20: Malaysia > Sabah > Semporna

New day, and after yesterday’s poor weather, today’s turning out great. First order of the day is breakfast at a place near the Tawau Mosque.


The best nasi kuning I ever had in so many Sabah trips. The local coffee is also excellent.


We soon set off for Semporna, another day-trip before flying back to Kuala Lumpur from Tawau Airport later tonight. The 110-km journey is pleasant and scenic.img_7348.JPG

Flanked by gentle, rolling hills covered with oil palms.

Sparsely-populated and people need to be creative in their transportation.

Actual GPS track (see red line) of the Tawau-Semporna road trip, on the Sabah map (northern tip of Borneo Island). Indonesia to the south, the Philippines to the right.tawau-semporna-road1.gif


Semporna must be the easternmost town in Malaysia, with just 50,000 people, mainly the seafaring Bajau folks, who are predominantly Muslims.

In the beautiful mosque’s toilet, reminders on where to conduct your bodily businesses, in no uncertain terms. img_7394a.JPG

Taking a breather at the mosque verandah. The strong sea-breeze cools everybody, including Aina’s little cousin, Alif.

We decide to leave the car at the mosque and explore the town.


Next to the mosque, a Bajau water village. Admire the sky, ignore the garbage.img_7354-1.JPG

Pretty much connected to the rest of the world.

At the market, 5-kg slabs of white tapioca paste for sale at MYR5 apiece, a favourite of the Bajaus.img_7359.JPG

The usual suspects. But hey, there’s our old friend, the tarap, again! We last saw it HERE and HERE. We simply adore this fruit and promptly paid MYR7 for all three!img_7355.JPG

Past the market, commuters waiting for water taxis. There many inhabited islands in the Sulu Sea off Semporna.

This water taxi station is not exactly in great shape. I bet even a child could drop through this hole. What’s the local authority waiting for? Fix it!


But this place is indeed ideal as an observation post.img_7365.JPG

That’s the notorious Sulu Sea out there.

A major floating tourist site, to the right.img_7362.JPG

Close-up, and Semporna being the centre of Bajau culture, I suspect the design is somehow related to Bajau architecture, if there is such a thing.


Nearby, the traditional Bajau transport, the catamaran-like lepa-lepa.img_7369.JPG

Like terraces at a stadium. It’s very pleasant sitting here, with a strong cool breeze blowing at your face. img_7373.JPG

Fish market. Almost sold out, nothing much left.img_7374.JPG

In a maritime-themed eatery, a Bajau man sits alone.

Beyond the market area, influence of the Philippines. But ‘Filipin’?img_7379.JPG

From the mosque, we drive south past the town and along the sea. A brand new Hotel Seafest is at a great location.

Opposite it, fishing boats moor. img_7399.JPG

On the other side, another water village on Pulau Bumbun. img_7484.JPG

Nearby, the jetty for boats to the world-famous diving site, Pulau Sipadan. The other famous diving islands – Ligitan, Mabul, Kapalai, Mataking – are all less than 1 hour away.

A booking office for travelers going to the islands. img_7482.JPG

But for us, non-exotic-diving types, this is close enough. The name sure sounds tacky, but the place is quite decent, really. img_7402.JPG

Nice above-water walkway. img_7480.JPG

Even nicer inside.

It’s like a water village here – there are restaurants, …img_7405.JPG


… and chalets, …

… and shops, …


… and fish farms, …


… all interlinked by walkways.img_7416.JPG

Maintenance crew hard at work …

… in a rickety D-I-Y raft.

Great balancing act, I must say. Note the crystal-clear water.

Outside the restaurant, a giant clam.img_7412.JPG

The lure of having lunch here is overpowering.img_7410.JPG

We enter and secure a seaview table. Cool breeze and pristine sea. Can spot fish and weeds too.img_7430.JPG

Fat juicy prawns in delicious fried rice, but alas, the main course has fallen asleep!

A sailboat glides past. Pulau Bumbun in the background.img_7445.JPG

A fish-farm.


Fast passenger boat whizzing past, serving the islands.img_7454.JPG

So fast that the hapless passengers must cover their faces from water sprays.img_7460.JPG

An ocean-going vessel, moored off Pulau Bumbun. Info on Celebes Explorer is HERE and HERE.img_7463.JPG

More fish-farms. Aquaculture is huge here.img_7470.JPG

Every good thing must come to an end. Time to leave and I check out the loo. Two more giant clam shells in here.img_7476.JPG

With a heavy heart we leave Semporna …img_7485.JPG

A few kilometres later, near Kg Nagos, we take a short detour through a village, and spotted this wonderful tree.


Yes, this is the tarap tree. Finally I get to see how the tree looks like.img_7490.JPG

With two gorgeous living taraps!img_7487.JPG

A typical house in this area, but look behind the right-most stilt.


And you’ll spot gravestones. Seems that it’s common for folks here to bury their beloved dead next to the house.


Some 70km later, we are back at Tawau Airport, with its odd control tower. Looks more like a training place for the firemen.

Quite a modern airport, in use since 2001.img_7525.JPG

Good-looking spacious driveway.

The main lobby.


Check-in area.


Finally we are on-board our plane. Flight AK5157, nonstop TWU-KUL. The plane is Airbus A320, reg. 9M-AFQ, a 6-week old machine bearing the ‘Visit Malaysia Year 2007’ livery. See pics of this beautiful machine HERE.img_7541.JPG

Aina’s Albert is comfortable with new-found mate. By the way, Albert was born at Seaworld Ancol, Jakarta – see HERE.img_7548.JPG

At 11.30pm we are approaching KUL, and I manage to freeze the flashing red strobe.img_7572.JPG

Actual flight path of AK5157 that night.twu-kul-ak5157-250307a.gif

Note the wobble over Sabah – to avoid bad weather I presume.twu-kul-ak5157-250307.gif

Epilogue : We landed KUL on schedule and arrived our Shah Alam home just after 1.00am. The weekend in Tawau and Semporna has been very interesting, with Semporna being the surprise package. I never thought it would be such a beautiful and interesting place. Next time I’m there I have to go to Sipadan … now how do I get that diving licence?