Traveling in Sabah by Buses

Bus terminal
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For backpackers, taking bus is the most economic way of travelling in Sabah. I had seen many tourists came to bus stations with very limited info, asking about the bus service and timetable. Though our bus services can take them to most part of Sabah, it’s hard for foreigners without any comprehensive guide.

In general, there are 4 types of buses around Kota Kinabalu city (KK), the capital of Sabah:
1. Long-Distance Bus: take you to other major towns/cities in Sabah.
2. Local Bus: take you to suburban areas and vicinity of KK.
3. City Bus: take you around every corner of KK.
4. Airport Bus: transfer passengers between KK International Airports and KK City.

I’ll briefly go through each of them below.

1. Long-Distance Bus

Also known as Express Bus, Long-Distance Bus is colorful and air-conditioned big bus that can bring you to important cities/towns such as Sandakan, Tawau, Semporna, Lahad Datu, Kunak and Keningau. Normally, the earliest departure time is 6:30am, the last bus departs around 8:00pm. Just go to the terminal before departure time, purchase the fare at ticket counter and get on the bus. Long-Distance Bus will stop in the bus terminal of your destination city. Taxi is available around bus terminal for you to move on to other places. In KK, there are 3 bus terminals to take Long-Distance Bus.

Sabah road map
Pic: main road and towns/cities of Sabah

a. Inanam Bus Terminal (North)

Located in Inanam, about 10 KM away from KK, this is the MOST important Long-Distance Bus Terminal. Most buses here take you to key cities of East Coast, and most buses will pass by Kinabalu Park in 90 minutes (you can ask them to drop you there). City Bus (Zone North (Utara)) can take you from KK city to this terminal.

City Bus Terminal (North)
Terminal Bas Bandaraya (Utara)
Pic: North Bus Terminal Inanam

Below is its location map:

View My Sabah Map in a larger map

For the same destination, there would be a few bus operators. Just walk around their ticket counters and pick the one that departs at your preferred time. Personally I like Tung Ma Express and Dyana Express. Since it’s a long journey, the long-distance buses will stop for breakfast/lunch/dinner and toilet break along the way. You can find their mobile phone numbers on the bus ticket. You can even call them to fetch you at Kinabalu Park and Sepilok junction in returning trip.

b. Padang Merdeka

Padang Merdeka (Merdeka Field) Bus Terminal is near the KK city center and very convenient. You can take buses to most city/towns in West Coast and Interior of Sabah. e.g. Kundasang (Kinabalu Park), Ranau, Keningau, Tuaran, Kota Belud, Kudat, Kota Marudu, Tenom and Tambunan.

Padang Merdeka Bus Terminal
Pic: Padang Merdeka Bus Terminal

Below is its location map:

View My Sabah Map in a larger map

Though there are some big buses, most are mini-van, which only departs when the car is full. You would end up waiting for an hour.

c. City Park Bus Terminal

This bus terminal is in KK city center too, in front of the Court. From there, you can travel to Sipitang, Sarawak (Lawas, Miri) and Brunei.

City Park Bus Terminal
Pic: City Park Bus Terminal


View My Sabah Map in a larger map

You may Click the picture below to download the 28-page Long-Distance Bus service guide:
Long-Distance Bus service guide
Or Click Here to view the Long-Distance Bus Guide of Sabah online. This guide has the info on bus fares, timetable, trip duration, bus terminals (of all cities), list of bus operators and contact.

Note: USD1 = RM3 (Malaysian Ringgit)

2. Local Bus (Kota Kinabalu)

Local bus (known as Mini-Bus locally) can take you to suburban areas and vicinity of KK. e.g. Inanam, Menggatal, Telipok, Tuaran, Tamparuli, Penampang, Dongongon, Luyang, Kepayan, Putatan, Tanjung Aru, Lok Kawi, Papar. Most of them are mini-bus without air-conditioning, and they don’t have any schedule. During non-peak hours, you need to wait some time, until the bus is full, only then they depart.

Local Bus
The local mini-bus terminals (each serves different route) are found 3 locations in city centre:

  1. Marina Court Terminal: buses to Luyang, Penampang, Sembulan, Tanjung Aru, Lok Kawi, Papar, etc. (see location map)
  2. KK Shangri-La Hotel Terminal: buses to Likas, Inanam, City Mall, Menggatal, Menggatal, Tuaran, Tamparuli, etc. (see location map)
  3. Wisma Bandaraya Terminal: buses to Sepangar, Tuaran, Sulaman, etc. (see location map)

Temporary bus routes in and out of KK city centre
You may check out the route map (bus routes in and out of KK city centre) and follow www.kotakinabalucitybus.com for updates.

3. City Bus (Kota Kinabalu)

To go to other location in KK city center, you can take air-conditioned City Bus that moves on three fixed routes in 10-min to 60-min interval. The bus fare costs RM1.50 (≈USD0.50) per way.

KK City Bus
The City Bus terminals (each serves different route) are found in 3 locations in city centre:

  1. Marina Court: city bus circling in Route A. i.e. Marina Court → Wawasan Plaza → Waterfront → Kota Kinabalu Central Market → Wisma Sabah → Suria Sabah → Jesselton Point → Old Warehouse → Jalan Pantai Road → Warisan Square → Marina Court (see location map)
  2. Wisma Budaya: city bus moving in Route B. i.e. Wisma Budaya → Kota Kinabalu City Hall → Old Warehouse → Wisma Merdeka → KK Plaza → Asia City → Indonesia Consulate → Chung Hwa School (see location map)
  3. Bandaran Berjaya: city bus circling in Route C. i.e. Karamunsing Police Station → Karamunsing Complex → Wisma Radio → Karamunsing Capital → BSN Bank → Marina Court (see location map)

Note: City Bus is constantly adding new routes to outskirt area of KK. A few new routes are not added to the list above (Sorry, I’ll update it as soon as I can). You may look at the route map of KK City Bus below for full info:
Kota Kinabalu City Bus routes
You may download or check out the full route map (Kota Kinabalu City Bus Routes), visit www.kotakinabalucitybus.com or follow KK City Bus Facebook for info and updates. (Update: (May 2015) new Luyang / Damai route is in operation)

Do download all guides above. All the files are in PDF or PNG format so you can save them on your smartphone and iPad for reference anytime.

4. Airport Bus (Kota Kinabalu)

Airport Bus transfers passengers between KK City and two KK International Airports (KKIA), i.e., Terminal 1 and 2. This is a new shuttle service started in Dec 2013, and its station is located in Padang Merdeka (Merdeka Field).

Airport Bus
For more info on its schedule and route, please read my article Bus Service between Kota Kinabalu and KKIA Airports (Terminal 1 & 2).

Popular Destinations

Below are the top 3 attractions that backpackers ask for direction by bus. Our bus companies are very used to such requests. Just let them know your destination and they will be happy to help you.

1. How to go to Kinabalu Park?
Go to Long-Distance Bus Terminal in Inanam, get on any bus that heads to Sandakan, Lahad Datu or Tawau. About 1.5 hour later, you will reach Kinabalu Park. You will see the signage before Kinabalu Park. Or, take the mini-van (no air-conditioning) at Padang Merdeka (Merdeka Field). Taxi and limo are also available in both terminals.

2. How to go to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center?
Go to Long-Distance Bus Terminal in Inanam, get on any bus that heads to Sandakan. Tell the bus conductor that you want to go to Sepilok. The bus will drop you at the roundabout of Sepilok junction. You need to walk only 2 KM to reach Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center.

3. How to go to Semporna?
Go to Long-Distance Bus Terminal in Inanam, get on any bus that heads to Semporna. Easy.

Things to Note

  1. Take care of your personal belonging. Keep your valuable stuffs close with you. Beware of pickpocket in the bus. This is common sense, no matter which country you travel, not that Sabah is not safe.
  2. Taxi is readily available near bus terminal. They don’t use meter and many charge tourist higher price. Do negotiate with them.
  3. Don’t take unlicensed taxi. Illegal taxi driver is the first to approach you once you step out of bus. Just ignore them. Registered taxi vehicles are in red+white or yellow+black colors.
  4. Be warned that if you take unlicensed transport, it’ll badly affect your insurance compensation in case any untoward happens.
  5. For lady, don’t travel alone in public transport at night.
  6. You are welcome to ask the locals for direction and information. Sabah people are very friendly and helpful. Many speak well in English. In Malaysia language, Bus is “Bas” and Taxi is “Teksi”.
  7. All transaction is in cash term. Prepare small change.
  8. If no taxi in sight, you can walk to the reception counter of any hotel nearby. They can call a taxi for you. Of course the fee is higher.
  9. You can request the bus conductor to alert you when you reach the destination.
  10. Bus and van with upper half in white color and lower half in green color are vehicles of travel agents. They are not public transport.

Special Thanks

Please thank Mr. Toshihiro Inoue, a kind Japanese working for Public Transport Unit, Ministry of Infrastructure Development, Sabah as a JICA Volunteer (Apr 2011 – Mar 2013). He spends months of hardwork to collect information of Sabah bus services and write three extremely useful guides, which I’ll share in this blog. Please leave a comment here to thank him if you find it useful.

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  • LHS

    Excellent guide, and it is rather embarrassing that it is done by a Japanese volunteer and not our Ministry of Transportation or Tourism…..

  • mysabah

    I totally agree with you LHS. But to be frank, it’s quite a painstaking process to collect all this and write a guide.

  • wus

    Thanks for collecting all this information and providing these PDFs, Mr. Toshihiro Inoue!
    And thanks mysabah for sharing it here!

  • mysabah

    You are welcome! 🙂

  • If you’re going to Ranau Town or Kundasang, there are vans and 4WD (Toyota Unser) in Padang Merdeka. I should know because my hometown is Ranau. Fares (one way): Van RM15, Unser RM16. I normally travel by Unser 🙂

  • Thanks for the info Ennie 🙂

  • Cujee

    if from KK to Kudat, how much? is there a van also?

  • Hi Cujee, it is RM25 per way to Kudat, by min-van or taxi.

  • bart

    great, exactly the info we needed, looking forward to climb mount kinabalu tomorrow.

  • I bet you are impressed by the view from the summit. Have a good one. 🙂

  • Anon

    Thank you very much, I do find it extremely useful and helpful to a tourist who wants to save money (from the crazy expensive taxi fare). So thank you, again. You did an incredible job.

  • You are most welcome 🙂

  • David

    This is great info. Murphy, and the Japanese guy. 🙂 Thanks.

  • You are welcome. Thanks for leaving a nice comment. 🙂

  • Probascis

    May need your help to update latest bus route when wawason terminal starts to relocate,,,http://www.nst.com.my/latest/relocation-of-wawasan-bus-terminal-postponed-to-sep-21-1.313119#sthash.b1hdSbTz.gbpl

  • Yes, it’s time to update. Are you Mr.
    Inoue?

  • Jo

    Thanks for putting up this information but when try to download the time table not able too.

  • Hi Jo, I’m sorry about the problem. May I know which time table you were trying to download?

  • AJ

    Great job! Very informative. Thanks Murphy and Mr Toshihiro.

  • Thank you too for leaving a message, AJ. Have a nice day.

  • Quennie Chong

    Hi thanks Murphy and Toshihiro! Thank you so much for your great effort!
    May I know the wawasan bus station is it still closed for upgrading?
    Thank you

  • No problem. 🙂 Yes, Wawasan Bus Terminal is still closed and I’m afraid that is permanent.

  • Since some of the city bus terminals are temporarily closed, if I stayed at Dreamtel and I want to go to the KK central market/handicraft market, should I take the bus that stop at KK25 that follows route C, then hop off at KK05, which is near the handicraft market??

  • Yes Stiles, KK05 is the nearest city bus stop to Handicraft Market. Or you can walk there from your hotel, 15 min only.

  • wan ting

    Hi Ennie,

    My friends and I are going to Mount Kinabalu in February 2015, our flight reach KK airport is around 12 something, is that possible for us to go Padang merdeka and on the spot get a taxi or van service to go Kota Kinabalu National Park? Because I called a few car rental services and they want to charge for RM 700 round trip. And is there any taxi services in Kundasang if we want to go Desa Farm? Appreciate your advice. Thanks.

  • If you take Airport Bus to KK, the bus will stop at Padang Merdeka where you can find van or taxi to Kinabalu Park. There are some unlicensed taxi around Kundasang town, but you need to haggle for better rate.

  • Gia

    Another great post ! so useful for anybody wishing to make the most out of their time in Sabah and their money also 🙂 I have one question though, if you can clarify it for me . We plan to take the morning bus from Padang Merdeka ( we’re thinking to stay at the Mandarin Hotel -any thoughts pro/con ? ) to go to Kinabalu Park but I see you recommend the ‘Long-Distance Bus Terminal in Inanam’ . Is it safer/ better /cheaper or quicker to go to Inanam to take a big bus then a mini-bus from Padang Merdeka ? We’re 4 people , I think that it could shorten the time for a mini-bus to fill up 🙂 but maybe I’m wrong. If it is better to go to Inanam how can we reach it on a Sunday morning from Mandarin Hotel or Gaya/central area (if we’ll choose another hotel)? And do you have any idea about the earliest hour the minivans or buses take off in that direction or if there is a need to make a reservation or something like that one day before the trip ? I realize it’s more than one question so thank you in advance and I hope your answers will prove useful for other tourists as well 😀

  • The mini-bus in Padang Merdeka is more convenient and they operate as early as 7am, but they will only depart when the van is full (have to wait up to an hour or more). It is about RM15 to 20 per pax to Kinabalu Park. You also can take taxi / limo there, which is about RM25 – 30 per pax per way. (The prices might have changed) You don’t need to book them in advance.

    My concern is that I’m not sure whether those mini-buses are licensed and insured. The vans are quite shabby too, and no air-conditioning. If you take the long-distance bus at Inanam bus, it is bigger, more comfortable, has air-conditioning and are licensed.

    To go to Inanam Bus Terminal, you can go by taxi, or walk 2-min further to the mini-bus terminal near to Kota Kinabalu Shangri-La Hotel (Note: not Tanjung Aru Shangri-La Hotel) to get a mini bus.

  • Gia

    Thank you for the detailed reply ! then we’ll definitely try to go to Inanam to get a bigger, safer bus 🙂

  • Leith Michael Mills

    Hi murphy,
    We are staying in danum valley for a few night then wanting to head to kudat for a few nights before we fly out of KK. What do you think is the best way to go about getting there from lahad datu?

  • Hi Leith, the common way is to take a 45-min flight (by MASwings) from Lahad Datu to KK, then take a bus / taxi to Kudat (2.5 hours by road). Note: MASwings flight from Lahad Datu may get cancelled or delayed sometimes, which is very frustrating.

  • Leith Michael Mills

    Thanks for the information murphy. Will check it out.

  • Ummu

    Hi.is it easy to get a bus in kundasang to got to kinabalu park/desa cattle farm or even kk?

  • Patel

    Mr. Toshihiro Inoue thank you so much for all the information.