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Tenom – where the railway ends

25th November, 2016

Text and photos by DAVID DE LA HARPE

Tenom is a town located within the Interior Division of Sabah, Malaysia. In the early days of British colonial rule in Sabah, the town was called Fort Birch after the then-Governor (Sir Ernest Woodford Birch) of British North Borneo (1901).

During his two years and eight months that he served in North Borneo, he worked arduously for the welfare of the country.

He travelled over the whole territory in North Borneo, and introduced numerous settlers, built a new town at Jesselton (old name for Kota Kinabalu) and converted the country from lawlessness to peace. In December 1904, Sir Ernest returned to England.

Tenom town is considered the unofficial capital of the Murut community.

The Muruts were once famed as fierce Headhunters. It is also the main gateway to other areas within the Murut heartland.

There are two main ways to get to Tenom, driving overland or taking the train from either the Beaufort or Tanjung Aru train stations.

If you are driving to Tenom, there are two routes to get there. One is via the old road which goes through the Tambunan and Keningau valleys, the other is by using the new route along the West Coast to Kimanis and then heading inland across the Crocker Range.

If one travels by train, it’s a longer journey, but you get to relive the journey of old (the railway line was built in 1905.)

Today, many tourists take the train to Tenom, especially if they are going rafting on the Padas River, which passes more or less through Tenom.

The main places of interest in Tenom are, the agriculture park (Lagud Seberang Agriculture Research Station) with its Orchid gardens, the Murut heritage museum and the showrooms of three main local producers of coffee.

In 2010, the population of Tenom was estimated to be around 55,553. The principal ethnic groups are the Murut(60%), Chinese (20%), Kadazan-Dusun (8%), and Lun Bawang/Lun Dayeh (5%). Tenom is one of the oldest Chinese settlements in Sabah. The majority of Chinese residents in the town are Hakka Chinese, many of whom are descendents of settlers who migrated from Longchuan in Guangdong, China.

These settlers, who were mostly agriculturalists, were drawn to Tenom due to its rich soil. Originally, the Chinese came as labourers to build the railway line, but being farmers, they developed the rich land found in the mountains which were malaria-free, and remain to this day.

Though the Chinese population is rather small in Tenom, they contribute much to the local economy and many of them sell their produce at the local market. It gets especially busy on Sunday mornings with many Chinese selling the produce from their farms.

To taste some local Hakka delights , the 3rd floor of the central market has a number of food stalls run by the Hakka Chinese. Here, one can try noodle soup with their famous Minced pork egg roll (Chung kein ) and stuffed bean curd (Yong Tau Fu). Other delicacies are available at many of the Chinese restaurants in town . Tenom is still relativly a quiet town which can be of interest to nature lovers and foodies.

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