What can you do near Kota Kinabalu when you just have one day? I went rafting down the Padas river recently, despite lasting only the full day I think I brought back a whole novel of memory!

Let me start by saying this, it was so much more than just going rafting.

Having lived in Sabah-North Borneo all my life, I would say I am very familiar with this place I call home. I know our mountains and the ranges that stretches from the east coast to the west. The rainforest that defines us, the magnificent area that still hold mysteries, with amazing flora and fauna that is yet to be found.

The town, the villages and the people. Our beautiful sunrise and sunsets, oh the sunsets! My heritage.

Until that fine day I decided to go on a white water rafting with some friends. With my backpack ready, we departed from Kota Kinabalu at 5:30am.

Our guide explained that we need to catch the train at Beaufort station, and through the course we will change train 3 times before arriving our destination. And this is where the real adventure starts.

The sky was slowly changing colours as we pass through Papar, that morning was a weekday so I could see children heading to school. The girls in their pinafore or baju kurung school uniforms. Papar is among the last few districts where old coffee shops can still be seen. Such unique sights!

The sun is almost warm when we reach Beaufort at 7:30am, we managed a quick toilet stop and bought some snacks from the small shops at the station before boarding the train.

Rafting down the Padas river

The train. It is basically a time machine that transport you back a good few decade, or even a century maybe. Because that is what it felt like. With single-class seating structure, and wooden floors. It is a very old train, there is nothing high tech about it. There were some foreign tourist on the train with us, I can’t help but wonder what could be going through their minds. Also on the train were the locals, just going about their daily lives. I saw people with leather skin; I saw people carrying livestocks, big rattan basket filled with plantain, cassava, bamboo shoots etcetera. There were multiple stops throughout the ride, except for our group and the tourist the locals gone off and others boarded. I saw a young boy, probably 9 or 10 years old with an old carry bag board. In these areas, houses are scarce and between villages – some with no electricity. This young child was off to school where he will be staying in the a hostel. He has a bright and shiny eyes, in my heart I wish him all the success in the world.

The journey was scenic, the nature was lush and dark green in colour. We have really left the bustling city behind. The sights I saw, I could have never imagined. In some part, the railway was built at the edge of a rocky hill. The scene was almost Jurassic.

Alas we arrived. Padas river is a gentle monster, seeing the rapids and water crashing quickly took my mind off the faces and landscape during the train ride. I could not be more excited!

As we geared up for the rafting activity, our river guide gave us the instructions and safety briefing. And then with a splash, we were baptised at the river bank and so our initiation was complete. We are ready to go rafting down the Padas river.

If you have ever been on a roller coaster, this experience is almost like that – physically. The rapid carries the raft and then dunk down when the rapid breaks. Water rafting makes you engage your whole body, as you feel all your muscle tense up when you see the next rapid. There really wasn’t anything else on my mind when we were in the river, because it was just not possible to not focus. The small but frequent rush of adrenaline. It was so tribal! And the river guide was our excellent chief.

When chief announced the last rapid, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I wished there were 10 more rapids in front or if we could raft all the way to Beaufort!

My face had a great work out that day, and some of it was even captured in photos. We had photographer in kayaks, capturing our rapid moments. I must’ve made a thousand and one facial expressions throughout our 2 hour rafting session.

Rafting down the Padas river

Lunch was prepared by the villagers. In the menu was a winter melon and chicken soup. The winter melon was crisp and fragrant, the ginger was warm, the chicken was sweet, it was a light but hearty soup. If I had to describe the state of my body and mind at that time, it would be like all the ingredients of the soup. I was happy and free!

We had time before the train arrived so we just soaked in the nature, there were no cars or other activity going on. There was not even a phone reception there, it was a moment so simple and carefree. Everyone could benefit from this surrounding once in a while.

Our activity ended with a return train ride to Beaufort where we were picked up by a van to go back to Kota Kinabalu. In the quiet train ride back, I held on to this experience as we ease back into the city.

Going on this trip could easily feel like being in a documentary. You get far more than the thrills from rafting in a class 4 rapid, it is not just a tour but a trip for your mind body and soul. Still looking for your next adventure? Let us at Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures take you to the longest rafting river in Borneo. Have your place secured in a few minutes by booking online, all you have to do is click here!