LivingTravelGetting around Sabah, Borneo

Getting around Sabah, Borneo

Much of Sabah’s development, including Kota Kinabalu, is located along the west coast. A main highway connects East Sabah and the remote dive sites in the southeast. Roads are generally in good condition and traveling by bus is easy; There are no trains in Sabah.

Before making an itinerary, read about festivals in Borneo that can affect your travel plans.

Kota Kinabalu

Most tourists come to Sabah in the capital and bustling resort of Kota Kinabalu. Kota Kinabalu is well connected by cheap flights from Kuala Lumpur and international flights from other parts of Asia.

  • Air: the airport (BKI) is 4.5 miles south of the city; a flat-rate taxi to town will cost $ 10.
  • Buses – The North Kota Kinabalu Bus Terminal is located in Inanam, six miles north of the city. Buses are available from Inanam to Ranau, Sandakan and even to Semporna. With only one main road going east through Sabah, it is possible to get seats on buses that go further afield and then leave early for your destination. Buses heading to sites south of Kota Kinabalu depart from the Wawasan Center at the southern end of the city.
  • Ship: the ferry terminal is located in North Kota Kinabalu; Two daily boats depart for Labuan Island (four hours), as well as the nearby islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.


For travelers more interested in exploring East Sabah attractions such as the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and the Rainforest Discovery Center, the city of Sandakan is the best place to enter Sabah. Sandakan is also preferable to Kota Kinabalu as an entry point for people planning to dive Sipidan.

Sandakan is approximately 160 miles from Kota Kinabalu; The bus ride takes about six hours. Sit on the left side of the bus for beautiful views of Mount Kinabalu from the winding road.

  • Air: Sandakan Airport (SDK) is located on the outskirts of the city; a taxi to the city costs $ 10. Flights from Kuala Lumpur are sometimes cheaper to Sandakan than to Kota Kinabalu.
  • Bus: The long-distance bus terminal in Sandakan is located three miles north of the city at Batu 2.5. Several bus companies go to Kota Kinabalu and south to Tawau and Semporna.

Arriving at Mount Kinabalu

All buses that cross the main road into East Sabah actually go through the Kinabalu National Park entrance – tell the driver that you intend to go out in the park. Buses run regularly from the North Bus Terminal in Kota Kinabalu; The trip takes about two hours. Buses traveling west from Sandakan take around six hours to reach the park entrance.


Buses crossing Sabah usually take a break in the town of Ranau, about 67 miles from Kota Kinabalu. Despite being part of the national park, the only real attraction in Ranau is the Poring hot springs.

How to get to Sukau and the Kinabatangan River

Travelers who want to visit Sukau to see wildlife along the banks of the river should arrange transportation in Sandakan. To save money by avoiding the tours, take the minibus once a day from the lot near the coast. Sukau is about three hours from Sandakan.

Get to Sipidan and Mabul

The world famous dive sites in the southeastern tip of Sabah attract thousands of enthusiasts each year. Unfortunately, the sites are located in the most remote corner of Sabah for people traveling by land. Night buses to Semporna, the gateway to the islands, can be arranged from Kota Kinabalu (10 hours). Buses leave Sandakan at the Batu 2.5 bus terminal, three miles north of the city, and take around six hours.

The hassle-free way to access the dive sites in the south is to book one of the new low-cost flights from Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu to Tawau, about an hour from Semporna by bus. All traffic to the islands goes through the small town of Semporna. There is no public transportation to the islands; Boats must be arranged through dive companies or your accommodation. It is possible to rent a trip to the islands with one of the small fishing boats.

Crossing from Sabah to Brunei

The southbound bus trip from Kota Kinabalu requires you to pass immigration several times when entering and exiting Sarawak before reaching Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei.

The best option to get to Brunei is to take one of the two daily boats from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan Island (four hours) and then to Bandar Seri Begawan (90 minutes). Many travelers choose to spend time on the island and see some of the interesting things to do in Labuan before moving to Brunei.

Crossing from Sabah to Sarawak

There is no easy way to avoid Brunei entirely when crossing between Sabah and Sarawak on the ground! Although it is possible to cross the border in Sipitang on a little finger from Sarawak, you still have to go through Brunei to get to Miri and the rest of Sarawak. Taking a bus directly from Sabah to Sarawak is an immigration nightmare, requiring two full pages of passport stamps as the road stretches between Malaysia and Brunei!

To avoid the hassle, take the ferry from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan Island and then to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei. The bus from Bandar Seri Begawan to Miri takes around four hours and requires only one pass through immigration.

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