Step back in time in Kota Kinabalu on the North Borneo Railway, a historically accurate railcar that transports you not only to another era, but also through Borneo’s wide variety of landscapes. This four-hour adventure makes stops at must-see sites along the way, and you can get to know some of the harder-to-reach areas of this exotic island – all from the comfort of a steam-powered train.
North Borneo’s British inhabitants of the 1900s enjoyed travelling in style, and you can, too, in the North Borneo Railway’s refurbished steam engine. The railway journey covers 60 kilometres, from just outside Kota Kinabalu’s city centre at Tanjung Aru to Papar, an agricultural town affectionately known as ‘the rice bowl of Sabah’.
From your carriage window, you’ll have lots to see: typical farming villages with homes balancing on stilts, local farmers working the rice paddies, and rubber and coffee plantations interspersed with rainforest, jungles and beaches.
On the train, staff decked out in colonial attire will serve you a tiffin-style breakfast and lunch (a blend of Asian and continental cuisine).
After experiencing azure views over the South China Sea, you’ll have the chance for some off-the-train sightseeing when the railway makes some stops.
See the Buddhist Tien Shi Temple in Kinarut, and visit with the locals in the shops and wet markets of Papar, where you can find some great deals on handicrafts. You may even catch some buffalo grazing (but perhaps it’s best to photograph them from behind the safety of your carriage window).
The railway runs two days a week (Wednesday and Saturday), so it’s best to plan ahead. Bookings are available that include transport to and from your Kota Kinabalu hotel to the train station. You’ll come away with both a historical and a geographical understanding of the area in a delightfully nostalgic setting.