Map of Borneo

Itinerary: from Kuala Lumpur to Derawan in one day

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: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

Derawan is a tiny island on the eastern coast of Borneo. I had been there already in 2009. But for this trip of 2013, I reviewed my itinerary.

Review Derawan

I wanted to see Derawan and its archipelago again, the islands of Kakaban, Maratua, Sangalaki ... Mission accomplished!

It was the first step of this July 2013 trip to Borneo.

I stayed a little over a week in Derawan, which has not changed much. There may be a few more guesthouses and small tourist shops than before, but the tiny village has remained rather peaceful.

Seen from the open sea, the island still has a small effect ... Coconut palms and cute white sand band.

Derawan Island. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

Derawan Island. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.
Derawan Island. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

Derawan, it's far away. To get there, several itineraries are possible ... I managed, during this last trip, to complete the journey Kuala Lumpur → Derawan in the same day. During my previous trip, the Tawau → Derawan trip took two days ...

I get a lot of e-mails asking for info on the route to get to Derawan. Here is an article "practical-practical" that will answer a lot of questions!

Routes and dilemmas

A bit of geography to begin with ... Besides, it's often the way I prepare my travels. Looking at maps Nothing more inspiring!

Map of BorneoDerawan is an island located in the Indonesian part of Borneo, on the east coast.

As a reminder, three countries share the island of Borneo: Malaysia and Brunei North, Indonesia for three quarters south.

The two largest international airports closest to Derawan are Tawau (in the Malaysian state of Sabah) and Balikpapan (in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan).

We can see it on the map opposite, the route to reach Derawan depends on the side by which Borneo approaches: Malaysia or Indonesia.

Those who read this blog for several years may remember it. The itinerary, when I was planning my trip to Borneo from 2009, was already asking some dilemmas.

Then I inquired on possible routes to reach Derawan from Tawau.

Finally, once there, I had completed the journey Tawau-Tarakan (then Tarakan-Derawan) almost fingers in the nose. Not a little proud ...: lol:

A click here for all articles on this 2009 trip to Borneo

Four years have passed since, and new connections by plane make it possible to envisage other routes ... New dilemmas.

Itinerary of 2009: Tawau → Derawan

Here is a first possible route. The one I did in 2009.

I arrived by Tawau on the Malaysian side (Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur). I had chosen to go first to Sipadan / Mabul (Malaysia), then down to Derawan (Indonesia). After landing at Tawau, I went directly to Semporna, the port from which we embark for Mabul and Sipadan.

After my stay in Mabul / Sipadan, my itinerary to Derawan was as follows:

  • Semporna → Tawau (about 1 hour drive)
  • Indonesian visa at the consultation + overnight in Tawau
  • Tawau → Tarakan by ferry (about 4 hours)
  • Overnight in Tarakan
  • Tarakan → Derawan in speedboat chartered with other tourists (about 4 hours)

It took two days, even by direct Tarakan-Derawan by speed boat.

Map of possible routes from Tawau to Derawan.
Map of possible routes from Tawau to Derawan.

Itinerary of 2013: Balikpapan → Derawan

This time, I opted for the opposite route: Derawan (Indonesia) as a first step, Sipadan / Mabul (Malaysia) next. I decided for several reasons:

  • firstly because it was possible for me to complete the full journey Kuala Lumpur → Derawan in the same day (I was able to investigate an Air Asia flight, then a Sriwijaya Air flight, via Balikpapan, see details below. below)
  • then because I wanted to escalate dive questions, and I knew that Sipadan would be a step up (I had already had some echoes of the Derawan Archipelago's degradation of underwater wildlife)
  • finally, because the continuation of the journey to Malaysia was announced easy, because now achievable by plane: the Kalstar makes the Berau↔Tarakan link, and MAS Wings opened a Tarakan↔Tawau link. Duration for each flight: approximately 40 minutes. (Easy, but not shorter: it took me two days, as in 2009 in the other direction, flight schedules do not allow correspondence ... See the details in the box at the bottom of the article.)

In short, my journey, for this first part of the trip to Derawan, was therefore the following, all in the same day, the day after my arrival in Kuala Lumpur:

  • Kuala Lumpur → Balikpapan sure Air Asia (about 2 hours flight) + Visa on arrival
  • Balikpapan → Berau sure Sriwijaya Air (about 1 hour flight)
  • Berau → Tanjung Batu by road (about 2 h 30 by car, pick-up by the resort)
  • Tanjung Batu → Derawan by speedboat (about 20 minutes, transfer by the resort)

I arrived at dusk in Derawan. Happy to spend the first night on an Indonesian island rather than a lousy concrete city like Tarakan ... And to attack the first dives the next day!

Good to know: Berau ↔ Tarakan ↔ Tawau by plane

Tarakan-Tawau with MAS Wings.Thanks to the new MAS Wings Tarakan ↔ Tawau line, which I discovered while preparing for this July 2013 trip, the crossing of the Indo-Malaysian border through eastern Borneo has become much faster and easier.

The line has been open since July 2012 only and offers an alternative to the slow and overcrowded ferry that makes the connection in 4-5 hours.

MAS Wings is a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, a Malaysian national company, which has the advantage of not being blacklisted (unlike Kalstar for Berau↔Tarakan).

I do not know if I enjoyed a special promo period during this month of July 2013, but the rates were more than affordable. Berau-Tarakan on Kalstar was around 40 € the flight. Tarakan-Tawau on MAS Wings around 20 € the flight. So, I did not hesitate very long ...

Only concern: impossible to do Berau → Tarakan → Tawau in the same day. The schedules of Kalstar and MAS Wings did not allow flights to be connected. So I had to resign myself to spending a night in Tarakan. I did not check if the correspondence in the same day is possible in the other direction: Tawau → Tarakan → Berau.

The only feasible option to complete the Derawan → Tarakan → Tawau route in the same day is to depart early from Derawan (around 6-7am) with a speed boat for a direct trip by sea to Tarakan. It takes 4 to 5 hours of very tidy crossing, and also very expensive (from 1.5 to 2.5 million Indonesian rupees, or about 150-250 dollars, depending on the year, the renter, the head of the client , the boat, the price of diesel, etc. etc., the ideal being to find other tourists with whom to charter the boat). It will arrive in the late morning Tarakan and catch the flight MAS Wings 1:15 for Tawau.

If you want to know the schedules, prices, connections, etc., do not ask me, I do not know them by heart. I told you what I know above. And then all that can change very quickly, as often in Indonesia ... I recommend you to go see yourself on the sites of companies:

Kalstar: Be careful, the times listed online are not always up to date, and when I tested it was impossible to make a reservation on the site. You will need to ask someone in Indonesia to check and book for you. (If necessary, the contacts of the various offices are there.)

→ Malaysia Airlines is reliable and tickets are payable online with a French card.

Travel to Indonesia and Malaysia: Borneo - July 2013

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

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  1. I thought while reading the article, besides that it makes you want to go that it is very well written, I see to see that you are also a journalist, this explains that ...

    I had never had the opportunity to congratulate you for your blog, a great success, just like your many trips!

    1. @Roman: thank you for this comment very nice ... It always touches me a lot, because this blog is really my bubble of freedom on the web. I write in a more personal way, without professional constraint, in short, it's different from my daily job as a journalist.
      And it's always a pleasure to share here my travels and impressions ...

  2. Bjr Corinne

    In recent times you are more "practical" on the organization of your travels. This is good because it allows us to have valuable and appreciated information to be able to project on the organization of a stay.
    What I intend to do soon, I'm waiting for a small income for which I have already planned the use. The destination of Raja Ampat tempts me. I can not wait to feel what I experienced at "Alor". But your different destinations make me turn my head and I hesitate.
    As you thought to publish your travels, in a book combining "photos and texts" ???
    Please let us know if this is the case, I'm a fan.
    Thank you again for all those dreams you give us.

    1. @ Marcopolo8356: In fact, I had in time a very "practical" page with good addresses and everything. But I deleted it, because this kind of information is outdated very quickly, especially in Asia.

      So I generally prefer to avoid doing too much in the "practical-practical" to privilege articles combining photos and stories. And then, I admit that the "practice" is much less exciting to tell and annoys me a little ... That said, I decided to do it more recently (especially since Raja Ampat), to simplify my life, fact: when I realize that I am starting to receive a lot of e-mails asking me the same kind of information, on the same destination, I think that it may be worth compiling the information in a post, and simply give the link to the people who write to me ... Ideally, I would have to make a "practical" section for each trip, but the tedious nature of the exercise does not motivate me much ...

      For Raja Ampat, I highly recommend the breaking of piggy bank ... You will not regret it. I dream of going back there. This is the most beautiful dive spot I have ever seen. And I do not say that in the air.

      As for "publishing" my travels, my faith, I'm already doing it here, on this blog. I think the web lends itself well to that. I would need more free time to imagine and make other forms of publications. But who knows, it could come, just to occupy the future long winter evenings ... Anyway, you're not the first to suggest me the idea. This is the time I miss, for now. I can not update the blog yet ...


    2. @Corinne: Well I think that this practical side that you put so well in value is more than enough to make you want to go there! 🙄 I actually prefer articles and photos.Car mine, I carefully note your "favorites" that will be very valuable in the choice of my future diving destinations! 🙂 And in 1st place, Raja Ampat, of course !! 😉

    3. @Didier: Yes, I do not really want to do too much "practice". As I said above, these are articles always a little tedious to write, not very exciting and which are necessarily quickly outdated ...

      I much prefer to share on this blog my favorites, my photos, my impressions of travel !!!

  3. From my time in Malaysia, at the very beginning of my Navy, I only remember two towers, the famous landmark monument of this country. At the time I had stopped there for only 3 days, so not enough to visit everything. But if I have the opportunity to go back, I know now that there is more to do by moving a little ...

    1. @Guillaume : yes, it is not only peninsular Malaysia, Malaysia of Borneo is really worth seeing ...

      But passing through Kuala Lumpur, you can not escape the Petronas towers 😉