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Beaufort to Tenom: A Railway Adventure

Some of you might be aware that a few of my articles were published on MalindoMag, Malindo Air’s inflight magazine. It is a great honor to see my travel stories being published in 6 different MalindoMag editions and being read by thousands of passengers on-board Malindo Air. I hope to continue writing once I resume travelling in the next quarter.

In the meantime, I would like to share the same stories with a bit more details and many more photos here on this blog. I’ll start with my experience going to Kota Kinabalu just to try out this classic Beaufort to Tenom train ride.

This story was originally published on MalindoMag in the May’s edition. Special thanks to my better half and my buddy Mohd Sofian for making this trip a reality and the awesome blogger Janggeltrekker for sharing lots of info for us to prepare for the trip.

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Mentioning Tenom as a destination for a weekend getaway will most likely be met with slightly confused expressions. Old towns like Beaufort and Tenom are not really common on a tourist map but it have its own charms waiting to be discovered. In Tenom for example, the Sabah Agriculture Park and coffee factories are among the places worth exploring.

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The main attraction however is the journey between these two towns itself. Connecting Beaufort to Tenom is a service by Sabah State Railway that is known as one of the most unique train routes still operating in Malaysia. This is a train ride that creates a memorable experience with a blend of scenic views of rainforest and river, friendly locals and the thrill of being onboard an “antique” train.

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The adventure begins in Beaufort Train Station where a sight of an old engine such as a majestic 1971 Kawasaki Diesel Engine can be seen at the platform minutes before the scheduled departure time. Do not miss to see reactions of visitors the moment they saw how classic the train and coaches are from the outside. It is far different from the usual modern electric trains that are common in many countries these days.

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Passengers on this route are mainly locals on their daily routine and tourists on their way to Pangi Station for white water rafting activities along the Padas River. The interior of the train is nothing fancy and once again seeing the reaction of first-timers boarding the train is priceless. Some of the coaches do not even have seats as it is being used to transport both passengers and goods while those with seats are usually very basic.

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However it does not take long before the initial shock settles.  This is partly due to the locals’ ability to quickly break the ice with tourist-looking passengers. It usually starts with a generous smile followed with a common advice for visitors to seat on the right side of the train to enjoy the best view.

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Indeed the view is amazing. The moment the train left Beaufort, the sight of shops built on wooden-stilt quickly fades away and slowly replaced by view of lush jungle hills on the left side and rushing river rapids of Padas River on the other side. This is when most of the passengers start to pop their heads out of the window, enjoying both the view and natural breeze.

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As the train goes deeper into the rural area of Sabah, mobile phones start to lose signals and random strangers begin chatting with each other on various topics from serious current affairs to juicy entertainment gossips. From time to time, view of simple wooden houses can be seen and sometimes the villagers especially children will run towards the train and wave to the passengers on-board. It is also normal for the locals to flag the train down for them to get in. The train makes four official stops at main stations namely Saliwangan, Halogilat, Rayoh and Pangi before reaching Tenom but there are many small platforms which allow the train to drop and pick-up passengers and goods closer to their homes.

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At Halogilat Station, passengers are requested to board into a different diesel locomotive with only two coaches as the final stretch to Tenom requires a lighter train to tackle the winding rail tracks that run parallel along Padas River. At certain times, the river feels so close that it feels very tempting to just jump into the river.

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For a ticket price of RM2.70, the one way journey that takes about 3 hours in total is definitely worth much more in terms of experience. Opportunity to interact with locals, breathtaking views along the route and the chance to board on an old train are valid enough reasons to try this off-the-beaten path attraction for at least once. For those who wants additional adrenaline rush, couple this train ride with a 1-hour white water rafting experience along Padas River for a complete thrilling adventure!

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