Not so white water rafting

Tenom Travel Blog

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Off we go!
The first trip out of Kota Kinabalu was an active one - rafting on the (quite) mighty and (very) muddy Padas River. Its route cuts a deep gorge through the Southern tip of the Crocker Range before continuing down to the South China Sea and, with our raft waiting for us a good 70km South of KK, it was into the minivan early that morning. The journey South from KK was a pleasant drive up and over the Crockers - all very picturesque and mountainy, with a quick coffee stop at the pass, then further on to the town of Tenom - in the middle of nowhere, but the place had a bit of bustle and life to it so I wouldn't complain if stuck there for a day.
Picking up speed
Next to the garage/supermarket sits a poignant little memorial to a local uprising against British rule in 1915 - the sort of thing I've seen all over the world on my travels - local people protest at the British stealing their resources or subjugating them, and the British just reach for the machine guns - not much fair play there... The town's other Lonely Planet attraction was a restaurant that served monitor lizard curry, but only time for a quick coffee this visit unfortunately.

From here the railway hugs the narrow Padas gorge all the way down to Beaufort - rail and river, but no road. Tenom was where we would transfer to Borneo's last train for a short journey of 10km or so (I think) to our rafting start point.
Our crew
Except there wasn't a train, and there hadn't been one for several months, nor would there be for several more it seemed, which is when it all went a bit Indiana Jones, minus the CGI. In a typical piece of Sabahan ingenuity, metre-square pieces of plywood had been fixed to steel wheels set at the track's width and, with the river dropping steeply through the gorge, the track's gradient followed, so you had a perfect one-way gravity powered train - that is if you ignore the lack of seats, walls, a roof, safety features, and small details such as brakes. On we piled, with a guide standing at the back punting us along with a stick, and we were off!

Our "drivers" had to work hard for the first kilometre or so, then Newton kicked in and, forget Disney, this was a real fairground ride - speeding down the gorge, the river a blur on the left, cliffs and forest whizzing by on the right and the odd glimpse of a fantastically coloured huge butterfly as inflight entertainment.
Me posing
After 20 minutes and one crash - we stopped, the trolley behind didn't - and a quick repair to a failed wheel (underneath me, skip the fat jokes please), the gradient increased again just as a short but full-on torrential downpour started. Within seconds we were soaked to the skin without caring - six inches off the ground at 30kph one has more immediate priorities - staying on board the "train" for example.

The 45 minutes or so we spent on the trolleys flew by and when we rolled into the riverside collection of houses where our rafts stood waiting everyone had big smiles on their faces - if the trip had ended there it would have been money well spent - a unique and wholly unexpected pleasure. But, this was just the start - a quick watermelon snack and an even faster safety briefing later, we were drifting down the river looking for white water thrills.
Amin, rafting guide


Rafting guide Amin did his best but we were hopeless. Behind me was Calvin from Hong Kong, who'd put his wife and children on a plane home the day before and was having a bit of a solo adventure - the look on his face when we rescued him after his first rapid was priceless - he was almost in shock. Whilst the pics from my disposable are crap, I was at least able to send a set over to HK afterwards for him to enjoy.

Compared to the Bhote Khosi in Nepal, which was my only experience of rafting before this the Padas was a lot less scary and a lot warmer. On the quiet stretches between rapids it was fun to spin off the side and into the murky depths beneath - trying to remember if those fish that swam you-know-where were Amazon-specific or just generally tropical. But, like all big rivers, the current is deceptive - go with it and life is easy, but turn and try and swim upstream and you're going nowhere fast.
The view downhill


The aptly named Washing Machine (youtube it, well worth a watch) was the first of several involuntary submersions for me that day. By the time we got to its crux (it did look like a washing machine) we were way short of the power required to push on through, and just fell vertically into what looked like a gaping hole, and I was out. I did the gentlemanly thing and waited for everyone else to regain the raft before me - big mistake - by the time my turn came, the inexorable current had bought us to the head of the next rapid and the rocks were starting to knock my legs around under the water.

And so the day went on - a rapid, then a stretch of swimming or admiring the view, then another rapid, etc, etc. I think we spent a total of 19km on the river that day, with a lunch stop of the obligatory singapore noodles, curry and rice with a welcome bottle of water.
On the rails
Along the river the gorge walls rose into seemingly impenetrable forest punctuated occasionally by a power line or communications tower - visible symbols of progress and development for grateful Sabahans, but each one pushing true wilderness into a smaller and smaller area.

At the end of the day we clambered up the bank at a small village and walked together, raft on our heads, straight onto the station platform, then sat down and waited, still soaked to the skin, for the Last Train in Borneo, a scruffy little narrow gauge affair which, with most seats full, was clearly still a vital transport link for the area. As the sun set we trundled down the line to Beaufort and out waiting minivan, for the journey back up to KK along the coast ride.

So, if you have a day spare in KK, this is pretty much a must-do - the perfect one-day adventure.
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Off we go!
Off we go!
Picking up speed
Picking up speed
Our crew
Our crew
Me posing
Me posing
Amin, rafting guide
Amin, rafting guide
The view downhill
The view downhill
On the rails
On the rails
Alongside the river
Alongside the river
Fish eye view
Fish eye view
Crewmates Ryan and Roger
Crewmates Ryan and Roger
All in (Calvin front right)
All in (Calvin front right)
Singaporean rival crew
Singaporean rival crew
More water
More water
Me!
Me!
Finished
Finished
The last train in Borneo
The last train in Borneo
663 km (412 miles) traveled
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photo by: siri