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  • Writer's pictureRick

East Malaysia Day 6: Tenom (丹南) & Api-Api Night Market in Kota Kinabalu (亚庇)

It had rained heavily for about an hour starting at around 1am. The rain pounded on the rooftop and ensured that even heavy sleepers could not sleep through the din. At 6:30am, I peeped through the window, saw the mist and cloudy sky in the distant mountain range and knew there would not be a pretty dawn view over Tenom on the hilltop named as "Dawn of Tenom".

I made coffee from Fatt Choi’s 2-in-1 kopi-o packet. The coffee was thick but I could not experience the original taste of the coffee — be it simply roasted or premixed — as it was sweetened by the sugar. I thought of adding the packet of tea latte to make cham (a beverage with coffee and tea) or the chocolate powder to make mocha, but adding more sugar to the coffee was not what I wanted either.

7:15am, I donned on my flight suit — the long sleeve shirt and long pant that I usually wore to take flights — and applied insect repellant to exposed areas before going up Dawn of Tenom. Last chance and I did not want to miss it. Expectedly, it was swamps of mosquitoes that welcomed me on the hilltop. I took some photos of the misty distant views with obscured sun and flee after 5 minutes.

Dawn of Tenom @ Fatt Choi Coffee Cabin

At the foot of hill, I studied the huge Sabah map again. Tenom was surrounded by a railway system, coffee beans and some rafting activity. Lahad Datu had a turtle, a Rafflesia flower near Tambunan and a gorilla(?) near Sandakan.

Sabah Map @ Fatt Choi Coffee Cabin

Back in the room, I got ready for check-out. I was prepared to walk to town again if necessary. At 9:15am, I requested for a cab through the staff at the office. They would get me a Maxim cab. I chatted with the friendly staff while waiting for the “cab” to come — it was supposed to be a Maxim cab but a car without markings came instead. Through the staff again, the driver would ferry me to Pasar Tenom for RM8. Fine.

9:45am, I walked into Pasar Tenom, up the steps to the second level where the food court was. Few stalls were opened and I saw what I wanted to eat at Chee Pin’s stall. I went for the Tenom chun gen — translated as "spring roll" but it was far from it — and meatballs rice vermicelli soup and added-on a stuffed beancurd. The noodle was not a big portion and in light-tasting soup. It was the first time I tried the Tenom-specialty Hakka-style "spring roll" which was meat roll wrapped in thin egg crepe.

Tenom chun gen & meatballs vermicelli @ Pasar Tenom

10:10am, what should I do for 2 hours? I remembered a little bakery-cafe opposite Pasar Tenom and decided to go for coffee. At Fookway Bakery (福味), I had a polo bun with kopi-o. I relaxed in the cafe until 11am, bought another two buns before heading to Tenom Railway Station.

Fookway Bakery @ Tenom

First, no Grab. Second, hard to find a rubbish bin. Then, there was no toilet paper in the public toilets next to the train station. The lady outside the toilets said “no paper” and expected me to use my hand and water like the locals. I recalled there was a washroom in Tenom Coffee Valley but it was not a public toilet. I went to the cafe, used the washroom and bought an iced chocolate as takeaway.

I walked back to Tung Ma Nui Luk’s office, sipped the chocolate drink and remembered there was no rubbish bins. Darn! Should I bring the plastic cup to Kota Kinabalu? At situation like this, I turned bad guy — forced by circumstances, I left it under a bench, where someone else had also left a lunch box. If Tenom wanted to earn some tourism dollars, it really had to brush up on its basic amenities. Otherwise, the flame would just sparkle and die — perhaps, it had already sparkled and died.

What had I gained from this short trip to Tenom? The main attraction here was the train ride through the valley between Tenom and Beaufort, but it was severed. And as a "Coffee Town", other than there were two coffee producers in this town, it was not selling itself as a place to find out more about coffee. It might have tried to do that before but the drive was gone.

I boarded the double-decker bus that was waiting in the car park and it departed at 12pm for Keningau. 25 minutes later, air pressure started building up in my ears again, the bus had started ascending on Crocker Range — Keningau was on a higher altitude than Tenom.

At 12:38pm, the bus arrived at Keningau at Tung Ma Nui Luk‘s own terminal. I noticed there was a 7am express bus service to both Beaufort (RM20) and Menumbok (RM33) — the service would cut through Crocker Range Nature Park towards Papar (same as the bus to Kota Kinabalu), then veer south to Beaufort before heading to Menumbok (for the ferry to the Labuan islands). It would be a 2-day journey from Tenom with an overnight stay in Keningau to catch the 7am bus. How inconvenient!

Tung Ma Nui Luk

At 1pm, the bus continued its journey, ascending up the misty Crocker Range and descending again closer to 2pm. It was back at Oyong Rest Area for a 10 minutes break. A quick toilet break and I started munching on the buns from Fookway Bakery.

I received a notification from giga! saying my data plan had expired and needed me to use its app to activate a new data pack. When I launched the app, it prompted me to update the app to continue using it, but my plan had already expired! Stupid! Apps with this no-update-no-use feature were ultra unfriendly — this was one silly design that I really hated. I had 1GB of roaming data and the app itself was 151MB, which would waste 15% of my data. And, where to find WiFi to update the app?

The express bus arrived at KK Sentral at 3:35pm. Unsure if my data roaming was activated and wanting to avoid exorbitant charges on using unsubscribed network, I could not e-hail a Grab car and had to walk to Hotel Gaia 95 in Gaya Street some 1.8Km away with around 7Kg load on my back. I used the covered path that I found on Day 2.

I reached Hotel Gaia 95 at 4pm, used the WiFi after check-in, updated the giga app, launched it and saw that the second data plan was already activated right after the first plan had expired. Then, why sent me a message to activate the plan via the app if it was automatic? I cursed and sweared.

I had booked a single windowless room in Hotel Gaia 95 and was happy — I could not hear a single sound from the traffic outside. I showered, gathered my clothes to wash and left the room.

Hotel Gaia 95 @ Gaya Street

First stop was to Mee Young Holidays. Florence had texted me about another solo participant for a day trip to Kundasang — visiting Kinabalu Park, Desa Cow Farm, Poring Canopy Walk, etc — and asked if I would want to join in. I went to get more details of the trip and make payment. I also learnt that Sabah’s Harvest Festival (called "Pesta Kaamatan") celebrations would be held at Koisaan Cultural Village (in Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association or KDCA) in Kota Kinabalu on 30th and 31st May, which would also be public holidays in Sabah.

Next stop, to the laundry. There was a laundry behind The Seraya Hotel not far from Hotel Gaia 95 but most of the machines were in used. Not wanting to waste time waiting, I went to Beezee Launderette in Australia Place with lesser customers and same price. It used tokens too, and the detergent was free.

Beezee Launderette @ Australia Place

While waiting for the machines to do their work, I set my next destination as Sandakan to the east of Kota Kinabalu, selected the flight dates, including a return flight to Kota Kinabalu, and booked an accommodation for 3 nights. I would be back in Kota Kinabalu on 30th May for the Pesta Kaamatan. That sort of fixed the next 4 days of the trip.

Once the clothes were dried, I brought them back to the hotel to hang up for cooling. I hit the streets for the Api-Api Night Food Market for Halal and no-pork food only. It was a weekly event held on Friday and Saturday nights from 6pm to 12 midnight. I was told that it rained heavily on Friday night and the turnout was extremely poor.

Api Api Night Food Market @ Gaya Street

I walked up and down the food market, trying to find things to eat but the main issue was that I preferred to enjoy food comfortably, not eating while walking or standing or sitting on the floor to eat. A guy (tourist) was standing at one side of the food market, holding his food in one hand and using a satay stick in the other, he accidentally dropped a piece of the food — and it was left there for someone else to step on it. That was why I disliked eating while walking or standing. And I definitely would not like to sit on the floor.

Api-Api Night Food Market @ Gaya Street

After going one round in the food market, I ended up in Peppermint, a Vietnamese restaurant. I had a hot bowl of delicious Vietnamese beef noodle in an air-conditioned, clean space and seated comfortably at a table. Apart from beef pho on the overhead menu, the spiced chicken and stew beef looked delicious too. I would want to try both too before leaving Kota Kinabalu.

Peppermint Restaurant @ Gaya Street

After the meal, I continued to walk round the food market until I came to a fruit stall, picked some fruits, went to a pavilion near the Gaya Street arch and sat on the steps to eat. Some inconsiderate guys started smoking in the pavilion. I gobbled down my fruits and walked away. Enjoy? I did not!

It was not my first time at the Api-Api Night Food Market anyway. I had sat in the same pavilion and tried some of the food stalls in October 2023. So, I was not missing anything.

Fruits @ Api Api Night Food Market

9pm, fully fed. I was back in the hotel.


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