At the fish market in Tawau (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2009).

From Tawau to Tarakan: fastoche!

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could have been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

Do you dream of tropical beaches? Do not spend your holidays in Tawau! The people here are nice, but this Malaysian city in northeastern Borneo is mochissime. Its only attraction is to be the entry point to Indonesia.

Tawau and his concrete

This is what Tawau looks like ... No comment.

Tawau (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2009).

Tawau (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2009).

At the Indonesian Consulate in Tawau

It was therefore in Tawau (Malaysia) that I took the ferry to Tarakan (Indonesia). After four hours of crossing, I am tonight on the other side of the border.

Before boarding, I had to go get a visa for Indonesia. I was afraid it would be long and complicated ... but no! I still can not believe the effectiveness of the Indonesian Consulate in Tawau.

In front of the Indonesian Consulate of Tawau Consulate (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2009).

I got up yesterday morning at 9:30, shortly after the opening, when there were lots of people coming to get some papers, as part of a government immigration program. And I came out at 10:30 typantes, with my visa in due form. Great hospitality, we do everything to help you.

(See end of post, practical details, for the Malaysian-Indonesian border crossing at this location.)

Market and fish market

So, I had all day in front of me to discover the charms of Tawau ... it was done quickly. Excursion to the big market near the pier (but I had found that of Kota Bahru, three years ago, more spectacular), then to the nearby fish market.

The big market of Tawau (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2009).

At the fish market in Tawau (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2009).

There, I was the attraction of the day. I started by photographing some stalls, then the fishmongers, with their permission. Result, they all began to ask me a photo, happy to take the pose with their poiscaille ...

I shuddered in horror for a moment, when a nice lady, who wanted me to take the pose next to her husband, took my little camera in her hand, shining with bloody bloody juice ... It was well worth it, the photo is missed. And I did not propose to redo another!

At the fish market in Tawau (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2009).

There were some fish-balls on the stalls and it made me a little uncomfortable, to see them there, all flabby, dull eye, while I had taken so much pleasure to photograph them, alive, a few days ago ...

I offered myself a comforting afternoon tea at a nice little bakery, just behind the market, and I completed my walk along the waterfront, ugly too, but romantic.

This is where loving couples meet, wisely sitting side by side. With the offshore wind, it is better than on the moist sidewalks of the concrete arteries.

Tawau Beachfront, Lovers' Meeting (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2009).

Tawau (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2009).

For the rest, Tawau offers a good choice of cheap restaurants and comfortable hotels. There are many Chinese traders here, and quite a few Christians. The contrast between women is always a little surprising: on one side the modest veil of Muslim women, on the other the relaxation of young Chinese who go bareheaded and willingly wear shorts, miniskirts or skinny jeans.

But at night, the city is downright sinister. The streets and car parks are gloomy, poorly lit. We see packs of stray dogs lurking in a concert of barking.

Arrival in Tarakan

In Tawau, I did not meet a single pale face before taking the ferry. And then I saw landing at the entrance of the terminal a young couple of backpackers, too happy to finally find another tourist!

Paul and Becky are English, students in Cambridge, and like me, they go to Derawan. Being three should make it easy for us to complete the journey and share the transport.

We came across Bobby on the arrival of the ferry to Tarakan. An Indonesian from Sulawesi, who makes the taxi and plays intermediaries with tourists.

He carried my dive bag along the endless pier (special dedication to Alimata), and drove us to our respective hotels.

Guesthouse "cheap" with shared bathroom for young people, nice "middle-range" hotel with hot shower, air conditioning and free wifi for me who is starting to get bored.

Great barbeque fish in a boui-boui to complete the evening ... Too easy, this arrival in Tarakan!

Bobby, Paul and Becky. Grilled fish in a Tarakan boui-boui (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

Tomorrow morning, if everything goes as planned and weather permitting (it's raining torrents tonight and the wind is blowing), Bobby will have obtained the chartered boat promised to make the Tarakan trip Derawan, which will save us long hours of driving. Otherwise, to go to Derawan is an entire expedition !

Rate announced for the speedboat: 1.8 million Indonesian rupees, to be divided by three. Or 600.000Rp per head of pipe (40 €), it's worth it. In principle, we start super early, from 7am. We should be able to walk the sand of Derawan around 10:30, 11am at the latest! ! !

I do not know if I will have the opportunity to reconnect from the island, not sure that there is a computer connected to the internet. At worst, I will give little news via SMS via Twitter. At worst, I will crack and use my French 3G roaming key, which will cost me the skin of the buttocks.

Soon a manta-ray on Twitter? Who knows ?


Tawau-Tarakan-Derawan: practical information

Some information that can be used for those who would be tempted to make the same journey ... Attention to inform you anyway: these are news of July 2009, and everything changes very quickly in Indonesia.

  • In Tawau, the cost of the tourist visa for Indonesia was at the time of 170RM (34 €). The consulate is located Jalan Sinn On, it opened at 9am. Cost of the taxi ride to get there from the center when I was there: 8RM. Otherwise, there is a bus.
  • The Tawau-Tarakan ferry leaves every day except Sunday at 12h and arrives around 16h. Ticket price: 130RM + 5RM terminal tax. It is necessary to turn towards 10h to buy his ticket. We pass the immigration around 11am. Cost of the short taxi ride to go from the center to the jetty (right next to the big market and the fish market): 5RM.
  • Finally, to reach Derawan, a third alternative is possible, by plane. According to Bobby, there is an air link between Tarakan and Berau (Tanjung Redep) for less than 400,000Rp. After, kijang to Tanjung Batu + boat.
Travel map of Tawau to Derawan.
Travel map of Tawau to Derawan.

See all articles on this trip:

→ Travel Borneo [Malaysia + Indonesia]: July 2009

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

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  1. I love this kind of cities that look like nothing, I think they have a charm in themselves because precisely, they are not tourist. It's not pretty, but we really feel like we're seeing "in real life" how people live.
    Finally, I also like the beaches of fine sand with coconut trees! 😀

  2. Semporna, in the genre, it's pretty ugly ... With a Swiss friend whom I found several times during my trip to Asia, we said "See semporna, and die ..." is to say!

  3. it is true that the viles are not always very pretty but despite everything there is a pretty nice atmosphere you just have to go there 😉
    🙁 Otherwise the radio and the net announce a double bombing in Indonesia, tourists targeted in 2 major hotels in Jakarta I hope you are far from all this ❗

  4. Poor Corinne, lp, gentrification is proportional to age. You'll see it can only get worse! 🙂 When I was a PhD student, I lived with 700 CAD per month (that's a long time anyway!) And I managed to make a vacation every year & #8230;

  5. The naiad,

    Finally an ugly city, it changes us! But facades in color, what are you complaining about? Watch out for stray dogs ...


  6. Well, there was no need to make a big mistake about the alleged difficulties to connect Tawau to Derawan via Tarakan while it is "fingers in the nose"
    We see clearly that you are journalist Dame Corinne and that you have no sense of realities
    On the other hand I do not appreciate your criticism of this beautiful city of Tawau which is the pride of all Sabah with its waterfront that rivals the "Promenade des Anglais", its streets of irreproachable cleanliness worthy of a Swiss account and its typical buildings of the economic boom of the 80s soon to be classified as World Heritage by UNESCO ...

  7. I imagine the sticky and gleaming hand snapping up your camera & #8230; who must have been feeling the poiscaille ever since. What happiness! 😡 You see, in cities too ugly, you find lots of things to do. The Hairy Troll does not care about journalists far from realities, if I read correctly & #8230; It's a joke? 👿

  8. @RolK: Oh, I too, there are many "ugly" cities that I like a lot, for the same reasons. But Tawau is not only ugly, but grim and gloomy at night. Tarakan, by comparison, is very ugly too, but alive and warm at dusk. No, really, Tawau is not worth the detour.

    @ Marie-net: Oh yes, well, I forgot the ugly Semporna ... Well now, there will be "See Tawau and die ..."

    @Laurence: Yes, when we spend only one night in this kind of city, it's ok ... Otherwise, for the attacks in Jakarta, I was aware the same day. The Indonesians told us all about it in Tarakan and Derawan. But in Borneo, people feel far from the problems of Jakarta. For my part, the Indonesian capital was not in my steps, so no particular concern for my trip. On the other hand, it does not joke with the flu A: forms to be filled and temperature taken by masked people at all border posts.

    @Max: Hmm. Would you be trying to tell me that I OLD ???

    Coco: Oh, you know, ugly cities are legion in the corner. One day I should have to read a special article on the ugliness of urban Asian concreting.

    @The Furry Troll: We can see that you are a fine esthete, Sieur Alimata ... Next time, make me think of sending you a postcard of this romantic beach promenade in Tawau. No doubt I did not appreciate the true value of the indescribable charm emanating from this delightful concrete city. I'm going back tomorrow, by the ferry Indomayah at 10am (crazy atmosphere you know, way "The cruise has fun") and I hope to have a little more sense of reality during this second visit (incidentally you will be dismayed to learn that even today, I managed to avoid wearing my dive bag along the interminable pier of Tarakan).
    😆 😆 😆

    @Laurence: Ayé, the mantas are online !!!

    @Nono: My camera has survived, phew! As for the comment of Mr. Le Troll Velu, aka a diver who is also rife under the name of Alimata, yes, it's humor, of course ... An endless "private joke", which we pursue from post to post, because in fact he is jealous not to be able to take advantage at this moment of the stunning charms of Tawau (which he enjoyed before me during previous trips, to also go to Derawan).

  9. Ah, I was re-reading your impressions of Tawau, city of mornitude as the other would say 😉 ... yes, maybe ...

    Tawau is ugly but I am eternally grateful to an old chinese Chinese guy who in his stall, had a stroke of genius last February to repair the mirror of the 5D that was suddenly to be the trunk, just after being surprised by the appearance as abrupt as expected of a flaming cuttlefish, in front of the stilts of Mandarin Valley.

    Abandoned and cursed by the gods of the photos, furious like a cat dipped in a bowl, this Sunday of February I searched for a long time, under the architectural abominations worthy of PyongYang that we must call "arcades" in Tawau, a PHOTO SHOP.
    You know about the PHOTO SHOP with air conditioning and the soft carpet and the muzik jungle muted, the PHOTO STORE where you are told "but no pb, we fix you this inconvenience in the 10 minutes, the time that one of our 40 technicians is free of the repair of the objo of Yann Arthus-Bertrand ", in short this PHOTO STORE that does not exist ...

    You think well ... Tawau side photo, it is the maximum of the Sony who also mobile phone, rice mill electric worst case. I am told that the man-who-could-perhaps-has a shop called "Jadi", which I find miraculously: there is 43 ° near the fan and about 98% humidity while a young Malaysian puts under sweet pink frame some wedding photos 20 * 30.

    For men, the halo marcel is de rigueur, I see one that stirs behind a #8230; machine ❓ & #8230; I bother him from behind his sewing machine 8O .. or something similar to it 😕 & #8230; He looks at my reflex with an air goat, I say to myself that so much to do, let us have fun with the death of my reflex, -which is of course of no use to me for the week of diving that I will spend in Moalboal-. 😡

    Suddenly, marcel comes out of its torpor and declares as a pythie tao: "double side tape" ...
    😯 💡

    😕 😮 😀 😆 ❗ & #8230;

    It will take 20 minutes to pick up piece by piece the broken mirror. When I insist on paying him, royal, he says it made him happy ... he sketches a smile ... 🙄

    Me, I like the Chinese old pair of Tawau marcel. 8)

    .. otherwise you're right: not many "long noses" in the corner.

  10. @ Wet & Sea Oh, I'm loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Thank you for delivering it here. I savored properly. In the background, it's worth doing a detour by Tawau!

  11. Hello,

    First of all your blog is super nice. Finally a place where you can glean information quietly without too many answers that pollute in the image of forums.

    I have a quick question: Have you accidentally kept Bobby's coordinates? Because its price for the speed boat seems indeed very good and this option saves time!

    Is there a way to reach KL or singapore "easily" from one of the nearby airports?

    On Derawan, are there things to do for non divers? Pretty beaches, for example?

    With my wife we will plow for 3 weeks trays, mountains and cities of Sarawak and Sabah. I would like to finish with 4/5 days of diving, and sipadan does not seem ideal and very expensive if my wife does not dive.

    Thank you in advance,


  12. @ Yeti67: Sorry, no, I do not think I have the coordinates of Bobby (I will check anyway when I returned to France). That said, I think any hotel on site, or local agency, can find you a guy ready to rent his boat and make the crossing. On our return, we had paid less, I think I remember, with another guy from the island, in the 1.4 million rupees.

    To join KL, there is an Air Asia flight from Tawau or Balikpapan.

    Derawan is a tiny island, which is visited in minutes. The main activities are: do nothing, visit the neighboring islands, swim with turtles, learn Bahasa Indonesia with locals ... The beaches are white sand, rather pretty, but I think in a week we must start s to bore a little.

    Be careful though, diving in Derawan is not really "framed". Better to be able to take charge underwater. The small center attached to the losmen Danakan is very "roots" and the material, if you do not have yours, leaves something to be desired ...

    Another option, if you do not want to go to Sipadan or (there are nevertheless some solutions not too expensive, like Billabong or Scuba Junkie, there are the islands near Kota Kinabalu ...

    Good preparations!

  13. Hello,

    I thank you for your information. What do you think of the spring next to the Losmen? A little comfort could be a good compromise for my wife who does not dive (I already impose 2 weeks of hiking mainly in the jungles of Borneo).

    But basically, to sum up, it takes two days to travel from Tawau to Derawan and two days to go back there?


  14. @ Yeti67: Yes, the resort in question is probably the most comfortable on Derawan. I did not visit the bungalows, I do not know how it is inside. But I think they only take pre-booked packages in the form of a diving package. I mention it at the end of this post:
    The best is to contact them by email, to see what they will answer you ... Their site:
    Finally, Tawau-Derawan, yes, it's two days away.

  15. Thank you for all this information on the trip to Derawan, it has been a week that I prepare our trip to Borneo for a month in August and I had nothing clear on the subject! I hope we will have the chance to "charter" a speed boat! I hesitated to take the dive equipment but considering your post I think we will take it!