Despite Borneo being the third biggest island in the world, the train is definitely not a common way of transportation. In fact, this island, the only island in the world shared by 3 independent countries, possesses only 134 kilometers of rail. All of these 134 kilometers are located in Sabah, one of the states of Malaysia.
Trivia purpose : Borneo is shared by Indonesia under the name of Kalimantan, the Sultanate of Brunei and Malaysia under the two states of Sabah and Sarawak.
This line is in service since the end of the 19th century. Originally, the North Borneo Railway was made to ease the transport of tobacco. Now it’s almost a touristic attraction, longing the Padas river through the jungle. Interestingly, this train line is the only road connecting directly Beaufort and Tenom. By land you’ll have to go around the whole valley to commute between these two cities.
My son loves train, and both my partner and me had in mind to explore a little bit of Borneo’s jungle. Hiking with a two year-old kid through the rain forest is not an easy task, therefore this train ride seemed to fit perfectly our needs.
This article will share our experience on taking a train in Borneo between Beaufort and Tenom, with information, schedule, duration, price & everything you need to know to do the same.
Schedule & Price
From Beaufort, the first train is leaving at 7.50am every day and the second train leaves at 1.30pm, except on Sunday where it leaves at 1pm.
From Tenom, the first train leaves at 7.30am every day, and the second train leaves at 1pm, except on Sunday where it leaves at 12.30pm.
One ticket costs 2.75RM (0.65US$) and 1.40RM for kids aged 3 and plus.
It took us exactly 3 hours to reach Tenom. We were there a bit before 11am. On the return trip we were faster, and the trip took 2 hours and a half.
Things to know
In order to enjoy the view you should sit on the right side from Beaufort to Tenom, and on the left side from Tenom to Beaufort.
It gets hot in the train, make sure you sit near a window, where you’ll be able to take photos.
Even though it’s forbidden, some people were smoking inside the train.
You have to change trains halfway at the Halogilat station, clearly the low point of the ride. It allows you to make a toilet break though.
You don’t need to arrive in advance. You can’t book, and inside it’s free seating. We arrived 5 minutes before the return trip and still got a ticket without problems.
Instead of taking the train back, you can catch a bus in Tenom to Kota Kinabalu. The price is 20RM, and there are 4 buses during the day, at 7am/8am/12 and 4pm. You can also take a taxi.
From Tenom, you can catch one of the frequent mini-buses leaving for Keningau. They leave once they are full. The price should be around 8RM.
Trains from Beaufort to Kota Kinabalu are attractively priced at 4.80RM (1.15US$), but there are only 2 trains leaving in the morning. They leave every day at 5am and 11am.
There are buses between Beaufort and KK. We were extremely lucky because a bus arrived as soon as we arrived at the train station. We managed to catch it and paid 12RM each.
Where to stay ?
The cheapest hotel in Beaufort is the Mandarin Inn. The basic room with private bathroom for two people is 50RM (12US$) + 10RM for the Malaysian Foreigner Tax. I won’t recommend this hotel though, it’s not very clean and it smells like smoke. Other hotels cost at least 75RM (18US$) though, without including the 10RM tax.
Our experience :
I set my alarm at 7am. It had been a while since the last time my son woke up that early. After emerging, we took a Grab from our hotel to the train station for just 4RM. We were there at 7.30am. The ticket counter opened a few minutes after our arrival and we got ourselves two tickets. Our kid didn’t have to pay because he’s less than 3.
The train has 3 carriages. We chose the first one as it looked more recent. Unfortunately it had only a few windows and we did not manage to get a seat near one. I was a bit upset because I wasn’t able to take nice pictures !
The temperature inside was still bearable and despite the early wake up, our son still had a lot of energy. We gave him some wholegrain bread we bought in the city the previous day to fuel him. We noticed that we weren’t the only foreigners, a dozen of them accompanied us on the ride. After one hour, we all had to disembark in order to change trains. We had to wait for the train coming from Tenom, and then we just swapped passengers. This time we got a window seat, but it wasn’t enough to stand the heat.
Along the way we stopped many times, often for a few seconds, until a stop at Rayoh where all the foreigners went down. They were all with different local guides and came back minutes later and boarded the train again. After dropping their belongings in Rayoh, they took the train until the Pangi station. We understood that they were going to do some rafting, one of the popular activities here. Most people book a tour directly from Kota Kinabalu.
3 hours later we were finally there ! It was a bit longer than I expected. We went down and our kid quickly socialized with someone playing with bubbles. Quickly after, we left his new friends to go to a kids playground for a while, a much-needed moment to let him release his energy.
We weren’t sure of our plans at first. We felt like taking the train once was enough and were looking to take the bus to Kota Kinabalu. The first bus left at noon, which was too soon for us. We were eating Nasi Lemak Ayam at that time. We went to walk a bit around the market, ask around to see if we had other options to go to KK, and then just decided to take the train back to Beaufort. The ride was pretty similar to the first one, except that it was hotter but I could take many pictures. I felt asleep with my son until we arrived in Beaufort. It had started to rain. We went out the station and right at that moment we saw a big bus passing by. The bus stop is right in front of the train station. We went to ask if they were going to Kota Kinabalu, and luckily they were. We directly hopped on and here I am, writing this article on my way to KK with my son still sleeping, this time with momma.