How to Get Around Sabah, Malaysia

How to Get Around Sabah, Malaysia

Nine out of 10 Sabahans could regale people with funny stories about how so many people (including West Malaysians) think that Sabah is still underdeveloped, with a specific stereotype being thrown around: “Are there even roads in Sabah?!” or worse, “How do you get around since you all live on treetops still?”

SEE ALSO: 7 Essentials Facts About Gawai, Kaamatan, and Other Harvest Festivals in Borneo

Now, jokes and stereotypes aside, while there is a substantial amount of rainforest area around the state and region, most of the cities in Sabah are relatively developed (The capital Kota Kinabalu  has often been compared to KL minus the tolls) with roads that make pretty much everything around the state connected. 

For now, AirAsia flies to three cities: Kota Kinabalu, Tawau and Sandakan. Most tourists would end up in the capital state of Kota Kinabalu, considering that it is connected to other international flights, so let’s start from there.

Kota Kinabalu


KKIA (Kota Kinabalu International Airport) is located just about seven kilometres away from the city, and with the availability of e-hailing services such as Grab, getting around is not just limited to taxis. 


If you’re all for getting your commuting mood on, there’s always a shuttle bus that you can catch to Padang Merdeka (right in the middle of the city), for only MYR5 (USD1.50) for adults, and MYR3 (USD0.90) for kids. 

There are also buses that head to neighbouring cities such as Ranau, Sandakan and as far as Semporna. Speaking of, check out this amazing article we’ve done about the Bajau sea nomads’ way of life in Semporna.


Two boats depart daily from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan (which is a four-hour journey away), and the nearby Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.

SEE ALSO: 5 Awesome Flea Markets You Must Not Miss in Kota Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu

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We make every booked trip a chance for us to create some travel magic ✨ Just like when our customer @mjveracity missed his flight one day before his climb up to Mt Kinabalu 😱 - SWIPE RIGHT to read all about it! We've had our fair share of mishaps as travellers ourselves - the nerves, the panic, the distraught - we get it! So we make it a point to do all we can to ensure that our customers get a smooth sailing trip they deserve. These moments bring us so much joy because we know how much it matters 😆! Nothing makes us smile wider than when we hear your wonderful travel stories - so please do tag us and share all your adventures and smiles - we wanna see them! 😊 If you're looking for lesser-known places to visit, we've got you covered at 😉

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All buses departing from Kota Kinabalu, which go to neighbouring cities such as Sandakan and Ranau, will definitely pass by Kinabalu Park. It will take about two hours from the city. Just inform the driver that you intend to get off at the park, and you will be on your way to seeing one of the the highest mountains in SEA!


Buses travelling from Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan and vice versa will always take a break in the small town of Ranau. Located about 107 kilometres away from KK city, the sleepy town of Ranau has much to offer in terms of local food, simple yet chilled vibes and the famous Ranau Hot Springs!


There is a lot to do in Sandakan, as you might know. From wildlife observation to diving destinations, there’s no question about this city being one of the must-visit spots for any traveller or tourist. 


There are flights available daily from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, which would save a lot of time because the flight is just under an hour.


Only opt for the bus if you’re on a budget, or if you’d like to sightsee because the journey from KK to Sandakan would take six hours. On the way to Sandakan though, you’d be able to feast your eyes on spectacular green sights, the mountain (if you’re lucky) and drive by smaller cities such as Telupid and Beluran.

SEE ALSO: Foodie Checklist: 14 Must-Try Sandakan Snacks

Sukau and Kinabatangan River


Sukau is popular for being one of the top wildlife observation spots in Sabah, as you get the opportunity to go on a river cruise along the Kinabatangan River (the second largest river in Sabah, next to Sarawak’s Rajang River). For this, however, you need to arrange transportation in Sandakan. 


If you’d like to avoid tour groups and venture out on your own, you can easily hop on a once-daily minibus to Sukau near Sandakan’s waterfront. The journey will take about three hours. 

Sipadan and Mabul Islands

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Thousands of Chevron Barracudas forming a swirling vortex around us - We were diving at the aptly named “Barracuda Point” on Sipadan Island and it happened 15mins into our first dive. I knew there was a chance we could experience this but nothing can prepare you for this sort of incredible spectacle. Videos will follow next week. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ They will come really close to you and having that many eyes stare you down is an unnerving and exhilarating feeling. Sharks, as well as tunas, were breaking the swirl and it kept on re-forming and getting bigger! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I feel really lucky as the barracudas had not been seen in about a month, the divers 30mins before us did not see them and neither did anyone after or since! it's a good spot for it but as with everything naature, it's not a guarantee. Lucky us! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Barracuda Point is often referred to as one of the best dive sites in the world and I can concur, we saw many other species including giant schools of jackfish and bumphead parrotfish. #lerakounderwater ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Shot on @goproanz #goprohero6 in raw . ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #wildtropics #paditv #ocean #barracuda #scubadiving #sipadan #gopro #natgeotravelphoto #scubajunkie #scuba #diving #barracuda #marinelife #mabul #celebessea #malaysia #sabah #borneo #oceanic #marinebiology @stateoftropics #marinelife @scuba_junkie @maestro320 #lerakoinsipadan #lerakoinborneo #lerakogopro

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The journey from Kota Kinabalu to the islands’ gateway (Semporna) will take a whopping 10 hours, while buses from Sandakan’s Batu 2.5 Bus Terminal will take about six hours. 


Of course, if you’d much rather skip the leg cramps of staying in a moving bus, there are flights available from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau, Kota Kinabalu to Tawau and Sandakan to Tawau. 


Once there, you will have to arrange your own boats as public transportation to these remote islands are not available. It is possible to get a fishing boat to charter you across, but do make arrangements through your diving company or accommodations.

Getting to Brunei & Sarawak


You can take a rough ride into Brunei, from Sipitang but just be prepared to deal with immigration issues because one needs to pass through Brunei in order to get to Sarawak’s Miri. 


Your other option is to take the ferry from KK to Labuan, and then straight to Brunei’s Bandar Seri Begawan (which would take four hours). 

All the best, and have fun on your adventures in Sabah!

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Professionally a journalist, personally a lover of all things fried chicken, Gogorn (her big black German Shepherd) and ice cream.

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