how to go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

How to go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan [+ Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu]

If you’ve arrived in Kota Kinabalu, the chances are you’re heading, at some point in your trip, to Sandakan –it’s where you’ve got the best chance of seeing wildlife in this part of Sabah.  And there are some great opportunities to go wildlife spotting here.  But first, you need to get there right?  And so there are several options for transport between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, but what’s the best way to go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan?  And what are the options for traveling to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu?  Here’s our guide on how to get to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu

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Where is Sandakan

Sandakan is a city and port in eastern Sabah in Northeast Malaysia on the island of Borneo.  It’s the former capital of colonialist British Borneo.  It is the second-largest residential area in Sabah, after Kota Kinabalu.  By road, Sandakan is 666 kilometers from Kota Kinabalu.  Sandakan is the gateway to the conservation areas of Sabah, it’s here that you’ll find the rehabilitation centers for orangutans and sun bears as well as Proboscis monkeys too.  There are also historical sites here that relate to World War II.

Where to Stay in Sandakan

There are a host of places to stay in Sandakan – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Sandakan, mid-range places to stay in Sandakan, and budget accommodation in Sandakan.

D’ Northstar Hotel and Spa, Sandakan: D’ Northstar Hotel and Spa, a luxury hotel in Sandakan has rooms that have an LCD TV, air-conditioning, a private bathroom with hot and cold shower, a hairdryer, and toiletries, a work desk, a fridge, an in-room safe, and a coffee/tea maker. As a guest, you can enjoy delicious dishes at their bistro and unwind with their spa services. This top hotel in Sandakan also provides daily housekeeping, dry-cleaning, and laundry services. Sandakan’s D’ Northstar Hotel and Spa is the perfect accommodation for a lush experience and relaxing time while in Sandakan. Check more reviews, room rates, and availability here.

Amanson sigNature Hotel, Sandakan: The Amanson sigNature Hotel in Sandakan is a great mid-range hotel and all rooms here have a flat-screen TV, air-conditioning, black-out curtains, a private bathroom with a hairdryer, towels, and toiletries, a desk, coffee/tea maker, an in-room safe, and a clothes rack. This excellent mid-range hotel in Sandakan has a restaurant, a bar, and a lounge area. The Amanson hotel in Sandakan also provides guests with daily housekeeping and complimentary WiFi throughout the property. The Amanson sigNature Hotel is a fabulous place to stay when exploring Sandakan. See rates and availability here.

OYO 1026 Hotel Lutana, Sandakan: The OYO 1026 Hotel Lutana in Sandakan is close to central Sandakan. Each room in this budget-friendly hotel in Sandakan has air-conditioning, a flat-screen TV, a mini-fridge, a seating area, and a private bathroom with a hairdryer. The budget Sandakan hotel is also ideally situated nearby a variety of restaurants, giving you plenty of dining options. The hotel also offers food delivery services and free WiFi throughout the accommodation. The OYO 1026 Hotel Lutana is the perfect budget-friendly hotel in Sandakan and is really popular among travelers, check out their rates and availability here now.

Malaysia Travel Tips

How to Go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan – Transport Options

There is an airport in Sandakan, and your TLDR on getting from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan is that this is the easiest way to get to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu.  Fly.  We flew into Sandakan, and it was seriously easy.  It’s a small airport.  And we took the bus to Kota Kinabalu from Sandakan. In this guide on how to go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, we’ll cover the fastest way to travel go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, the easiest way to go to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu, and the cheapest way to get to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu.  There are no trains that run between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan.  Our guide on the best things to do in Sandakan is here.

How to get to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu

For transport from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu, then you have several options.  You can fly from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.  You can take a direct bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, or you can rent a car and drive from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

Flights from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

The fastest way to go to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu is to take a direct flight.  There are (depending on the season) 2 direct flights a day to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu.  The flight time to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu is about 50 minutes.   You can get a flight to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu for as little as US$33, but this isn’t the cheapest way to get to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu, for that, keep reading.  Otherwise, if you’re wanting to get to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu quickly,  then here are the flight details.

One airline flies to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu – Air Asia – and you can check Air Asia flights to Sandakan here.

There are other flights, but they connect and make it a much longer journey.

Flights from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan leave from Kota Kinabalu Airport (BKI) and land at Sandakan Airport (SDK).  Flying to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu is the fastest and most comfortable way to go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.

The first flight each day from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan is at 7 am and the last flight to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu is at 11:25 am.   There are just 2 flights a day from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan Island. 

Kota Kinabalu airport is 8.4 kilometres (5 miles) from the centre of Kota Kinabalu.  A taxi will take about 15 minutes and cost around 35 MYR.  Buses go from the city center to KK airport every 30 minutes or so from 7 am until 8:30 pm.   Minivan 17 also runs to the airport.   If you’re aiming to get the 7 am flight to Sandakan, then you should book a transfer to be sure you make it.  You can get a price here.

How to Go from Sandakan Airport to Sandakan

Sandakan Airport is just 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the center of Sandakan.  And there’s a minivan that goes from near the airport entrance (it’s not very regular), but there are also taxis at the airport too. There is a bus stop outside the airport. There’s no information posted at the bus stop and it is to be found “on the opposite side of the roundabout just outside the airport”. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk there once you’ve cleared inbound security.

We waited there for 20 minutes, had a random conversation with a Malay guy who said yes buses to Sandakan go here before he hopped into a taxi and then we started walking, in what looked like the direction of traffic lights and something more built up.

We’d just arrived at the petrol station at the bottom of the hill when a minivan pulled up, it had Sandakan and Batu terminal printed on the side of it, so confirming the cost (2RM each) we hopped in and were soon the only passengers heading towards the minivan terminal close to the harbor. It turns out that the petrol station (and the junction nearby) is on a main minivan route number 7, which also goes to the Sandakan War Memorial, so walking down to the station was the best thing we could have done.

The Bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

It’s about 330 kilometers by road from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.  And the bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan is the cheapest way to go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.  There are (depending on the season) five direct buses a day that go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.   The bus to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu takes about 7 and a half hours.  This route is run by Sida Express.  These buses do book up.  We had to travel later than planned as we didn’t pre-book our Sandakan to KK tickets.

And you can book Sida Express buses from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

You’ll need to check-in for your bus journey between 30 and 60 minutes before departure.  You don’t need to print a ticket for the bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, you can use an electronic ticket from your online bus booking from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.  You can select your seats.

bus from kota kinabalu to sandakan

This is the cheapest way to go to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu

There are FIVE buses that you can book to go to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu.  They leave Kota Kinabalu at 8 am, 10 am, 12:30 pm, 2pm, and the final bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan leaves at 8 pm.

Check availability, prices, and book seats on buses from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan here.

Bus from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu

We took a 20 RM taxi from the Harborside Backpackers (there was no public bus) to get to the Sandakan long-distance bus terminal in time to catch the 9 am bus to Kota Kinabalu.

“No need to buy a ticket ahead of time” we’d been told, just turn up.  Yeah yeah.

And so we did. No seats left. We took two of the last ones on the 10 am bus.  While we’d originally planned to stop at Kundasang (35km from Sandakan) en route and pay respects at the War Memorial there, we decided on the spot, that the delay meant we’d probably not get a bus out of Kundasang the same day, so we took a bus straight through.

And so I spent my birthday on a bus. And a bouncy old bus it was too. Or maybe that was the road.

It’s easy to see how stunning Borneo would have been before the rainforest was replaced by Palm Oil plantations. Even now there is green as far as we can see. Sadly it’s the wrong type of green.

It’s an uneventful bus ride of about 7 hours, with one stop at a little scuzzy roadside stop, where we bought crisps and coconut pau to hold us until we get to Kota Kinabalu (KK) tonight.

We’re dropped at the long-distance bus station, which in true South East Asian style is in the middle of nowhere useful, we ask about buses to the city and are waved in a usual fashion, which could be anywhere in a 180-degree direction, but which really means, “why can’t you just take a taxi like everyone else?”

Three people and about 400 meters later, we find a minibus heading to central KK. They must know it’s my birthday because they’re blaring music at 20 decibels louder than the speakers can handle and everyone is ignoring us. Still, it gets us to within 10 minutes walk of where we’re staying.

Drive from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

Driving in Borneo is pretty safe and it gives you the chance to stop off and see things along the way (I’d recommend trying to see the world’s largest flower if at all possible and a car gives you that flexibility.   You’ll need a valid international driver’s license, to rent a car here.  We recommend Discover Cars for car hire.  You can search, compare and save up to 70%, with no hidden fees and free cancellation, it’s the perfect option! Get a price for a rental car in Kota Kinabalu here.

Map of Bus Stops and Train Stations for going from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

maps of how to go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

You can also see the train station and bus stops from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan here

The quickest way to get from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

The quickest way to get to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu is to fly.  It takes about 1 hour to fly to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu and you can book tickets from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan here.

The easiest way to go to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu

The easiest way to get from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan is to fly, you can check the times of flights from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan here.

The cheapest way to go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

The cheapest way to get to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu is to take a bus, and you can book your seats here.

The best way to go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

Well, now this depends.  The quickest and easiest way to get there is to fly.  The cheapest way to go is to take the bus, the best way, I’d say would be to drive and make a few stops along the way!  I’d recommend stopping at the

  • Botanical Gardens
  • The Sabah Team Gardens
  • The Rafflesia Information Centre
  • And if you have more time and want to stay over one night on the way, then Poring Hot Springs.

Popular Routes in Malaysia

Final Words on How to Go from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

Traveling from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan in Malaysian Borneo is an easy journey.  You have options (which is always a good thing), there are direct buses from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, there’s an option to fly, or if you want to be truly flexible take to the independent road, then you have the option of car rental. 

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