Sometimes, when I am researching/prepping for a holiday, I come across little gems that make me so excited… I worry about if they will live up to my expectation.
I cannot even remember where I initially heard about the Railway. It was a passing comment on a forum somewhere (maybe Travellers Point?) but it piqued my interest. A beautiful old steam train, in true colonial style, wandering down the original track of colonial days as it leaves the bustle of KK and takes you on a gentle exploration further afield… *sigh*
When I looked into it further, I found it had been decommissioned. 😦 I was so disappointed – I knew the kids (particularly N) would love a train ride like this.
Then … rumours started to pop up. Someone was trying to revive the Railway. The Malaysian Government was in talks. Tourists were hearing chatter about “When you come back…”
About two months before we were to start our Borneo adventures, I finally found a website with more information!! The track was in desperate need of repair – and it seemed like the maintenance was taking forever. Would it be ready in time for our holiday? The anticipation was killing me!
The reason for all the to-ing and fro-ing was the “sale” of the Railway. Many years ago, the Railway experience was run by the Government, but the need for maintenance was outside of the budget. Where once there were daily treks, services soon depleted to every second day. Then twice a week. Eventually every 2nd weekend if there were enough people on the waiting list. Around 2009, it had pretty much stopped.
Until one of the big resorts, Sutera Harbour, purchased the Railway experience and gave it a complete make-over. And did a FANTASTIC job.
Being organised by a Resort (and subsequently aimed at its own patrons), the North Borneo Railwaycomes with a price. On face value, this trip was perfect for all of us – adults being able to sit and enjoy the scenery; children getting a kick out of the train ride (and scenery); and we were fed too! But it is expensive – I found a lot in KK is expensive, as it is aimed at the tourists. I even organised directly with the information desk – and it didn’t change anything. Consider this one of the “splurges” on the trip.
The train itself was beautiful. Definitely true to the Colonial style. Well decked out, nostalgic music being played and the staff are there for the patrons comfort. As the train was ready to depart, our station master rang his bell and the engine puffed slowly away. Refreshments were served almost immediately, so we sat back and sipped our lemon teas, passing by water villages, schools, and fields.
The view along the way is amazing – grab a seat on the East side of the carriage (left looking to the engine) as most of the interesting scenery is that side.
The train stops twice before returning. At the first stop, we took the Tour to a Chinese Temple. You walk back along the train tracks to the small Temple, beautiful in its presentation and feel. Make sure you wear appropriate shoes for this short walk, and bring a hat and sunglasses. It is really bright here and even this short walk is enough to drain you. Fortunately, there are refreshing towels when you return to the train.
After the Chinese Temple, we continued our journey further South to Papar, a small town wedged in the valley between Crocker Range and the coast. There is a great little park across from the train station for kids to run around, and further along are a few mini markets for ice-cream.
As we returned to the Station, we heard the whistle blow and saw the tell-tale steam rising overhead. Once again, refreshments served as soon as the train pulls out and a delicious Tiffin Set lunch was laid out before us.
The Steam Engine pulls you back the same way, so if you are sitting on the good side, you are still on the good side. If not, buddy up to the travellers in your carriage for a seat swap.
Couple of tips: Don’t bother being too early with kids – There is nothing else around the station and they will soon be bored. 9.30am is the best time to be there, grab good seats and grab a few photos.
S had a childrens ticket and N was complimentary. I was initially told that the seats are allocated with the tickets, but later learned (after watching others scrambling on for seats) that it was first in, best dressed. This left us sitting with all 4 at the same table, rather than 2 to a table like everyone else. Not a great problem (read: young/small kids) but it was noted and did effect the wait staff with service (often forgetting the extra food we were to have).
Bring a little extra cash – any extra drinks bought on the train are charged at Resort rates.
Watch the gaps between the carriages and the platforms. 5yo just made it across.
It is an expensive splurge, but we enjoyed it as a whole family.