I See. I Like. I Blog.
Last week, I flew across the South China Sea, to catch a train.
Not just any ordinary train, but the Vulcan steam locomotive … and a mighty fine hunk of steel to ride on! Heh.
I love trains, and yes, I do jump up and down at the sight of them when no one’s looking... I don’t know much about the mechanics, but what I do know is that this particular ride is a heritage in its own right, one not to be missed. To hear the whistles blowing as the massive locomotive goes chug-a-chugging through the countryside got my heart bouncing around like a big ball of happiness and my face permanently plastered with a sloppy grin from start to finish!
Everything about this special train ride is either old or old-fashioned.
The vintage locomotive runs on the North Borneo Railway tracks which dates back to the 1890’s (when the British colonists decided that building railways was the best way to tap the rich resources of Borneo).
It draws 5 Kawasaki-designed carriages that were built in the 70’s. Both the exterior and interior were modified to reflect the era of the steam train. In each carriage, passengers are seated in comfy diner-styled seats, with opened windows and ceiling fans to enhance the overall heritage experience.
Buying tickets and boarding the train at Tanjung Aru Station was in itself a step back in time of the bygone era. Passengers are greeted by a bevy of station staffs, all smiling widely and proudly, in their colonial-style uniforms: crisp white shirt over khaki shorts, complete with a planter’s hat!
It is actually a ‘tourist’ train co-managed by the Sabah State Railway Department and Sutera Harbour Resort. There are only four steam engines left in the country, but only three are functional; the other one is on display at the Sabah State Museum. The engine is designed for wood burning, a costly yet more environmental-friendly form of steam. According to The Engine Museum, UK, not only do these steam engines represent the last of a fleet that have plied the tracks of Borneo since the late 1880’s, they are also part of the only few functional wood burners left in the world.
The 4-hour journey to and fro Papar commences at Tanjung Aru through Putatan, Kinarut and Kinawang. The train makes 2 brief stops, at Kinarut and Papar, where passengers can disembark and explore the villages. Watching the scenes unfolding from the train opened windows, one can’t be faulted for saying that life out here moves slower than the ticking clock. Blink and you’ll not miss anything, really.
As the train rumbles unhurriedly on its track, one is treated to an interesting array of natural landscapes from the coastal area of Lok Kawi Bay overlooking the South China Sea to thick mangrove swamps, and fruit orchards towards the inland.
Passengers are pampered by the ever-smiling attentive crew, dishing out assorted pastries for breakfast and briyani rice in a tiffin box for lunch in generous portions. And when the weather got a tad too hot for comfort in the non-air conditioned carriages, the crew promptly handed out ice cool towels to everyone. Little things like this goes a long way to make the ride a memorable one.