The little known cocoa capital of Asia, Tawau welcomes travellers lucky enough to visit the beautiful islands off the south east coast of Sabah.

View on map


Established just a century ago, Tawau is a port and industrial centre, traditionally exporting agricultural products and timber. It has been a small port and industrial centre, and development is not extensive, partly due to its distant location at the south east coast of Sabah, near the Indonesian border. The town suffered during the Japanese occupation in World War II, although not as badly as Sandakan, and most of what is now present day Tawau was built during the reconstruction period after the war.

Tawau's main claim to fame would be its cocoa production, being the third largest cocoa bean producer in the world. This is accompanied by Tawau's role as the main entry point for visitors headed for the islands off Sabah's south east coast, most notably Sipadan Island and Mabul Island.

The town itself is the third largest in Sabah state, after Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, and makes for a pleasant vacation spot. A prominent seafront accessible via coastal roads and lots of lush green spaces within the town, a result of good urban planning, evoke a leisurely atmosphere that adds to the charm of this simple town. Visitors to Tawau often enjoy this quiet and subtle contrast to the hustle and bustle of other metropolitan cities, allowing them to unwind in preparation of their vacation in the nearby islands.

Although there are no trains to Tawau, the town is accessible by road and air. The roads within the city are well paved and generally in good condition.

Bus service

Bus services to Semporna, Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu are offered at the Tawau Express Bus Station along Jalan Dunlop, in town, close to the waterfront.

Air service

Flights heading to and out of Tawau use the Tawau International Airport, which is roughly 45 minutes from the town centre. Two airlines, Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia, offer flights to two destinations, Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur, while MASWings flies from Tawau to Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan.

Although Tawau is most famous as an entry point to other tourist destinations like Sipadan Island and Mabul Island, the town has a few noteworthy attractions of its own.

Tawau Hills National Park

Established in 1979, the Tawau Hills National Park is the unique as it is the only location in Borneo to be formed through ancient volcanic activity. A remnant of its past, the remains of a central volcanic crater, can be seen from the summit of Bombalai Hill within the park. The trees in the park are also of special interest as they are some of the tallest in existence.

Tawau Mosques

Tawau has two interesting mosques within its town limits, Masjid Al-Khauthar near the Waterfront and Masjid Raja Tawau, with its distinctive gleaming golden domes, and both are arresting sights.

Tawau Waterfront

The waterfront is just what it is called, a stretch of land reinforced with concrete seawall and large boulders to break the waves. It stretches along Jalan Persiaran and many locals come to enjoy the sea breeze and spectacular sunsets during the evening. Local fishermen also utilise a small port on the west side of the front to offload their daily catches and a variety of goods from neighbouring islands.