19: Malaysia > Sabah > Tawau

I’ve always been intrigued by Tawau, the lonely spot on the east coast of Sabah, 3rd largest town in the state with 160,000 people. It’s like an outpost to me, the wild frontier where Malaysia meets Indonesia meets the Philippines. So one weekend of March ’07, I packed my bag and 7 of my kins for a quickie to Tawau and its sidekick, Semporna, at the very eastern edge of Malaysia.


23 Mar 2007. Here I am, inside the 2-month-old AirAsia Airbus A320, reg. 9M-AFJ (see pics of plane HERE). Flight AK5156 nonstop Kuala Lumpur to Tawau, at 2hrs 45min, is the longest such domestic flight for Malaysia.img_7253.JPG

And RED is the obviously the chosen flavour.

Tawau Airport, and to enter the Malaysian state of Sabah, we, peninsular Malaysians, have to pass immigration for our permits.

The 3-km airport access road meets the Tawau-Semporna highway at a quiet T-junction, but busy with other things.img_7493.JPG

And it’s still a long way to town. Tawau used to have a small airport virtually next to downtown, but it had a shortish runway and a few bad plane accidents, and squatter problems, so they decided to relocate and build one grand airport from scratch, 28+3 km away!


The link between the airport is a wide 4-lane dual carriageway, where cab drivers race.img_7510.JPG

Obviously undeterred by some familiar roadside sighting.img_7508.JPG

Fillial piety.


We have chosen to bunk at this old-ish budget Hotel Tawau, along Chester Road in old town, run by the owner himself, the affable Mr George Chang. He says his uncle started up this hotel in the 50s. Spartan, but spacious rooms.

From the hotel, looking down on Chester Road. img_7259.JPG

Close-by, a bus station serving local routes.img_7262.JPG

And maybe a couple of hundred metres away, stands the new-ish Pasar Tanjung.


Maybe the best place to get dried seafood.img_7273.JPG

But go behind the market, and you find something interesting. Travelers from Indonesia arrive by the boatloads.

And they pour into this immigration cum customs checkpoint. Supposedly a secure area, but that blue gate is unlocked and people come and go.


Boats for hire and fishing vessels play the waiting game. To the south, disputed Pulau Sebatik, finally carved into 2 parts – Malaysia and Indonesia – stands silently in the background. It was the site of heavy fighting between Malaysian and Indonesian troops during konfrontasi of 1963. My uncle was one of the soldiers in action.img_7279.JPG

Along the corridor of the fish market, a young lad tries to interest me, “Want to buy Shell?”img_7277.JPG

Freshly-caught prawns arrive by the crates, and this guy is soaked with prawn juice, and sea water.img_7284.JPG

Fresh, huge, juicy tiger prawns, but for export. Pricey stuff.

Near the market, an Argentine is in town, well, an Argentine-wannabe.

Goldsmiths in front of Pasar Tanjung. img_7503.JPG

‘Klinik Dr Anina’? Well, our Aina thinks it should read ‘Klinik Dr Aina’. img_7287.JPG

The other market in town, the older Central Market, is also known as Pasar Gantung. Now here you can get interesting stuff from Indonesia and the Philippines.img_7290.JPG

No need to come all the way to Tawau for these, right? img_7294.JPG

The new Tawau Mosque, virtually next to the sea and surrounded by decent eateries. The famous seafood stalls are also nearby (behind the Sabindo Centre).img_7496.JPG

Next to the mosque, the long-distance express bus station, for buses going to Lahad Datu (150km away), Sandakan (360) and Kota Kinabalu (560).


Scenic esplanade along coastal road starting at the mosque. img_7342.JPG

Boats in the harbour area. Further south, Pulau Sebatik at the back.img_7336.JPG

Looking east towards the open Sulu Sea.img_7339.JPG

The sky opened up in the afternoon, and we spent the rest of the day in the hotel. What a damper!