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Things to do in Tawau

Places to Visit in Tawau

What are the things to do in Tawau, Sabah? Many travellers may be asking this common question due to not much publicity on this coastal city on the East Coast of Sabah, Borneo.

Tawau (斗湖), the third-largest town of Sabah, was originally one of the earliest ports of east Sabah being active since the late 1890s.

The British had a strong influence on the British North Borneo Chartered Company (BNBC), where trading was one of the main industries. 

Tawau is also connected via roads from most cities around Sabah, and the Tawau Airport with direct flights here from Kuala Lumpur and other major cities of Malaysia.

While most people would transit in Tawau as the main gateway to Sipadan and Mabul Islands, the airport sits in between Semporna and Tawau; therefore, this list of things to do in Tawau was created for general interest, especially for travellers wanting to explore further into one of Sabah's old cities. 

Things to do in Tawau
Cocoa Museum in Tawau Sabah
Teck Guan Cocoa Museum in Tawau

1. Visit Teck Guan Cocoa Museum

The only cocoa museum in entire Malaysia has a complete history of this unique plant and seed exported all over the world.

The Teck Guan Cocoa Museum, which opened in 2004, is about a 20 to 30 minutes drive from Tawau city and is best visited in the mornings. Here, you will be introduced to the world of Cocoa, its origins, processes and what it can be made into. 

A guided tour by the museum staff will take you to an audiovisual room to watch a short video and then one level up to see the original cocoa-producing machinery.

After that, you will be brought to the cocoa sampling kitchen before finishing your tour in the cocoa products room. Did you know that Teck Guan Cocoa is exported to the makers of Godiva chocolates for knowledge sake? That shows the quality of the local cocoa from Sabah. 

The Teck Guan Cocoa Museum also provides a special Cocoa Village Stay experience where you can spend a night or two and experience seeing the cocoa plants in their natural habitat while enjoying a special cocoa lunch and a famous Tawau seafood dinner. You need to contact Teck Guan Cocoa Village for this experience. 

Teck Guan Cocoa Village Stay
Email: emas@teckguan.com 
Ms Ivy Yap +6 019 883 0173 
Ms Selena Khoo +6 012 801 0228

Teck Guan Cocoa Museum Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
Closed on Sundays

Tawau Tanjung Market
Pasar Tanjung Tawau, the largest indoor market in Malaysia

2. Visit Tawau Market (Tawau Tanjung Market)

Known as Malaysia's largest indoor market with over 6000 stalls, this is one really huge market that sells dry produce and the famous Tawau dried seafood.

The Tawau Tanjung Market sits in the main part of the city area, and the building is so huge, you will not miss it. It is also currently the Tawau UTC Centre which shares the market area. 

Most Malaysians who visit Tawau will definitely stop here to buy the famous dried seafood that is touted to be the cheapest in Malaysia.

The ground floor of the market is where you will find the dry produce and vegetable sellers, while in the front of the market, you will find kitchenware and food souvenirs, loads of them. 

Tawau dried seafood is found on the first floor, where you will see about 20 stalls selling all kinds of this dried seafood.

You can buy various types of salted fish, dried fish, squid, anchovies, abalone, sea cucumber and even dried stingray here. Those travelling on flight back, just let them know as they will pack the dried seafood, especially for flights.

UCT Tawau
Pasar Tanjung Tawau and the UTC Tawau Center

The next level is a mezzanine level, which sells fabrics, clothes and local beauty products with some exceptions of toys and general items.

Going up to the second level, you will find the local food court with about 40 vendors selling Chinese and Muslim food and drinks.

This new food court was opened in October 2016. Finally, the highest level will be the UTC Centre of Tawau. 

The best time to visit here is also in the mornings when it is lively. If you are planning to buy food souvenirs like the Tawau dried seafood, make this place your last stop before you depart. 

Pasar Tanjung Tawau Address
Along Jalan Dunlop and Jalan Persisiran,
Tawau City Centre Roundabout,
Tawau, Sabah

Taman Negara Bukit Tawau
Standing to one of the tallest rainforest trees in the world at Tawau. Photo by Wong Chun Xing.

3. Visit Tawau Hills National Park

For nature lovers, the Tawau Hills National Park is one of two parks found in this part of Sabah. Located about 24 kilometres from town, it takes around 30 minutes to get to this 27,972-hectare park.

It is also recommended that you engage a tour guide to visit this park, especially if you want to know more about the rainforest flora and fauna. One of the highlights of Tawau Hills Park is seeing one of the world's tallest tropical trees. 

There are camping sites, trails, basic chalets and a picnic area for day-trippers at the Tawau Hills Park.

Those planning some extreme outdoors can climb Mount Magdalena, which is 1,312 meters high and requires two days to reach the summit and back, while the other is Mount Lucia (1,202 meters) and Mount Maria (1,083 meters).

There is also the Bombalai Hill at 530 meters high, a popular spot to trek up. There is the Bukit Gelas Waterfalls and you can also explore the Sulphur Springs which is about a three-kilometer trek from the main entrance. 

Actually, Tawau Hills Park is quite complete in terms of flora and fauna; therefore, if you are a hardcore nature lover, this is one of the recommended places to visit. There are park rangers to guide you around and a night walk for frogging and nocturnal animals is also available.

Birding or Bird Watching in Tawau is mainly done around here as there are many species of Bornean birds spotted here. Serious or casual bird watchers will find this place quite interesting for bird watching as it is said that you can spot six of the eight hornbill species of Borneo here. 

To go to Tawau Hills Park, you need to either take a taxi (RM 30 to RM 40 one way) or engage a tour company with a nature guide.

Unfortunately, not many tour agents sell this product hence I am highlighting this here, hoping that someone would see this and capitalize on the Tawau Hills Tour Packages. 

Tawau Hills Park Address:
Bal Estate, Tawau
Tel: +60 89 768 719 or +60 89 925 719
Email: info@sabahparks.org.my

MyKad holders (18 years and above): RM 3.00
MyKad (below 18 years): RM 1.00
Foreigners (18 years and above): RM 10.00
Foreigners (below 18 years): RM 6.00

Handicraft Centre Tawau
Tawau Handicraft Centre or Pasar Gantung

4. Visit the Tawau Handicraft Market (Pasar Gantung)

Known as the Tawau Old Central Market or Pasar Gantung (Hanging Market), this attraction now serves as a handicraft market but more clothes and fabrics are seen sold here.

When I walked around here in December 2016, there were around 50-60 vendors who were selling pearl jewellery, souvenirs, batik, ladies and men's clothing, kids' clothes and a number of other local items.

The reason why it's called Pasar Gantung or Hanging Market is simple, almost everything you see in the market is hung high up, probably due to space constraints. 

A small food court in the same structure sells local Tawau food and gets lively at night.

The Tawau Handicraft Market would be one of the places where you can find a lot of imported items from the Philippines and Indonesia, namely the fabrics and pearls, but for local tourists, this is a decent place to explore for an hour or so.

The walkways are narrow with vendors close by each other, and they are not aggressive traders that bother you. Prices are reasonable, and you can try your luck to bargain a little.

Tawau Pasar Gantung
Souvenirs sold at the Pasar Gantung Tawau

My opinion for this place is that more emphasis should be put on making the Pasar Gantung or Tawau Handicraft Market into a proper tourist attraction, like the Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market.

By doing so, this would help in increasing the tourist numbers to Tawau, but the ministry or council should put in some funding to properly manage this potential spot and create awareness and giving it a fresh new look and approach.  

Tawau Handicraft Market Address:
Along Jalan Klinik, 
Bandar Tawau, Tawau.
Open: 7.00 AM till 5.00 PM

Tawau Shopping Mall
Sabindo Plaza, Tawau's first shopping centre. Image from eTawau.com.

5. Shopping in Tawau

I will be sincere here, shopping in Tawau is not something people look forward to as if there are not enough shopping malls from where you come from?

Well, Tawau being on the other side of Sabah is a very local place, and currently, there are only two shopping malls in Tawau.

One being Sabindo Plaza which has been around since 1999 and is more of a bazaar-like concept, and the other being Eastern Plaza, a three-story mall that opened in 2009. 

Eastern Plaza seems to fit the shopping mall concept where they have a supermarket as the main tenant while the first two floors cater to shops selling smartphones, accessories, ladies' clothes, and men's fashion. The truth be told, you will not miss anything if you do not visit this place. 

My suggestion is to explore the Fajar area in Tawau city center as this is the liveliest and trendiest part of Tawau with many new concept shops, cafes, and bakeries.

Anyway, most of the popular hotels in Tawau are located around this area too. But for fashion and accessories, Tawau is still not as advanced as Sandakan or Kota Kinabalu.

So, in general, Tawau is great for some Sabah food souvenirs or Oleh-Oleh Sabah, like dried seafood.

Tawau Waterfront Sunset
A beautiful sunset in Tawau, taken at the Tawau Waterfront

6. Visit the Tawau Waterfront

When evening falls, you can head to the Tawau Waterfront or Tawau Esplanade to catch the beautiful Sabah sunset.

Along the main road of Jalan Persisiran, there are many spots you can choose to watch the sunset, and along with you, there will be many locals that come here to enjoy the magical moment that ends daylight. 

In December 2016, I made it a point to explore the Tawau Waterfront to catch the famous Sabah sunset and well, it was worth it, not as amazing as the ones at the Kota Kinabalu Waterfront, but good enough.

Along the waterfront, locals are seen selling freshly cut young mango as snacks so you can give it a try if you like. 

To catch the Tawau sunset, I chose a spot near the Tawau Ferry Terminal as it was convenient, due to me renting a car and moving around here.

The result of the sunset is as you can see in the photo above. Not too bad if you ask me. 

Tawau Waterfront Address:
Along Jalan Persisiran,
Sabindo Area, Bandar Tawau

Kam Ling Seafood
Kam Ling Seafood, one of the most popular seafood restaurants in Tawau

7. Eating in Tawau

This is probably the top thing to do in Tawau as the food here is very Indonesian-Sabah fusion due to Tawau being neighbours to Kalimantan Indonesia.

Tawau is also well known for its cheap seafood, where you can find some of the freshest seafood around Sabah.

There are numerous seafood restaurants in Tawau where one of my personal favorites is located in the Sabindo area, at a place called Kam Ling Seafood in Tawau.

Choices of fish, crabs, shells, prawns, and lobsters make you think hard of which to order, and what style. But the menu provided is of great help too. 

One thing Tawau is famous for is the Pisang Cheese, Pisang Coklat, and Sanggar Pisang, which is of Indonesian origins.

These dishes are all made from bananas, deep-fried and coated with cheese and chocolate, and found at a place called Indo Cafe, you can find probably the best Pisang Cheese in Sabah. For locals, this is no doubt a must-try. And if you have tried it elsewhere, try it here and make that comparison. 

Another must-try famous Tawau food is the Nasi Kuning Tawau at Restoran Haji Tamrin, who has been running this place for the last 20 years.

The Tawau Nasi Kuning originates from Indonesia and locally in Malaysia; they call Nasi Kunyit or Turmeric Rice.

The beauty of Restoran Haji Tamrin is that they use raw turmeric and no artificial flavors or ready-made turmeric powder for cooking their rice, which is accompanied by a choice of chicken, fish or beef with a hard-boiled sambal egg.

Other well known Tawau food is the original Pork Noodles (San Nyuk Mian), 6 Star Steamboat, Nasi Payau Rice, and many others.

For more food in Tawau, read my upcoming article on the best food in Tawau, where I experienced some of the highly recommended places in December 2016.

Masjid Waqaff Ahmad Bin Daing Mapata
The first mosque in Tawau
8. Other Places of Interest in Tawau

While there are a few more places in Tawau that may fit in this list, we are just highlighting them here, just in case you want to explore more.

The Masjid Al-Kauthar Mosque, located in the city area is also Sabah's largest mosque which can accommodate up to 17,000 people.

This beautiful mosque which cost RM31.5 million and opened in 2004, is also a beachfront mosque with a view of the Cowie Straits.

Another beautiful mosque in Tawau is the Masjid Bandar Tawau or Masjid Waqaff Ahmad Bin Daing Mapata, located in the main city area. This mosque was also opened in 1963 and is Tawau's oldest mosque.

A mysterious attraction is the Bell Tower of Tawau, built by a Japanese businessman in 1918, during World War I, it was used by the police guards and rung at intervals.

According to history, a bronze bell was used, but it disappeared, and no one knows where the bell is now, so there is only a six-sided oriental shaped tower standing about six meters high.

Oleh Oleh Tawau Sabah
Food Souvenirs at the Tawau Market

In general, the above is probably some of the best things to do in Tawau, after researching and talking to locals, based on my recent trip here in December 2016.

Tawau has always served as the main gateway to Semporna to get to Sipadan and Mabul Island. Maliau Basin is the closest city to catch a flight and then travel overland the mentioned places.

For more information, you can also check out the official Sabah Tourism website.

Tawau Sabah
One of Tawau's many roundabouts

If you want to experience a real Sabahan city and how things were back in the day, Tawau is the best place to do so as the city is developing at a much slower pace than most other cities in Sabah.

I love the concept of how you can find old-style businesses here, and people are friendly and not too caught up with the current modernization.

If you are planning to visit Sabah next year, read my article on where to go in Sabah as it narrows down a number of places for tourism.


This list of things to do in Tawau is timely. More people are looking for new places to explore and discover, especially on the food tourism side as Tawau offers some pretty interesting local food to experience.

A Tawau food trail would be great to explore if you are headed here. If you have any comments or feedback, please do share them in the comments below.

I hope you enjoyed this article for things to do in Tawau, and if I missed out on anything, let me know. Happy travels.

Post a Comment


Ani A said…
Thank you for this post. It's awesome to see my hometown mentioned! You just made me homesick.. :) Next time you're in Tawau, don't forget to visit Balung River Eco Resort & in town, eat at Yassin's Curry House!
Malaysia Asia said…
Hello Ani, you're most welcome and yes, I passed the Balung River Eco Resort, sadly didn't have time to check it out. Maybe on my next trip?

John said…
You should go further up somewhere in Merotai area where the small community of Iban live. they have a very interesting culture and history on their relationship with Dayak Kalimantan and Dayak Sarawak.
Malaysia Asia said…
Thank you for that John, the next time I visit Tawau, I will make it a point to check out Merotai.I have heard about this place before, but never did have the time to visit.