TRANSPORTATION IN SABAH
Getting around in Sabah is easy. Depending on the destinations that you wish to visit, different modes of transport are available.
Car rentals are available at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, Terminal 2 Airport, and in major cities & towns. Types of vehicles available range broadly from basic subcompact sedans, 4WD vehicles to vans and coaches depending on your travel needs.
There are two types of public transport. One is the ‘short distance’ and the other is the ‘long distance’ with taxis and busses/coaches. The short distance only covers areas within the city/town areas. The long distance coaches are available at the new location, located near the Inanam Township area which requires a taxi or bus ride to Inanam Township. There are also a few located at the Main Capital Terminal which still serves Labuan and Kuala Penyu charters, namely located in front of the High Court of Sabah. A few minutes walk towards Kampung Air from the High Court, lies several ‘UNSER Taxis’ delivering rides towards Kota Belud & Kudat.
Behind the High Court building, the areas near Atkinson Clock Tower, several long distance taxi services offers rides towards Keningau (Interior South), Beaufort (South) & Ranau (East). Travelling by public transport is the most economical way to get to your destination in Sabah. The journey might take longer than having private transport, but you will be compensated by the scenic surrounding environment on the journey, and by the fact that you can mingle with the locals.
There is only one railway that connects Kota Kinabalu with Tenom on the west coast of Sabah. As a matter of fact, it is the only railway in the whole of Borneo! Train services are still very basic in Sabah and are still confined to trains that were in service since the colonial period. This gives travelers an additional touch of nostalgia when taking the West Coast tours of Sabah, where you could stop by small towns and enjoy the scenic environment at your own pace. The towns along the west coast, like Membakut, Papar, Bongawan, Beaufort and Tenom, have retained much of their rural charm ever since the colonial period. The journey by train from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom takes between five and six hours.
There are two daily departures. Unfortunately as of year 2009, the rail services has stopped for renovation until further notice. Train service has resumed partial services since 2011. The route from Beaufort to Tenom is especially exciting as the train travels through a tunnel of forests and along the Padas Gorge cutting through the Crocker Range. This is a standard journey for travellers taking the white water rafting adventure tour on the Padas River. The ultimate nostalgic train experience is the North Borneo Railway, which has recently been revamped and now operates a 90-ton Mid-Century steam train: “The Vulcan” takes now again visitors along the west from Kota Kinabalu to Papar, and back. This train, which leaves on schedule every Wednesday and Saturday, is very popular amongst tourists.
BOATS AND FERRIES
Island destinations such as Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TAR), Turtle Island Park, Sipadan, Langkayan, Kapalai, Mabul, Pulau Tiga, and Labuan are accessible by ferry services. Some destinations require pre-arrangements for ferry services. This includes islands such as Pulau Tiga (from Kuala Penyu), Turtle Islands from Sandakan Town, Mengalum and Mantanani. Labuan Island is also accessible by ferry from Kota Kinabalu city and from Menumbok town near Kuala Penyu and the Klias region. From Kota Kinabalu, there are two ferry departures to Labuan daily. Layang-Layang Island is only accessible via air as it is far and located near the mainly disputed Spratly Islands.
(WEST) Ferries to TAR leave from the newly upgraded Kota Kinabalu City Ferry Terminal near the Sabah Ports Authority and the Marine Police Jetty – Jesselton Point. There is no schedule and you can hop on and off anytime you like. Fares are affordable and bargainable. Ferry operators will be happy to assist you, but please ensure that you only board licensed boats with proper insurance, and make sure you wear a life vest as it is required by the Marine Department (licensed boat operators have life vests and will require that you wear them). Certain areas like Mengalum and Layang Layang are considered distant.
(NORTH) There is a ferry servicing towards the northern islands of Sabah, namely Banggi, while it is not so widely promoted, visitors are welcome to visit Banggi Island. With an area of 440.7 square kilometres, it is the third largest island in Malaysia. There is currently a designated Marine Park nearby.
(EAST) Islands near the coasts of Sandakan includes the famous Turtle Island and Lankayan Island. Turtle Island overnight stay will require booking of at least 2 months in advance, peak seasons are July and August. Lankayan is operated by a private company.
(SOUTHEAST) Semporna offers itself as a hub to several, in fact over 60% of Sabah’s top diving sites and the most beautiful islands like Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Pom Pom and many many more. Semporna is accessible about less than 2 hours drive from Tawau.
For seafarers and sailors, there are marinas available around Sabah. The most prestigious is the Sutera Harbour Marina, located in the Sutera Harbour Resort complex in the south of the city. Other places to berth at Kota Kinabalu include the Tanjung Aru Marina, located at the Shangri-la Tanjung Aru Resort, and the Kota Kinabalu Yacht Club. Many sailors just berth in front of the city near the Waterfront Esplanade.
More marinas around Sabah: Sandakan: Sandakan Yacht Club; Tawau: Tawau Yacht Club; Kudat: Kudat Marina & Golf Club. Labuan Island has another world class marina at the Labuan Waterfront Hotel. For major repairs, three boatyards are available in Kuala Penyu, Labuan and Kudat.
Most major towns in Sabah have airports for domestic travel. Heli-charter is available from Sabah Air in Kota Kinabalu to some destinations on the islands, and also to Kundasang at the foot of Mt Kinabalu. Helicopter sightseeing is available and is reasonably priced. Layang-Layang Island is only accessible by air. Planes to this haven for divers depart from the Old Airport Terminal, much like the direct flights to Mulu National Park in Sarawak.