Derawan Island. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.
The island of Derawan, on the east coast of Borneo. (Indonesia, July 2013)

Itinerary: from Kuala Lumpur to Derawan in one day

#Borneo #Indonesia #Malaysia

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

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: 

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

Review Derawan

Four years after my first passage, I wanted to see Derawan and its archipelago, the islands of Kakaban, Maratua, Sangalaki... Mission accomplished!

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

I stayed a little over a week in Derawan, which hasn't changed much. There are maybe a few more guesthouses and small tourist stores than before, but the tiny village has remained rather peaceful.

Seen from the open sea, the island always looks good... Coconut palms and a cute strip of white sand.

Derawan Island. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

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

Derawan is far. To get there, several routes are possible... I managed, on this last trip, to accomplish the trip Kuala Lumpur → Derawan in the same day. On my previous trip, the trip Tawau → Derawan took two days...

I receive a lot of e-mails asking me for information about the route to Derawan. So here is a "practical" article that will answer a lot of questions!

Routes and dilemmas

A little geography to start... In fact, this is often how I prepare my trips. By 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).

As you can see on the map, the route to reach Derawan depends on the side from which Borneo is approached: Malaysia or Indonesia.

Those who have been reading this blog for several years may remember. The itinerary, when I was preparing my trip to Borneo in 2009, was already some dilemmas.

Then I asked around 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... 😄

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

Four years have passed since then, and new air links make it possible to envisage other routes... New dilemmas.

2009 Itinerary: 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 first dive in Sipadan / Mabul (Malaysia), then to go down to Derawan (Indonesia). After landing in Tawau, I went directly to Semporna, the port from where 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 by speed-boat charter 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.

2013 Itinerary: Balikpapan → Derawan

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

  • first, because I was able to do the whole trip Kuala Lumpur → Derawan in the same day (I was able to take an Air Asia flight, then a Sriwijaya Air flight, via Balikpapan, see the detail below)
  • then because I wanted to increase the power of my diving questions, and I knew that Sipadan would be a step above (I had already heard about the degradation of the Derawan archipelago regarding the underwater fauna)
  • finally, because the next part of the journey to Malaysia looked easy, as it could now be done by plane: the Kalstar [update: company disappeared in 2017] has a link Berau↔Tarakan, and MAS Wings has a link Tarakan↔Tawau. Duration for each flight: approximately 40 minutes. (Easy, but not shorter: it took me two days, as in 2009 in the other direction, the flight schedules not allowing the connection... 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 as follows, 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 nightfall in Derawan. I'm very happy to spend this first Indonesian night on an island rather than in an ugly concrete town like Tarakan... And to be able to start 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 found out about while preparing for this July 2013 trip, crossing 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 the subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian national airline, which has the advantage of not being blacklisted (unlike Kalstar for Berau↔Tarakan).

I don't know if I had a special promo period during that July 2013, but the fares were more than affordable. Berau-Tarakan on Kalstar was around 40€ a flight. Tarakan-Tawau on MAS Wings was around 20€ a flight. So, I didn't hesitate for a long time...

The only worry: it was impossible to do Berau→Tarakan→Tawau in the same day. Kalstar and MAS Wings schedules did not allow for connecting flights. So I had to resign myself to spending a night in Tarakan. I didn't check if same day connection is possible in the other direction: Tawau→Tarakan→Berau.

The only feasible option, to complete the Derawan→Tarakan→Tawau trip in the same day, is to leave early from Derawan (around 6-7am) with a speed-boat for a direct sea trip to Tarakan. It takes 4 to 5 hours of very tasty crossing, and also very expensive (from 1.5 to 2.5 million Indonesian rupiahs, that is to say 150-250 dollars approximately, depending on the years, the renter, the head of the customer, the boat, the price of the diesel, etc. etc., the ideal being to find other tourists with whom to charter the boat). This allows us to arrive in Tarakan at the end of the morning and to catch the MAS Wings flight of 1:15 pm to Tawau.

If you want to know schedules, fares, connections, etc., don't ask me, I don't know them by heart. I have indicated what I know above. And all this can change very quickly, as it often does in Indonesia... I recommend you to go and see for yourself on the companies' websites:

Kalstar Be careful, the timetables indicated online are not always up to date, and when I tested it, it was impossible to make a reservation on the website. So you will have to ask someone in Indonesia to check and book for you. [Update: Company disappeared in 2017]

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

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013