Ride a steam train on a scenic journey on the North Borneo Railway in Malaysia. Formerly used to transport tobacco, the steam train today carries passengers along the only railway line in the state of Sabah, chugging from the coast through the lush interior of the island, between Tanjung Aru and Papar.The Basics
A 4-hour round-trip ride on the North Borneo Railway reveals rainforests, paddy fields, coastal towns, fruit and coffee plantations, and rural villages. Day trips from Kota Kinabalu allow you to skip the hassle of arranging transfers and tickets yourself, and typically include hotel pickup and drop-off, a continental breakfast, and lunch served from a traditional tiffin box aboard the train. You’ll also have time to explore the town of Papar before the train commences its return journey to the coast.
Things to Know Before You Go
How to Get There
- A must-do activity for railway enthusiasts and history buffs.
- There is no air-conditioning on the train; however the windows are left open to let in a breeze.
- Children ages 3 and below can ride the North Borneo Railway free of charge.
- Bring cash if you want to purchase souvenirs in Papar, as credit cards are not widely accepted.
The North Borneo Railway departs from Tanjung Aru railway station, which is 3 miles (5 kilometers) and a 15-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu. Take bus 17 from KK bus terminal, or opt for a taxi—be sure to factor in the city’s notorious traffic into your journey time.
When to Get There
The train runs twice per week, on Wednesday and Saturday, which makes advance booking essential. Trains depart from Tanjung Aru railway station at midmorning, but passengers are advised to arrive 30 minutes in advance. The train returns to Tanjung Aru in early afternoon.
The Rice Bowl of Borneo
It’s easy to see how the town of Papar earned its name as the Rice Bowl of Borneo, given its location in the verdant interior of the island. After the train arrives at the Papar station, you’ll have about a half hour to explore the traditional town, which includes a market selling hand-crafted souvenirs. Along the train’s journey, you’ll also have time to disembark and admire the Tien Shi Temple in the town of Kinawat.