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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