North Borneo Railway

The North Borneo Railway – All Aboard!

Many people come to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo to experience the world-famous sunsets or to climb Mount Kota Kinabalu.

But not us! We’re here for a historic train ride on a locomotive that has steamed along the rail tracks of The North Borneo Railway since the late 1800’s.

The steam locomotive you travel on is one of the rare few trains in the world that still uses firewood and was originally manufactured in 1896 by the Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows Lancashire UK.

The North Borneo Heritage Railway you travel on one of the rare steam trains in the world. The Backpacking Housewife
All aboard the North Borneo Express!

Our trip on The North Borneo Railway would take us through the heart of Borneo, passing through villages and small towns, rubber plantation, rice fields, mangrove swamps, and steamy jungle.

The North Borneo Railway would take us through the heart of Borneo.
The North Borneo Railway would take us through the heart of Borneo.

Along the way, there are also spectacular coastal views of the South China Sea.

All from a vantage point not often experienced today and on a truly nostalgic journey by stream train from Tanjung Aru Station through to the town of Papar.

It’s like stepping back in time through North Borneo history to colonial times.

Like stepping back in time through North Borneo history to colonial times.
The North Borneo Railway steam train comprises of 5 coaches, each named after a small town along the 134 kilometres (83 miles) route.
Like stepping back in time through North Borneo Railway history to colonial times
Like stepping back in time through North Borneo history to colonial times

The North Borneo Railway steam train comprises of 5 coaches, each named after a small town along the 134 kilometres (83 miles) route.

The journey begins at Tanjung Aru Station, passing through Putatan and Kawang, stopping at the historic town of Kinarut to visit the Tien Shi Templea Buddhist temple, before arriving at Papar town.

All aboard the North Borneo Express!

We had the most amazing half-day trip travelling on this fabulous old steam train re-living the by-gone era of old colonial times.

I loved that we were greeted at the Tanjung Aru Station by staff wearing old colonial style uniforms of shorts and ‘pith helmets’.

And that we were given travel ‘passports’ as keepsakes to be stamped at every town we travelled through.

Breakfast and lunch are included in the price of the ticket.

We had a delicious served breakfast to us on the outbound journey.

We also enjoyed a wonderfully tasty ‘Tiffin Lunch’ on the way back, served in charming traditional stackable metal containers.

Our lunch menu included items such as Satays, Chicken Briyani, Prawns, Vegetables and fruits.

The atmosphere on the train is so romantic and nostalgic!

The steam locomotive you travel on is one of the rare few trains in the world that still uses firewood and was originally manufactured in 1896 by the Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows Lancashire UK.
We passed through towns, and tunnels, and jungles!
we passed through the town and tunnels and jungle
The atmosphere on the train is so romantic and nostalgic!

The air conditioning is simply a warm draught from an open carriage window.

It felt wonderful – once we got up some speed (20mph) – to have a breeze coming into the train along with wafts of wood smoke from the engine.

As chugged along through the small towns, we waved at cheering waving people.

 Our trip on The North Borneo Railway would take us through the heart of Borneo
Our trip on The North Borneo Railway would take us through the heart of Borneo

The half-day (four hour) schedule operates every Wednesday and Saturday.

The train departs Tanjung Aru Railway station at 10am to Papar and returns to Tanjung Aru Railway Station at approximately 1.45pm.

You can find out more about the historic North Borneo Railway and the current North Borneo railway schedule, ticket price, and booking information via Sutera Harbour Resort who operates the tours.

North Borneo Railway Contact Details: Tel : +60 88 308 500  Email: nbrinfo@suteraharbour.com.my

Borneo Map: I marked the train route from Kota Kinabalu to Papar
Borneo Map: I marked the train route from Kota Kinabalu to Papar

Malaysian Borneo

There are two distinct sides to Malaysia. West (Peninsular) Malaysia and East (Borneo) Malaysia and they are separated by the South China Sea.

Trav and have explored most of the Malaysian peninsular including the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and the islands of Penang and Langkawi on the west side and also the Perhentian Islands on the east side.

But up until now we haven’t ever ventured across to Malaysian Borneo.

There are two distinct sides to Malaysia. West (Peninsular) Malaysia and East (Borneo) Malaysia
There are two distinct sides to Malaysia. West (Peninsular) Malaysia and East (Borneo) Malaysia

We flew from Kuala Lumpur to the town of Kota Kinabalu.

Kota Kinabalu or KK is known is the capital of Sabah – the northern part of Borneo – and is the gateway to the Kinabalu National Park.

After our amazing North Borneo train trip we headed back into KK town to enjoy the waterfront bars and restaurants and to experience the evening backdrop of a world famous Kota Kinabalu sunset.

Kota Kinabalu. the Backpacking Housewife

The sunsets seen from KK are legendary for their spectacular red, orange, and magenta hues and we were not disappointed.

The sunset was simply breathtaking!

The sunset in Kota Kinabalu is world famous and simply breathtaking!

We stayed overnight in a small guesthouse in Kota Kinabalu that we’d booked using (affiliate link) Booking.com.

The Api-Api Guesthouse was in a great location for the waterfront area and only 2km from the North Borneo Railway.

But, the following day, keen to enjoy one of Kota Kinabalu’s fabulous beach resorts, we spotted an out-of-season offer on (affiliate link) Booking.com and moved up the coast a little to stay for a few nights at Nexus Resort and Spa Karambunai.

It was a great idea to mix up a night of basic accommodation with a couple of nights of bargain luxury!

Enjoying one of Kota Kinabalu’s fabulous beach resorts,

KOTA KINABALU TO SANDAKAN

After a few days at the beach, we were keen to be back on a plane and to fly a considerable distance across the country to Sandakan in the Eastern Sabah region of Borneo.

The reason for this trip was to see Orangutans in the wild at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre – the precious home of the last wild Orangutans of North Borneo – and I was SO excited!

Meeting Orangutans in the wild in Borneo is the subject of my next travel post – so do pop back soon!

You can also read more about these experiences in Borneo in My 10 Greatest Travel Experiences.

Do you love a train journey?

Would you like to ride on the North Borneo Railway?

Leave a comment below or contact me directly.

Any questions? I’ll be delighted to hear from you!

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2 comments

Suvendu Rout -

Hi Janice!
Borneo and Malaysia have been on our travel bucket list for long. Thanks for sharing this article. Quite informative, with lovely pictures.

Reply
JANICE HORTON -

Suvendu – thank you so much for reading my post and for your lovely comment. It was such a bucket list travel adventure to visit Borneo for us and the train ride was a highlight. I hope you get to go there too. Let me know? Janice xx

Reply

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