Photo: Good morning Tawau.


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Sabah’s largest town in the east, Tawau is distinctively non-touristy and most travellers hightail it out on their way to the islands around Semporna or hop, skip and jump to Kalimantan in Indonesia.

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Tucked into Cowie Bay on the southeastern corner of Sabah, Tawau looks south across the inlet to Kalimantan. To Tawau’s north, underrated Tawau Hills Park is home of what was until recently the world’s tallest rainforest tree—it’s worth spending time in Tawau to visit here. A new decent road (still not on some maps as of 2016) connects Kota Kinabalu, 450 kilometres away, and also makes “Sabah’s Lost World” of Maliau Basin Conservation Area and Batu Punggul more accessible. You could also stop in the Crocker Range on the way through to Kota Kinabalu.

Tawau town in a quiet moment. Photo taken in or around Tawau, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Tawau town in a quiet moment. Photo: Sally Arnold

The town has had a rough history. It was fought over by the Dutch and the British, the Japanese, and Indonesia. It was razed to the ground in 1944, then rebuilt as a timber town. In the early 1960s, Tawau was a major flashpoint during the “Konfrontasi” between Malaysia and Indonesia; you can see a memorial in town. Today it’s the administrative centre and commercial hub for a swathe of eastern Sabah, and though timber is still important, palm oil and cocoa are major industries. Tourists can visit the Tech Guan Chocolate factory, and tour the cocoa plantations.

Most visitors are businesspeople or foreign workers heading for the plantations; Tawau’s population has more foreigners than Malaysians. Tawau feels more prosperous than many other towns in Sabah, and the wide and relatively clean streets are pleasant to wander. Head down to the seafront for picturesque sunsets and have a wave at Indonesia across ... Travelfish members only (Around 800 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Tawau.
 Read up on where to eat on Tawau.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Tawau.
 Read up on how to get to Tawau.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
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