The first and last time I took the local train was to Papar more than 20 years ago for a school trip. I don’t remember much from that experience except for the uncomfortable seats and the tunnel.
There is something about tunnels that excites me till this very day.
Some historical facts on the railway system in Sabah can be found here.
The North Borneo Railway (NBR) steam train ride is only available every Wednesday and Saturday. The train departs from the Tanjung Aru train station at about 10am.
When you reach the train station, get your ticket and your ‘train passport’ at the NBR Counter, opposite the entrance to the train platform. Before you board the train, remember to get your ‘train passport’ stamped.
The atmosphere of the station is lively and fun with the music from the colonial era blasting over the speaker. The friendly train staff dressed in white and khaki uniforms complete with the pith helmets welcomes you to board one of five the carriages.
As the train slowly departs from the station, a continental breakfast of assorted pastries and croissant is served with coffee or tea.
The view along the route changes as you pass by each station. From the Kota Kinabalu International Airport to the Petagas War Memorial, commercial centres to water villages and the glittering waters of the South China Sea to the delightful paddy fields.
One thing that doesn’t change though is the friendly faces of the locals who eagerly waves at the passengers as the train pass by. Even after riding the train many times, it doesn’t get old.
The first stop the steam train makes is at the Kinarut Station. Passengers are encouraged to visit the small town of Kinarut or the Tien Shi Temple located nearby.
The second stop is at Papar station. I recommend you to talk a short walk to the nearby market where you get to see the colourful everyday lives of the locals. They are very friendly, helpful and always ready to pose for the camera, if you ask them nicely. There are also handicrafts, food and fruits for you to buy as souvenirs.
Try and look for the local Sabahan offerings like fruits: - Tarap, Bambangan, Durian, Rambutan. Snacks – Kuih Cincin, Kuih Lidah, Kuih Amplang, Penyeram.
Thirty minutes is not enough to see everything but it is sufficient to see a little bit of everything.
You could also stay at the train station and watch the head of the steam train making it's turn at the turntable to pull back the train back to KK.
On our back to the Tanjung Aru station, a delicious Tiffin lunch of Chicken Briyani Rice, vegetables, fish and satay with fresh fruits are served. For dessert, there is ice cream! What a joy it is to enjoy the ice cream onboard the steam train on a hot afternoon.
The view is pleasant and the experience of boarding a steam train older than my grandma is definitely one of its kind. I sit on the train and I forget about the rest of the world. The sound of the engine is surprisingly comforting. For real.
There are not many steam train left in this lifetime, be a part of this British Colonial history in Sabah.
RM250.00 nett per adult
RM150.00 nett per child between 3 to 12 years olf
Complimentary for children under 2 years old
North Borneo Railway
Level 2, The Magellan Sutera Resort
1 Sutera Harbour Boulevard
88100 Kota Kinabalu
Tel: (60 88) 308 500
Fax: (60 88) 311 136