Jalan-Jalan in Tamparuli Town

07 November 2017

Malaysia's small rural towns have historic and cultural attractions worth exploring further. Here, we visit Pekan Tamparuli in Sabah.

A 40-minute drive from the Kota Kinabalu city centre is all it takes to head to Tamparuli, a sub-district of Tuaran situated in the west coast of Sabah, Malaysia. In the 1930s, Tamparuli grew from a small, rustic village into a town, when mostly Chinese traders from Tuaran came to set up their businesses in wooden shop lots.

Tamparuli is mainly populated by the native Dusuns, with a substantial Chinese community living in the town area. Making up the population in small numbers are also Bajau and Indian communities.

The mere mention of Tamparuli evokes the image of the town’s emblematic suspension bridge. Although there are other suspension bridges in Sabah, the Tamparuli bridge remains the most popular thanks to the Kadazandusun song, Jambatan Tamparuli made famous by singer Justin Lusah in 1977.

For the past 30 years, Jimmy Gregory, 57, has been using the Tamparuli bridge on his daily commute from Tuaran to Lembaga Industri Getah in Tamparuli, riding his old bicycle.

Below the suspension bridge is the low-lying bridge meant for motorists. Built in the 1950s during the British rule, the bridge is a testament to fine British engineering – it’s since survived massive floodwaters.

A walk over to the end of the suspension bridge leads to a market place where a weekly tamu (traditional market) is held from as early as 6am every Wednesday – the only day of the week when the otherwise sleepy town bustles with activity.

A typical tamu sells a variety of goods including food and clothing items, but a majority of the stalls sell local produce by locals from nearby villages. Local delicacies such as pickled bambangan (a mango-like fruit native to Borneo) and rice wine, known as tapai or lihing, are also sold.

The town centre is a mix of contemporary concrete shoplots and old wooden shophouses, which were built in 1954. On regular days, the town has a laidback atmosphere; one senses an air of contentment among its occupants.

Decades-old businesses stand the test of time and carry on as usual, their aging shopfronts providing a nostalgic charm.

One such business is Kedai Jam Yun Kong, which has been in operation since the 1960s. Its current owner inherited the business from his grandfather.

For travellers en route to Kota Belud, Ranau and beyond, Tamparuli is a popular pitstop for a plate of the town’s signature namesake noodles. The family-run Restoran Wun Chiap has been serving Tamparuli mee since 1978, and is said to be the original creator of the famous fried noodles served with egg roll slices and roasted minced pork.

Tamu Tamparuli Pekan Tamparuli, 89250 Tamparuli, Sabah. Open ever Wednesday, 6am-2pm.
Restoran Wun Chiap Lot 9, Jalan Berjaya, Pekan Tamparuli, 89257 Tamparuli, Sabah (088 782 845). Open daily, 9.30am-5pm.

For Tamparuli travel info, visit www.sabahtourism.com

Text by Desiree Frenche Ogak
Photos by Mohamad Ekpirol Tasim


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