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 of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 


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

Distant archipelagos

It is 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)
The island of Mantabuan, off Semporna. Borneo, Malaysia. (July 2006)
Sipadan (Borneo, Malaysia). July 2006.
Sipadan (Borneo, Malaysia). July 2006.

I have 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 away, Derawan...

Crossing the border between Malaysia and Indonesia in Borneo

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

I plan to go to Derawan from Tawau, my entry point to 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 in Sipadan and Mabul, on the Malaysian side. Then I will cross the border to go down to Derawan, Indonesian side.

I will 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, but I have to anticipate my trip.

I contacted Kadek Wirawan, an Indonesian dive-master who organizes dives around Derawan. For those of you who are interested in this itinerary, here are the practical details 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 in the 3-4 hours. The ferry is supposed to arrive at destination around 5 pm. It is therefore necessary to spend the night in Tarakan.
  • Journey Tarakan-Derawan. After, there are two options, Kadek tells me: taking the ferry and then with a route that passes through Berau, or finding a boat in Tarakan to make the trip directly by the 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 the island of Tarakan and Tanjung Selor. It must last 1 hour 30 minutes 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 journey announced: 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 that leads to Tanjung Batu is apparently quite rotten! If ever it rains, it's guaranteed to get stuck in the mud... Besides, I'd better find people to share the trip, because the price 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. That would allow me to make the trip for less money (but obviously, it will be less comfortable). Once in Berau, to reach the small port of Tanjung Batu, we find kijangs (4×4 vehicles that leave when there are enough passengers, i.e. at least 5-6) for about 50,000Rp (5USD) per head.
  • Then, once in Tanjung Batu, you can reach Derawan by "speed boat" in about 20 minutes for 300,000Rp (30USD) according to Kadek. But I imagine that there is also a way to find less expensive slow boats or to charter the speed boat.

Option 2: speed-boat crossing

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

  • Duration of the crossing: about 4 hours. But there, you have to "charter" a speed-boat for a hefty sum of... 4.000.000Rp or about 400USD! Other travelers tell me about a more reasonable price of only 1.000.000Rp.
  • Conclusion: I will meet there. If the price is too exorbitant, and unless I find a group of ten Japanese willing to board on the same day and share the cost with me, I should rather choose the first option.

Well, it's not the first time that I've been on stupid trips on crappy roads. That I sleep in "improbable" places as the other guy would say. Or that I embark with optimism on rusty Asian ferries... This expedition to Derawan promises to be quite folklo!

See all articles on this trip:

→ Borneo [Malaysia + Indonesia]: July 2009

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

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