Things To Do in Semporna & Tawau

Semporna may be a small town by the coast but sleepy it is not, with its reputation as an international diving scene. You can reach Semporna by flying to Tawau airport, with many choose to stop by at Tawau before embarking heading for Semporna. Upon arrival, a hike up to the top of picturesque Bohey Dulang island and diving sessions at Sipadan and Mabul island islands should be ready to tick off your bucket list! But if you’re spending a night or four in Tawau, explore the town’s many hidden gems, from the ancient archaeological site at Bukit Tengkorak to hiking the trails of the Tawau Hills National Park.

What To Do in Semporna

Island getaway at Bohey Dulang and surrounding islands

Once you arrived in Semporna, you will realise that there are many island day trips that you can hop on to. One of them is the Tun Sakaran Marine Park day trip. The marine park consists of several islands including Bohey Dulang Island, Mantabuan Island, and Sibuan Island—all of which you will visit on this trip. The trip starts with a short 1-hour hike up Bohey Dulang to see the panoramic view of the whole marine park. After lunch, you will then proceed to Mantabuan and Sibuan for your snorkelling or scuba diving sessions.

Here are some fun island hopping packages in Bohey Dulang:
Bohey Dulang Hike with Mantabuan & Sibuan Islands Snorkel
4D3N Semporna Island Hopping

Hike to the top of Bohey Dulang at 600m above sea level where you can see the incredible view of Tun Sakaran Marine Park.

Post a mail at underwater post office in Mataking Island

Mataking island, which name can roughly be translated as “eye of the king”, is privately-owned by the Reef Dive Resort, and there are plenty of activities that you do with them. Divers will be in for a treat because there are more than 30 dive sites around the area that you can visit. Mataking Island is also home to Malaysia’s first underwater post office. The letters are put into a waterproof bag and postmarked using a special rubber stamp—perfect as a commemoration of your feat.

Besides diving, there are also plenty of activities you can do on the island itself: sunrise and sunset watching at the watchtower, fishing in the nearby island, kayaking, snorkelling, batik painting, and jungle trekking in the island itself, just to name a few. In fact, you can also have your wedding on the island!

Here are some relaxing and dive packages in Mataking Island:
3D2N Mataking Reef Dive Resort Stay
3D2N Mataking and Timba-Timba Diving Package
Mataking, Timba-Timba and Pom-Pom Island Hopping

Mataking Island is a private island located in the Celebes Sea of Semporna and a dive centre for visitors who wish to visit Sipadan Island.

Dive in one of the world's best diving site at Sipadan Island

For many people, Semporna is diving heaven waiting to be discovered. In the 1989 film, Borneo: The Ghost of the Sea Turtle, famed diver Jacques Cousteau said of Sipadan Island as “untouched piece of art”. Over the years, Sipadan has cemented itself as one of the world’s best diving sites. Before experiencing the magical moment of diving in Sipadan Island, be sure to apply your dive permit. Do note that Sipadan Island is a protected area, and Sabah Parks only allocates 250 permit daily as of April 2023. Additionally, you need to hold at least an Advanced Open Water diving certification to dive at Sipadan Island.

How to successfully get Sipadan dive permit? Our suggestion would be to stay at least 3 days in a Semporna resort for a guaranteed permit.

Here are some resorts and dive centres for your dive permit application:
Seaventures Dive Rig
Mabul Water Bungalow
Borneo Divers Mabul Resort

Sipadan Island, a diver's paradise, where you will be greeted by the majestic sight of corals growing atop an extinct volcano at 600m above the seabed.

Dive to Sipadan with Semporna's only liveaboard

Join Celebes Explorer 9 as you cruise across the Celebes Sea, home to some of Borneo's most rare and unique sea creatures. This liveaboard is the best way to dive into Sipadan Island, Mabul Island, and other nearby dive sites since it lets you reach areas you normally are not able to. Celebes Explorer 9 offers daily dives to Sipadan Island, perfect for those who want to explore and dive there to their heart's content! 

Here is Semporna's only liveaboard:
Celebes Explorer 9 - Sipadan Liveaboard

Stay in Mabul Island's water chalet

Mabul Island is small in size and located in the northeastern part of Semporna. Situated close to Sipadan Island, Mabul Island is a great diving site alternative to the famous Sipadan Island, minus the fuss for diving permit. Hence, it has attracted adventure lovers around the world and has become one of the most popular diving spots. Travellers go to Mabul to engage in various water sports while staying in amazing water chalets or beach resorts. Exploring the water reveals an assortment of captivating fish and coloured corals.

Here are some water chalets and beach resorts for you staycation in Mabul Island:
Borneo Divers Mabul Resort
Mabul Water Bungalow

A luxury floating dive resort at Mabul Water Bungalows (SMART) at Mabul Island.

Relax on a secluded resort at Kapalai Island

Kapalai is a sandbank on top of the Ligitan Reefs that was formed due to the erosion on the island that took place over many years. The only building on the island, which is the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort, built on wooden stilts surrounded by blue crystal clear water. This allows visitors to see the bottom of the sea clearly and makes the building looks like a floating structure. The waters around it also resemble an aquarium because of the diverse types of fish that live in the reef and its sandy bottom. A trip to Kapalai Island is a wonderful view that you should not miss.

Here are some island packages in Kapalai Island:
Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort
Mabul and Kapalai Discover Scuba Diving

Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort, a luxurious floating dive resort standing on stilts over a sandbank at Kapalai Island.

Check out these too! We have shortlisted the best activities in Semporna, from hiking, snorkeling to diving;

What To Do in Tawau

Explore nature and wildlife at Tawau Hills Park

One of the main attractions that you can visit in Tawau is Tawau Hills Park. For nature lovers, you can actually stay in Tawau Hills Parks to fully enjoy the area. During the day, you can take a walk around the area to see rare wildlife, such as gibbons, macaques, and clouded leopard. And at night, you can go on their night walk to see nocturnal animals and insects. And you can also continue the next day for an early morning walk. Birders will be in for a treat because there are plenty of rare birds, including the elusive white-crested hornbill, for you to marvel at.

Address: Air Terjun, Gudang 4, Bal Estate, P.O.Box 2103, 91031, Tawau, Sabah
Operating Hours: 7:00AM - 6:00PM

Tawau Hills Park morning trek activity to witness the World's tallest tropical tree at 96.9m

Visit chocolate factory at Teck Guan Cocoa Museum

Perfect for chocolate lovers out there! Learn more about cocoa, and its processing at Sabah's biggest cocoa producer, Tech Guan Cocoa Museum. Being Sabah's cocoa producer, it is no surprise to have a museum dedicated to educating the public about the wonders of cocoa. When you are there, look forward to tasting some of their delicious cocoa-derived snacks, such as chocolate popcorn and chocolate batang buruk.

Address: Mile 2, Tanjung Batu Laut, 91000 Tawau, Sabah.
Operating Hours: 7:30AM - 11:30AM & 1:00PM - 5:00PM (Monday to Friday); 7:30AM - 12:30 (Saturday); Closed on Sundays.
Hotline: +60 16 826 9579 / +60 89 772 277

A visit to Malaysia's largest cocoa producer at Teck Guan Cocoa Museum. Prior booking is needed for the museum tour.

Buy local snacks and souvenirs at Tawau Tanjung Market

You could also visit Tawau Tanjung Market, which is one of the biggest indoor markets in the whole of Malaysia. It houses 6,000 stalls, which sell various things, such as dried fish, hand-woven baskets, and the ever-popular keropok amplang (a local fish cracker snack), which people often buy as a souvenir.

Address: Majlis Perbandaran Tawau, P/S No. 412, 51007, Tawau, Sabah.
Operating Hours: Daily 5:00AM - 5:00PM

Tawau Tanjung Market, also said to be the largest indoor market in Malaysia equipped with 6000 stalls.

Go for a hike at Gemok Hill

If you are a fitness junkie, a hiking session at Tawau’s Gemok Hill is something that you do not want to miss. The hill is a part of the Gemok Hill Forest Reserve and you will need to pay a small to enter. The trek is 1170 metres long and at the peak, you will be able to see a panoramic view of Tawau township from the Titian Selara canopy walkway. With a length of 231 metres, Titian Selara is one of the longest walkways in Malaysia.

Tawau District Forestry Office
Contact: +60 89 761 833 / +60 89 761 835

An untouched forest of Tawau's Gemok Hill perfect for fitness junkies and enthusiast trekkers due to its varied terrain.

Go on a Gastronomic Adventure

You might be surprised by this but Tawau is a good place for you to go on a food hunt. Due to its unique location and community, there are plenty of different cuisines you can try here, including seafood, Chinese dishes and Javanese cuisines. All this can only mean one thing: happy tummy for visitors to Tawau! Some of popular restaurants that you should try include Union Tea House, Leong Porridge House and Papa's Kopitiam.

Union Tea House Address: 1703, Jalan Sin Onn, Taman Shamrock, 91000 Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia
Operating Hours: Daily 8:00AM - 4:00PM
Leong Porridge House Address: Lot 19, Taman Perindustrian Prima Jaya, Mile 3.5, Jalan Air Panas
91000 Tawau, Sabah
Operating Hours: Daily 5:00PM - 10:30PM
Papa's Kopitiam Address: Perdana Square, Batu 3 1/2, Jalan Apas, Taman Megah Jaya, 91000 Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia
Operating Hours: Daily 6:30AM - 3:30PM (Except on Mondays)

Teh "C" and Egg sandwich with special mayo sauce are must-buys in Union Tea House

How To Get To / Around Semporna

There are no direct flight straight to Semporna, and instead, travellers will have to fly to Tawau Airport and go to Semporna on land from there. Unfortunately, public transportation on Sabah’s East Coast is not that great and you might be confused with all the conflicting information out there. Well, fret not because we will shed a light on this issue and let you know how you can get to Semporna from Tawau Airport.

Renting a car

If you prefer to drive yourself, renting a car is the obvious answer. There are many ways you can rent a car, and the easiest and safest way is to rent the car from the airport. The rental fee should be around RM90 per day, which is perfect if you are travelling in a group and are planning to drive around to different places in Semporna and Tawau. However, do note that finding parking around Semporna could be a challenge.

Ride-share services

Travelling has gotten so much more convenient with the emergence of ride-share services, like Grab, over the last years. Just install the app on your mobile phone and book your ride to your preferred destination. A trip from Tawau Airport to Semporna's public jetty will usually cost you around MYR83 to MYR142. It may not be the cheapest option, but if you are travelling in larger group, you can share the fee among yourself and save your budget.

Tour operator

Since Semporna is one of Sabah's top tourist destinations, you will have no problem finding a tour operator that can take you from the Tawau airport to Semporna township. 

The way the operators work is that they will charge you based on the occupancy of their van. For two to four people, expect to fork out MYR35 to MYR40. For bigger groups, it should only cost you about MYR25. So, if you plan your trip well, going on a tour operator can give you the most bang for your buck!

You can also opt for a private shuttle, which can give you the most savings if you are travelling with many people. During low season, booking a private shuttle costs around MYR100.

Tips: Book before you go to avoid any unwanted situation.

Packages in Semporna and Tawau


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MYR 0 - MYR 5,000

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