is a solid budget option in the middle of Lahad Datu centre. It has double, twin and king rooms with some rooms being quite large with sitting areas.
There are also big family suites with two bedrooms (and bedding for four), living and dining areas as well as a kitchenette. All rooms have TV, air-conditioning and tea and coffee making facilities.
There’s free parking and free wifi, and you can try out the karaoke rooms.
This hotel is incredibly good value and one to consider for your best Lahad Datu hotel.
How To Get To Lahad Datu
It’s easy to get to Lahad Datu by plane, bus or car. If you have your own car, great! You are good to go.
You can also hire a car to get you there by clicking here. A car is handy to explore some of the attractions around Lahad Datu.
You can take a flight to Lahad Datu Airport which is very close to the centre of town. To see the latest flights and prices, click here. It’s a tiny airport so super easy to navigate.
If you need to take a bus, click here for the latest timetables and bus prices. Lahad Datu is by the main highway in Sabah so most long-distance buses stop here.
If you are travelling to or from Sandakan, find our full guide to travelling between Sandakan and Lahad Datu here.
If you are travelling to or from Tawau, find our full guide to travelling between Tawau and Lahad Datu here.
I hope you have enjoyed this guide to Lahad Datu and it helps you plan your trip.
Many people skip straight over Lahad Datu on their way elsewhere which is a shame. There are some great Lahad Datu attractions, and the best part is that there are less tourists than places like Semporna and Sandakan.
I highly recommend you at least visit Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
I hope you have a great visit to Lahad Datu.
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!