A Town Called Tenom

Posted on: March 1st, 2009 by Adrian 11 Comments



I had to drive up to Tenom, a town in Sabah last weekend for opening of our new store. Tenom is a 3 hour drive from Kota Kinabalu city, over a scenic and twisting mountain road. You are driving towards the Crocker Range, where the air is crisp and cool. I got underway just before sunset, and managed to catch the setting sun when I was up the mountain range.

Tenom is the end of the line, located in interior Sabah. To get there, you go pass Tambunan, then Keningau town, before heading off into the darkness. It is about 30 minutes away from Keningau, depending on how fast you drive.

Tenom Town
During Sabah’s colonial period, it was known as Fort Birch, and is the home of the Murut people. The Murut people are some of the famed Borneo Headhunters. However, in all Sabah towns, you will find that there are all races co-existing together, and often very closely integrated in the community. Modern-day Tenom is an agricultural town, known for it’s local produce and cocoa. Tenom coffee is aromatic and widely enjoyed in Sabah. Many coffee shops in Kota Kinabalu serve Tenom Coffee.

You can see Main Street in the above photo. Tenom is a quite sleepy town, in a beautiful location. I got a kick from seeing Sabah Hotel. This is a blast from the past, I can only imagine how it must have been like when it was first established. The hotel I stayed in Perkasa Hotel, which is situated on top of a hill. I drove up at night, and the climb just seemed to go on and on. I woke up to a fog covered morning, which was surprisingly warm. I had never experienced fog in a warm location before.

The Perkasa Hotel has been around for many years, and the decor looks rustic. Still, it is clean and well maintained, and is the biggest hotel in Tenom. Perkasa always build their hotels on a hilltop, there is one in Keningau and one in Kundasang (near Ranau and the majestic Mount Kinabalu).

The Murut Cultural Centre
You will see the Murut Cultural Centre before you arrive at Tenom town. It is situated in Kampung Pulong, some 10km before Tenom town. You will see the entrance on the left side of the road, the design is eye-catching. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to visit. I will have to find time in my next trip to Tenom.

I did manage to take a photo of a statue of a Murut warrior in Tenom town. The plaque reads: This warrior statue represents the bravery and courage of the Murut people and in particular the hundreds who together with their leader, Ontoros Antanom were killed in the great uprising against the British at the Rundum district in 1915.

The compound it was located in is being developed into a mini cultural centre by the Sabah Museum. I managed to speak to a person from Sabah Museum and was told that tourists from all over the world drop in when they see the statue. While we were chatting, I asked them why the public was not allowed to take photographs when visiting Sabah Museum in Kota Kinabalu. I was told that images would appear in the photographs and negative films, which freaked people out. So rather than scaring the public away, they stopped allowing photographs.


Interesting Sights

There is a Chinese Temple with a beautiful rendition of a dragon, near Tenom town. Personally, I have always found the architectural designs of Chinese temples or any period buildings for that matter, fascinating from a historical viewpoint. I can imagine what it must have been like 100 years ago. I remember seeing an article in the local newspaper some years ago, recounting how it used to take 5 days to travel from Kota Kinabalu to Keningau. It must have been in the 1930s or 40s. There weren’t any roads back then, and you had to travel by buffalo, over the Crocker Range. It must have been an amazing and challenging journey.

Many rural places still practice padi (local rice) farming, the type of grain is similar to brown rice. But such farming is small scale, as such the price is higher. Besides, not very many people are used to this variety of rice. Rice is a staple diet in South East Asia, while the variety of rice sold in supermarkets are imported polished rice from various Asian countries.

Rural Kampung House

Rural Kampung House

Although it was a long drive, I enjoyed my visit to Tenom. On the way back to Kota Kinabalu, coming down from the road to Penampang, foggy conditions reduced the visibility to 10m. Still, that was what made this route so interesting. For many people, Tenom is a sleepy town, but if you go off the beaten path, there are plenty of sights to see.

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11 Responses

  1. [...] to our programs at Tuaran and Tenom, in support of the 3rd G-Mart superstore in Papar, I was unable to attend the Opening Ceremony at [...]

  2. gagaukon says:

    interesting articles…
    tenom is indeed a sleepy town… but its not the end of the line, if you go pass Tenom, theres a town called kemabong. btw, what store did u open in Tenom?

  3. adrian says:

    @gagaukon, thanks for dropping by. You’re right, Tenom isn’t the end of the line, but for a city guy like me, it pretty much is:)

    We opened G-Mart superstore in Tenom, and had a great time doing so. Tenom is a friendly town.

  4. [...] my post about Tenom town for instance, based on a distance of about 170 km, it shouldn’t take the 3 to 4 hours [...]

  5. judith says:

    after 29 years + away from this hide away town, i still misses my home Tenom. Sleepy town or not, it’s still home. I recently took my kids/husband back and they loved it. The town is much much larger now with new built buildings/houses. It’s alive and people are very friendly as usuall when comparing to other big cities. will return again one day.

  6. danny says:

    i think its about loves….i am a murut although i am a staying in uk

  7. danny says:

    loves is too good to say…in tenom

  8. Shakir Md Taha says:

    I was in Tenom before. It was in 1981.Then this year(2010) I went back to see this town.Still a quiet town but physically with so many changes.
    .-= Shakir Md Taha´s last blog ..Kawanku Mili@ Jasmili =-.

  9. admin says:

    Hi Shakir, I think it’s a case of surely but slowly. I like Tenom, and the people I used to work with were very friendly. It is nice to get away to a small town from time to time. The problem remains that there isn’t much attraction for visitors. If there are, then there isn’t enough promotion.

  10. Heidi says:

    Hi i was thinking of going to Tenom from Kota, i have a few questions. Are there buses that goes to Beaufort from Kota? I wish to take the train ride from Beaufort to Tenom.

    Lastly, would you know the travel time from Tenom to Labuan? are there buses?

  11. adrian says:

    Hi Heidi,

    1) Going to Tenom from Kota Kinabalu
    You can take a mini-bus, a coach or share a taxi that services the Tenom route. You will likely need to leave in the morning as these options leave once they are full. I don’t know the price for the mini-bus, and I’m guessing it is less than RM20. I would take the taxi myself as that only adds RM10 or RM20 to the fare and gets you there faster.

    2) Buses from Beaufort to Kota Kinabalu.
    Plenty I would imagine. Mini-buses ply that route and they are relatively fast, just not very comfortable. If you want a taxi, make sure it is one that services that route. Otherwise, it gets expensive.

    3) Travel time from Tenom to Labuan
    To get from Tenom to Labuan, you could take the mountain road to Sipitang (1 1/2hrs) away, and take the ferry to Labuan. This is the second most demanding mountain route there is, full of climbs and very demanding on cars.

    Or you get back to KK and take the ferry to Labuan. Labuan is an island quite a distance from KK. The ferry takes about 3hrs from KK. From Sipitang, I am told it is about an hour.

    Hope this helps.

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