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  • Writer's pictureRick

East Malaysia Day 3: Food for the Day, Plans for the Trip in Kota Kinabalu (亚庇)

I woke up with a piece of rusty memory flashing through my head — there was a heritage train in Sabah. When I was last in Sabah in October 2023, the North Borneo Train was not in operation for whatever reasons. Since I had no plans in Kota Kinabalu this day, I might as well go to the railway station and get some information.

Why not research online? Because Sabah Railway’s website was in Malay only. I did a search for North Borneo Heritage Train, found a piece of information on Amazing Borneo’s website that said the train would run every Wednesday, RM385 per pax (discounted for off-peak season) and minimum 2 pax to join the tour. Sigh.

First thing, breakfast. I read online that sang nyuk mee (生肉面 or pork noodle) was originated from Tawau, Sabah, and was another local dish to go for. I had tried the dish before at Kim Hing Lee Coffee Shop (金兴利茶室) on the last trip, and wished to try another restaurant. A restaurant that specialised in sang nyuk mee in Gaya Street was Kedai Kopi Melanian 3 (金沙园生肉面3) — it was the 3rd outlet of Melanian.

Melanian’s preferred style for the pork noodle was dry-tossed but I opted for rice vermicelli soup. I chose to add all piggy ingredients and a cup of iced kopi leung fun — kopi added with grass jelly — which was rather unique. The sang nyuk mee was good and the porky ingredients were fresh.

Pork Noodle @ Melanian 3 (金沙园生肉面3)

I e-hailed a Grab car to Tanjung Aru Railway Station, near Kota Kinabalu International Airport. It was Vesak Day, a public holiday in the middle of the week, but Kota Kinabalu was quiet. Most non-tourism related shops and services were closed for the day.

At 10:30am, the train station was deserted. There would not be train services to or from the station until after 5pm. The ticketing counter was closed and would reopened around 4pm or later. Except for a train schedule pasted on the glass panel of the counter, I had no way to obtain more information, especially on the route between Beaufort and Tenom — locals pronounced as "Bow~fort" and "Ten~num".

All information, including bookings, on the North Borneo Heritage Train was limited only to Amazing Borneo as the primary tour operator for the old train. There were supposedly 4 types of tour package — all not available except for the 5-hour package to Papar to see sunset for RM385. I would not want to spent that kind of money inside a heritage train, I would be satisfied taking photos of the train from outside.

Tanjung Aru Railway Station

It would be silly to hail another Grab car and head back to the city after just 5 minutes at the station, so I checked out Aeropod, an integrated mix-use development right next to the train station. The buildings housed several hotels, hostels, shops, cafes and restaurants, etc, but there were very few people, even on a holiday. The train station and Aeropod were sort of isolated in a small island between the airport and the city centre — mainly accessible to those who drove or cabbed. 15 minutes was all it took to walk round the area and with no other reasons to loiter around, I decided to head back.

11:15am, a little early for lunch, I hailed a Grab car to Centre Point Sabah, a shopping mall, for window shopping and air-conditioning. Half an hour later, I walked over to Soon Chuan Coffee Shop (顺泉茶室) in Sinsuran Kompleks, which was very near to Seng Hing Coffee Shop (成兴茶餐室) and Kim Hing Lee Coffee Shop (金兴利茶室).

In Soon Chuan, attracted by the large prints on the stall that said "dry-toss Tuaran mee", I ordered it without realising that the stall’s signature dish was actually prawn noodle. But the dry-toss Tuaran mee, with wanton soup, was nice too and offered a difference experience from the fried version that I had the day before at Seng Hing.

Tuaran Mee at Soon Chuan Coffee Shop (顺泉茶室)

It was a super-hot afternoon as usual. Not wanting to spend too much time under the sun, I walked from Sinsuran Kompleks to Nook Cafe in Australia Place. I came to the cafe for their "Dirty Chai" special coffee, which was espresso mixed with masala chai latte. And added a red velvet cake — I actually wanted to try their sourdough sandwich but was quite full after the Tuaran mee.

Dirty chai latte & red velvet cake @ Nook Cafe

I sipped the coffee, which had a really unique flavour, nibbled at the cake slowly, and made reservations for my trip to Tenom. My preferred accommodation in Tenom could not be booked online so I emailed them to confirm availability of a room before I could book the express bus from KK Sentral to Tenom. But I was prepared to go without reservations and find other accommodation if I could not get a reply. The difference was whether I would be booking the 8am or 12pm bus to Tenom. With a confirmed reservation, I could wake up late, go late and not worrying about having to sleep on the street.

While I could book a bus from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom on the Easybook app, I could not find a bus from Tenom to Kota Kinabalu. There were buses but they were not on Easybook’s booking system — I began to wonder if the buses between Brunei and Miri were also not on the system.

With the bookings done, I was good for another 2 days. The real headache would be in Beaufort — it would either be down south to Brunei or north back to Kota Kinabalu. I would come back to the brain-whacking again on Friday in a more relaxed environment in Tenom town.

I left Nook Cafe at 3:30pm, went to check the prices of Beezee Launderette, asked The Atkinson Place for their room rates and such, and I was back in Pantai Inn for a rest before dinner.

At 7pm, I went to Gaya Fish Noodle (加雅鱼面馆). On recommendation from the staff, I tried their fresh fish slices in tom yum soup. The reddish soup seemed like very spicy, but it was more sour than spicy and closer to Thai flavour. It was good.

Tom yum fish noodle @ Gaya Fish Noodle

Gaya Street was quiet with few people walking on the street on a public holiday. The crowds seemed to be in Bataras Marketplace, the “yellow supermarket” that sold Sabah’s local products as gifts and souvenirs. I wanted to go for a coconut pudding at The Royal Coconut but it was full house. I decided to call it a day.

Gaya Street, Bataras Marketplace on holiday night

Back at the hotel, l glanced at the clock in the lobby, it was 1 minute to 8pm. I was out for only an hour.

Later in the night, I found an article on A Social Nomad regarding transports between Miri and Brunei. Seemed like it was possible but would not be easy and yet more expensive than expected — needed to take a bus from Brunei central to somewhere near the border, cab to the border, clear Brunei immigration, walk across the border, clear Sarawak immigration, cab to nearest bus depot and take bus to Miri.

I had intended to go through Brunei and Miri, with few days stay at each of the city, and then on to other cities or towns before finally arriving in Kuching, but if it was tedious and expensive, then I might as well fly to Kuching directly from Sabah, not necessary from Kota Kinabalu.

I decided to dropped Brunei and Miri from this journey.


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