On my recent trip with Tourism Malaysia to witness the Bajau Laut’s Regatta Lepa Festival in Semporna (you can read about my experience here), we flew into the town of Tawau, the capital of Tawau district and the third largest city in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The city is the gateway to this Southeastern part of Sabah, and we took the opportunity (on our return trip) to spend our remaining time exploring what it has to offer. This was what we did on our half day tour of Tawau.
Getting to Tawau, Sabah
We arrived in Tawau on Malaysia Airlines, and flew out from the city on Air Asia. Malaysia Airlines flies 14 times weekly from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, and also has the same amount of weekly flights from the Sabah capital of Kota Kinabalu. Air Asia offers more flights at 35 times weekly from Kuala Lumpur, and 37 from Kota Kinabalu. Malindo Air offers flights from Kota Kinabalu. It is also pretty easy to get from the Sabah capital to Tawau by road — there are plenty of express buses that make the 8-hour journey. The buses also link Tawau to other Sabahan towns like Lahad Datu and Sandakan; and even ferries that link the city to several towns on the Indonesian islands.
Promenade Hotel Tawau
By the time we arrived in Tawau it was almost midnight; and we settled in for the night at the Promenade Hotel Tawau. The 4-star business hotel is situated a little out of the main center of Tawau — but it didn’t really matter because we were checked-out and all ready to explore after a (surprisingly simple but good) buffet breakfast the next day. My room was pretty basic and most importantly, clean; and it had a lovely view of the city from my window in the morning.
Tawau Hills Park
We were out and all ready to explore Tawau early in the morning! From our hotel, it was a half hour drive (about 24km from Tawau city) to the entrance of the Tawau Hills Park, better known as Taman Bukit Tawau in the Malay language. The park is a designated Malaysian national park to protect water catchment resources for Tawau. Upon arrival at the park, we were taken for a quick visit to the exhibition gallery — where we learned about the flora and fauna that can be found around the park’s vast rainforest. We also learned about Tawau Hills Park’s volcanic landscape, which makes it home to beautiful waterfalls and hot springs.
After the gallery visit, it was time for a hike. We only had time to visit one significant location inside the rainforest — and it was to the tallest tropical tree in the world! The 900m hike to the tree brought us up and down the forest terrain, passing by tall trees and wild mushrooms (and thankfully, no animals). By the time we arrived at our final destination, we were soaked through in sweat (thanks to our Malaysian hot and humid weather) — but that magnificent 88.32m Seraya Kuning Siput tree made it all worth it. Our hike in and out took us more than an hour, in our very slow and steady pace.
Teck Guan Cocoa Museum
We were running behind schedule by the time we finished our hike, and was a little late for our visit to the Teck Guan Cocoa Museum. Upon arrival, we were ushered to the mini theater for a quick introduction of the history of cocoa, and the establishment of the Teck Guan company in Tawau. We learned about the Amelonado cocoa species that were brought into Sabah and planted by Datuk Seri Panglima Hong Teck Guan in the late 1950’s — and over the years has made Malaysia the largest cocoa producer in Asia. There is also a cocoa processing plant in the vicinity of the museum, but we didn’t drop in (it was either because we were running late or weren’t allowed to visit); and instead, were brought to the kitchen area for a cocoa cooking demonstration. Here, we were given a few samples of this locally produced cocoa products to try. Oooh chocolates!
The Teck Guan Cocoa Museum (where we visited) is located downstream; and further upstream, you can find the Teck Guan Cocoa Village. We didn’t have time to drop by the village, but it would have been great to see the cocoa trees and how it is harvested. The Teck Guan company is one of the few in the world that sees the cocoa process from cultivation, all the way till it reaches the consumers.
Lunch at Restoran Haji Tamrin
We didn’t get nearly as much chocolates as we wanted, so we had to make up for it by heading to lunch! Lunch in Tawau was at Restoran Haji Tamrin, known for their nasi kuning. It translates to ‘yellow rice’, and is named such because the rice is cooked with coconut milk and turmeric, making it a bright yellow. I ordered my meal of nasi kuning with ayam masak merah. It is a chicken dish, also described by its color, which means ‘chicken cooked red‘ in English. It’s red because the chicken is braised in a spicy tomato sauce. The entire meal on a plate might not look much, but it was actually pretty delicious!
After lunch, we wanted to drop by Tawau Tanjung Market for a little last minute shopping, but we had our flight back to Kuala Lumpur to catch. It was a real pity because I would have loved to get some Tawau souvenirs. To make up for it, our tour guide, Yus, bought us a local specialty — Amplang. It’s traditional fish crackers (in the shape of a small squarish ball) made from ikan tenggiri (Spanish mackerel). Well, at least I get to bring back a little something to savor to remember Tawau by.
*She Walks the World was invited on a media trip to Tawau and Semporna with Tourism Malaysia. And as always, all opinions stated here are my own.