Tawau is situated on the southeast coast of Sabah, bordered by the Celebes Sea. It is close to the borders with Indonesia’s Kalimantan region and the Philippines.

The area was originally inhabited by indigenous groups and later became a part of the Sultanate of Sulu. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Tawau came under British control as part of North Borneo. It developed as a trading port, exporting agricultural products like rubber and tobacco.

During World War II, Tawau was occupied by Japanese forces. Post-war, it continued to grow as a key town in Sabah and a major agricultural hub, known for its palm oil plantations, cocoa, and rubber.

Tawau is a gateway to several natural attractions, including Tawau Hills Park, known for its hot springs, waterfalls, and diverse flora and fauna. The park is a popular spot for hiking and nature exploration.

How to get to Tawau?

By Air

Several airlines operate flights to Tawau Airport (TAW), including Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia, with direct flights available from Kota Kinabalu (the capital of Sabah) and Kuala Lumpur (the capital of Malaysia).

By Land

Bus services are from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau but be prepared for a very long journey (most probably over 10 hours).

For ticket booking, visit Easybook or 12Go.Asia

By Ferry

Some ferries connect Tawau with Nunukan and Tarakan in Indonesian Borneo. The ferry services are less frequent, so checking the schedule in advance is important.

When to go?

The best time to visit the Tawau is during the dry season, which typically falls between March and October. The weather during these months is generally more favourable with less rainfall, making it easier to explore the rainforest (the trails are less muddy) and enjoy outdoor activities.

Where to stay?

I can recommend staying at Kingston Executive Hotel. It is well-located, close to plenty of restaurants and shops. The room was clean and really spacious!

How long to stay?

Tawau doesn’t have much to offer but you can easily spend a day visiting Tawau Hills Park. It’s also possible to arrange a multiday trekking there.

What to do in Tawau?

Tawau Hills Park

The third biggest city in Sabah doesn’t have much to offer and a walk at the waterfront at Traulsen Recreation Park is the best what you can do. Most people come here for Tawau Hills Park is a great and much cheaper alternative to Danum Valley or Maliau Basin. This 280 square kilometre natural reserve is made up of lowland rainforest, with hills covered with vegetation rising sharply from the plain below.

The park is great for day and night walks, and bird watching. Just a short walk from the reception, you will find a river with picnic tables and a scenic Table Waterfall a bit further. It isn’t accessible for swimming but you can get some nice shots from a viewing platform.

Bombalai Hill (530m) is just a short, thirty-minute trek through the jungle. Views of Tawau town, cocoa and palm oil farms, and the Sulawesi Sea stretching out in the distance may be seen from the top.

Follow clearly marked main trail which can bring you to several locations: Botanical Garden, The World’s Tallest Tropical Tree, Bukit Gelas Falls and Hot Springs.

The Botanical Garden is home to the variety of plant life found within the park, especially ferns, different species of orchids and begonia. The Elephant Ear Orchid is endemic only in Borneo and in Sabah it can be found only in Tawau Hills Park and Tenom.

Continue walking past the Botanical Garden and turn left on the crossroad. The path will take you to the World’s Tallest Tropical Tree. According to the description, it is 88 meters tall.

Come back the same way and turn left. A walk along the Sungai Tawau ends at Bukit Gelas Falls, which is lovely and worth a plunge. It is 2.4 km from the Park Reception. Enroute, you may also spot another trail, climbing steeply up but you should not proceed there without prior preparation.

It is the most challenging 14-kilometer trail in the park leading to Mount Magdalena, the highest peak in Tawau Hills Park (1280 meters). The stroll winds through lower montane and lowland forests. It is advised to take three days to complete the climb. There’s a hostel at km 10. Prior to your climb, you should get a climbing permit and a guide from the office of Sabah Parks. Mount Lucia (1240 meters) and Mount Maria (1020 meters) can be climbed during the same trip.

On the way back from Bukit Gelas Falls, you will certainly notice a bridge over the river. If you cross it and follow the trail, you will end up in a hot spring with sulfur.


The general entrance to the park costs 20 RM for international visitors and 6 RM for Malaysians.

If you decide to climb Mount Magdalena, Mount Lucia or Mount Maria, you will need to plan at least two days and get a permit and a guide. The permit costs 50 RM for one peak and 150 RM for multiple peaks per person for international hikers. Malaysians will pay 25 RM for one peak and 65 RM for multiple peaks.

Hiring a mountain guide costs 150 RM per day and you can share the cost among the group of 3 people. Additionally, you will need to pay 7 RM per person per day for insurance and something extra for the hostel.

Park opening hours are from 8 AM to 4 PM (Monday – Friday) and 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM (Saturday – Sunday and public holidays).

How to get there?

From the centre of Tawau, the easiest way is the get a ride using ride hailing app – Grab. Most likely drivers will ask for some extra payment in cash as the park is out of town. It also makes sense to note down the phone number of the driver, so you can text him to come over and pick you up in the afternoon. Tawau Hills Park is in the zone out of Grab coverage. Otherwise, you will need to try your luck hitchhiking as there is no public transport.

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