Mantabuan Island, off Semporna. Borneo, Malaysia. (July 2006)
Mantabuan Island, off Semporna. Borneo, Malaysia. (July 2006)

Expedition project in Derawan

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

I finally decided on the stages for my Malaysian-Indonesian journey in July: Perhentian, Mabul (Sipadan), Derawan. Nothing but islands! These holidays will therefore be island and watery.

Distant archipelagos

These are the exceptional diving sites of these distant archipelagos that attract me. And the beauty of the islands.

Mantabuan Island, off Semporna. Borneo, Malaysia. (July 2006)
Mantabuan Island, off Semporna. Borneo, Malaysia. (July 2006)
Sipadan (Borneo, Malaysia). July 2006.
Sipadan (Borneo, Malaysia). July 2006.

I already dived in 2006 Perhentian and Sipadan, easy access and tourist destinations. On the other hand, Derawan will be a discovery, a little more off the beaten track.

It's far, Derawan ...

Crossing the border between Malaysia and Indonesia in Borneo

Even when I have crossed the thousands of miles separating Europe from Southeast Asia, it will be far, far away. Derawan is a tiny island on the east coast of Borneo, in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan.

I plan to travel to Derawan from Tawau, my entry point in Borneo. To get there, it's easy: there are several daily flights from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau with Air Asia.

Itinerary Malaysia-Indonesia: the stages of my journey of July 2009.
Itinerary Malaysia-Indonesia: the stages of my journey of July 2009.

I will first dive to Sipadan and Mabul, Malaysian side. Then I will cross the border to go down to Derawan, Indonesian side.

I will first have to spend a day in Tawau to get the Indonesian visa done at the consulate. Yes, here, no "visa on arrival" at the border! Then, the trip itself will take me at least two days... I hate to plan everything in advance, so I have to anticipate my trip.

I made contact with Kadek Wirawan, an Indonesian dive-master who organizes dives around Derawan. For those of you interested in this itinerary, here are the practical details that he sent me by e-mail.

  • Journey Tawau-Tarakan. We leave Malaysia for Indonesia by boat ... There is a ferry every day, except Sunday. The crossing lasts 3-4 hours. The ferry is supposed to arrive at destination around 17h. We must spend the night in Tarakan.
  • Journey Tarakan-Derawan. Afterwards, there are two options, Kadek tells me: by taking the ferry and then with a route that passes through Berau, or by finding a boat in Tarakan to make the journey directly by sea ...
Map of possible routes from Tawau to Derawan.
Map of possible routes from Tawau to Derawan.

Option 1: via Berau

Boat + road + boat, via Tanjung Selor, Berau and Tanjung Batu :

  • The first crossing is a connection by public boat between Tarakan Island and Tanjung Selor. It must last 1 hour and a half if I believe the testimonies gleaned here and there on the web. Announced price: 80.000Rp (about 8USD).
  • Then, Kadek suggests me to charter a vehicle, to go in one go to Tanjung Batu (the port from where we embark for Derawan). Duration of the trip: 4 hours. In my opinion, it could be much more... I know from experience that the weather is very elastic in Indonesia, and the last part of the road leading to Tanjung Batu is apparently quite rotten! If it ever rains, it's guaranteed to get stuck in the mud... Besides, I'd better find people to share this trip, because the rate would be around 800.000Rp (80USD).
  • I guess we go through Berau (also called Tanjung Redep) to make this trip. The Lonely Planet indicates that there are buses to go from Tanjung Selor to Berau. It would allow me to make the trip for less (but obviously, it will be less comfortable). Once in Berau, to reach the small port of Tanjung Batu, there are kijangs (4 × 4 vehicles leaving when there are enough passengers, ie at least 5-6) for about 50.000Rp (5USD) per head of pipe.
  • Then, once in Tanjung Batu, you can reach Derawan by speed boat in about twenty minutes for 300,000Rp (30USD) according to Kadek. But I imagine that there is also a way to find cheaper "slow boats" or to charter the said speed-boat.

Option 2: speed-boat crossing

Direct route by sea, making the Tarakan-Derawan crossing:

  • Duration of the crossing: about 4 hours. But here, you have to charter a speed-boat for the coquette sum of... 4.000.000Rp, that is to say 400USD! Other travellers tell me about a more reasonable rate of only 1.000.000Rp.
  • Conclusion: I'll go there. If it's too expensive, and unless I come across a group of ten Japanese who are ready to board the same day and share the cost with me, I should go for the first option.

All right. It's not the first time I've taken a shitty ride on bad roads. I've slept in "unlikely" places, as the other one would say. Or that I'm optimistically embarking on rusty Asian ferries... This expedition to Derawan promises to be quite a folklore one!

See all articles on this trip:

→ Borneo [Malaysia + Indonesia]: July 2009

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

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  1. @LeMarnais: Quite a journey ahead, indeed. 😀

    @Manta: Yes, thank you, I've already read this link... 😉
    • There is no Tawau-Berau flight to my knowledge ...
    • Between Tarakan and Berau, Lonely Planet also talks about a flight by the Kal-Star and another local company whose name I have forgotten. But the Kal-Star offers as online information only a rotten blog, where are listed the existing flights (not sure that this list is up to date) and the Tarakan-Berau is not on it. In short, not sure that there is at least one per day, or even that this link is still relevant. I will inquire on the spot.
    • Tarakan-Tanjung Batu ferry side, I'm a little suspicious of the information on the link you mentioned, they are not necessarily up to date: from experience, I know that ferry and plane connections often change in Indonesia . The best will be to see me on the spot: a first time during the day that I will have to go to Tawau anyway to make the visa; a second time in Tarakan, where I may discover that there is a place for me on a plane, or that there is a public-boat not expensive to Tarakan-Tanjung Batu in a row ... Suspense!
    • Finally, no, Balikpapan, it is not especially convenient for my route because of the air links badly damn for what interests me: it implies first of all to get, the good day, a place on the cuckoo's the Kal-Star that makes Berau-Balikpapan (or so to spend a crazy time on the road, or ferries?). Then do Balikpapan-Jakarta + Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia. Air Asia has stopped its line KL-Balikpapan which was launched in 2005. Too bad!

    But finally, I do not worry too much and then I'll have a little time in front of me. I remember, in Sulawesi, I had managed on the spot, also, with a local travel agency, to improvise bits of transfer by plane, and then I had found a family of Dutch to share a car ... Then I do not worry, I tell myself that I will find a solution! I'm going to rewrite Kadek too, who may be able to point me to other contacts in Tawau and / or Tarakan.

  2. 🙄 Indeed, you've studied the situation well... it's crazy to have such a complex connection between a few dive sites that are not that far away... it's worth it!
    It is in any case feasible, time consuming, but a nice experience ... I can not wait to read your adventures!
    😉 By the way, the map of South East Asia makes me dream, my eyes and my mind wandered over the different possibilities it represents my favourite area!

  3. @Manta: Bah! It will be done, one way or another. And who knows, maybe there's a daily public boat that does a cheap deal for Tarakan-Tanjung Batu? (That would be great, I must say!)
    Me too, this card inspires me a lot ... It's my favorite "playground".

  4. You'll see, Sipadan has changed a bit compared to your photo ... there is a big pontoon and a slew of military now!
    If you plan to book your dives well in advance if you want to go to Sipadan every day (or almost), there is a limited number of licenses and I saw divers doing a single day in Sipadan, on 5 days of planned…
    And if not, Tawau-Berau by the road is hell?
    Finally, how do you join KL from Berau?
    In any case, it sounds great!

  5. @ Marie-net: In fact, the pontoon is on the right of my picture, we do not see it ... There were some soldiers at the time too, but their presence was rather discreet. They were content to watch the girls in their jerseys and check the permits.

    Alas, it looks like my plan to make a splash in Sipadan is in jeopardy. 👿 Three years ago, I was headlining on "The Sipadan Rush". But I had still managed to dive on the site, with my hands in my pockets, without any resa. Except that now, it's the super-rush!!!! One of the centers I contacted told me that things had changed, that it was now "very busy" and that they didn't have any more availability for permits, this summer, at least not before mid-August... I sent another email elsewhere, to see, I'm waiting for the answer, but I doubt it will be positive.

    Obviously, it is necessary to go at least 3 months in advance or more, to roof a permit in summer. With my habit of not doing too much preparation, unable to decide or to predict months in advance where I will be this or that day, inevitably, I find the beak in the water ... Unless he There are withdrawals while I am there. In short, to follow.

    Otherwise, to answer your question, I think that the road from Tawau to Berau is far from being a nice smooth 4 lane road... But the ride can be fun! 😡 I was planning to join KL by coming back to Tawau.

    But as a result... if I shorten, or even completely skip my passage through Tawau because of the lack of possible splashes in Sipadan, I can maybe finally leave through Balikpapan (there's a Berau-Balikpapan connection by plane) and aim for other things in Indonesia... Roh là là, still new possibilities, new choices to make, it's too hard!!!! 😀

  6. 😕 Sipandan is so complicated to book? Not cool for those who can't make it 3 months in advance!
    So, new decisions?
    ❓ By the way, what camera do you go with?

  7. @Manta: No, that's it, it's settled!!! 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

    I just received the email I was hoping for. At Billabong, unlike Scuba Junkie, they answered me positively, and even confirmed me the dates of the dives! And besides, they are cheaper.
    I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to spend four days in Sipadan itself, and three days in Mabul-Kapalai. I'm happy, happy, happy!!!! 😈

    I leave with the case Powershot A95 recovered and tinkered with my screen at Koh Lipe, and a girlfriend will lend me a mini camera backup, if the other came, like the last time, to let go ... I do not have enough money for the moment to invest in gear, but it will come.

    Ah! Life is beautiful!!!! 😆

    Well, now that the dates are set for Sipadan, I'll be able to organize the rest: Derawan !!!! 8)

  8. 😀 Nice for you, it's starting to become clearer!
    The holidays are fast approaching... 😉

  9. I just read your different comments; Well, I thought for a moment that you would not be able to dive in Sipadan ... it would have been a shame ...
    On our side, I just have to count the J- and admire the various pictures of sites, everything is organized and confirmed!!! I still have a hard time to realize that everything I saw virtually exists...and that in a few weeks, I'll be there!!!! 🙂
    Lots of love!

  10. @Manta: It's nothing to say ... Realize: this week, I'm in training; the next week, I work from Thursday to Sunday; and on Monday, I'm on the plane !!!

    @ Helen: Pity? A drama, you mean !!! I think I was anxious to make a trip to Togian or to return to Bali. But hey, everything is pinning well eventually. So I'll be in Billabong's longhouse in Mabul.
    They even make me a small discount compared to the prices shown, given the number of dives I will investigate with them on the week.

  11. 😉 Well, you won't see the time go by!
    In training, the pace is cooler than at work, right? You will stay until Thursday to prepare your bags!
    Bali, what a punishment! I'm going back next year, I deserved it, I'm not wise, na!

  12. @Alimata: Yes, everyone says good Billabong. They are pretty good at believing the testimonials found on the web. I will test the link. Thank you!

    @Manta: Absolutely ... In training, we end up at a time when the "normal" people finish their day of work, which makes looooongues evenings for oneself. Much less bursting than a normal day's work ... Bali next year? Too hard.

  13. Hi Corinne,
    I just connected to your blog, from the beach Paradise Besar Perhentians. I was coming to hear about your future "very close" trip. It promises to be heavenly.
    It's been a week since I've been doing dives, not Tioman finally, we've enjoyed ourselves so much here, that we stayed a few more days ... which allowed me to do some other interesting dives.
    Moreover, I saw that you already dived in 2006 with the Coral Sky Divers ... if you ever change, I advise you Watercolors, they are great, very professional and very nice.
    I leave the island tomorrow, for Malacca, I leave you my place! While some leave, others arrive ... Life is life!
    See you soon, and have a good trip! 8)

  14. @Anthony: Gosh, how funny! I'm starting my journey with the Perhentians, and I just booked at Watercolours...!!! 🙄

    After Perhentian Kecil in 2006, I want to test Perhentian Besar. And as it's better to book for Perhentian, seeing how crowded it is in this season, I opted, a bit randomly, after browsing the web, for Watercolours! I'm glad they made such a good impression on you, so I was right!!! 🙂

    Coral Sky on Perhentian Kecil has closed for a while now, but I found Erika and Yves (who ran this center) at ... Koh Lipe (where they worked at Forra Diving), during my last trip to Thailand! I do not know what will be their next point of departure, but one thing is certain: the world of divers is very small !!! 8)

    Me too, the Perhentians had made this effect to me, there are three years: I had liked it so much, that I had taped longer than expected.

    Have a good trip to Malakka (or Malacca)!!!! 😉

  15. Selamat ...
    Really crazy site ... A gold mine !!!!
    After getting tickets for August at a very good price at Air Asia, I gently launches in preparation trip to Borneo, a month. Let's combine jungle & beach for dive.
    Allow me to contact you if necessary, for specific information.
    Thank you for the multitude of information you reveal.

  16. Hello.
    You gave me a very good idea of a journey.
    We also have plans to go to derawan in August. We arrive in kuala lumpur, and suddenly leave by tawau is very clever. We would also like to visit the Tanjung Punting Park at the beginning of the tour (and end with the islands of course). And I would have liked to know if it was essential to book flights in advance (tawaukuala lumpur, I imagine that the island is busiest in August.
    Thank you for your advice.


  17. @maelisk: I do not know if the link Tawau - Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia is so busy that ... In my opinion, it is probably not necessary to book in advance if you are not one or two days near .

  18. Hello Corinne!

    And best wishes for this new year.
    Full of travels.... waaah how original, I'm sure I'm the first to tell you 😉

    Tell me, the visa to Tawau is not too much trouble? Can we show up the same day without an appointment?

    Terima kasih!