Getting Around Sabah
A major part of Sabah’s development, including that of Kota Kinabalu, is located along its west coast. One main road links east Sabah with the remote dive sites is located in the southeast. Since the railway network is very limited in Sabah, the roads are kept in good condition so as to allow easy and comfortable bus rides.
AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines link Tawau, Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu several times every day. Rural air service is operated by MASWings, connecting Tawau, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kudat and Kota Kinabalu. Flights use turboprop aircraft and Fokkers. MASWings took over this service network back in 2007 from FlyAsian Express.
With the introduction of cheap air travels, getting around Sabah has become a lot easier. Numerous flight routes crisscross the state, connecting Kota Kinabalu, the capital to smaller places like Tawau, Pulau Labuan and Sandakan. A little pre-planning can allow you to find flights that can rival local bus prices.
The road network of Sabah is not as developed as that of Peninsular Malaysia, and there are certain areas within the interior like the Kinabatangan River basin are not linked by roads. The most useful road for travellers is the one running along West Coast from Sabah- Sarawak border through Sipitang, Papar and Beaufort to Kota Kinabalu and then from Kota Kinabalu, moving north to Kota Belud before ending at Kudat.
The main road moving into the interior of West Coast starts from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom, Keningau and Tambunan. The chief road to East Coast branches off near Tuaran. It edges past Ranau and Mount Kinabalu before touching Sandakan. Road to Sabah’s southern parts and Tawau branches off about 55 kilometres off Sandakan’s west from Route A4 or 285 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu.
A road is under construction from Keningau through to the isolated districts of Kalabakan and Pensiangan, right up to Sabah’s southeast corner at Tahau.
Curved road is common in Sabah due to the mountainous terrain. It is advised to drive slowly in highway but you get to enjoy the breathtaking view along the way.
To reach a destination fast or moving between remote places in the shortest period of time, hiring taxi is the best available option. Taxi stands can always be found near the hotels, bus terminals and shopping malls. Taxis can be arranged by the hotels upon request. Sabah airports have taxi counters where coupons can be purchased right upon arrival.
Express buses move between all of Sabah’s major cities. Almost all of these buses are air- conditioned and pretty comfortable. Non-AC buses also run between the towns and are quite cheap, however, they move too slow.
Inter-town, short-distance travels within Sabah are available by minivans and minibuses as well. These are usually vans or small buses that are transformed to fit in passengers. The fare is quite similar to the buses but take fewer passengers. Most of these functions in the morning and will be leaving only when they are entirely full. But the journey can turn out to be pretty fast once they start moving.
Bus is the cheapest mode of transportation here and is the ideal choice for those who don’t have an issue with their time. Kota Kinabalu’s main stations are Inanam’s North Bus Terminal, Padang Merdeka, Wawasan Bus Terminal, City Bus Service and City Park Bus Terminal. Long distance journeys can be covered with minivans and minibuses but will have to change along the route.
North Borneo Railways is Borneo’s only railway network. This network is pretty small, connecting Kota Kinabalu with Beaufort along west coast and to Tenom along Padas River, which is a popular and interesting stretch for travellers.
Sabah’s island can be accessed easily via boat services, with licensed operators running these boat terminals. The most famous boat terminal in Kota Kinabalu is Jesselton Point. This one is perfect for those planning to visit the islands (Gaya, Mamutik, Sapi and Manukan) off Kota Kinabalu.
A long jetty can be seen next to Semporna’s Dragon Inn, where one can book a diving trip or an island with the tour operators located there. Walk-in tourists are not accepted by all island resorts, so it is highly recommended that you make their bookings in advance for boat transfer and permit.