Bongawan town

Pre-war shoplot in Bongawan
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Bongawan is about 70 KM away from Kota Kinabalu (KK), located between Kimanis and Beaufort. On the way to Beaufort, when you see a gambus musical instrument in the roundabout, just take a right turn. Most of the population here are Orang Brunei. I went to Bongawan on Saturday when they have tamu (open market), coz that’s where you can tell a lot about the locals by looking at what they sell and what they eat.

Saturday market of Bongawan
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Actually I didn’t know what to expect in Bongawan, as very little is known about this place. My presence soon attracted a lot of attention, probably due to the camera that I was carrying. I walked in tamu, pretending I was a tourist and thought they would lose interest in couple of minutes. I was wrong. They greeted me warmly and learnt about my purpose. One of the hawker even gave me a free “cap-kuih”, a fried bread with very crispy skin, soft and creamy inside. I also tried the “Bachal”, a rojak-like (mixed vegetables) food wrapped in banana leaf.

The people are friendly but a bit camera-shy. When I took their photos, their friends will tease them. When it was their turn, others would laugh back. A young Orang Brunei girl even can speak Chinese.

Cap-kuih and Bachal food
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When I was walking around, a few locals kept on pointing at a old wooden building, trying to show me the feature of the town. It is (see below) a pre-war shophouse built in British colony time. A senior local says this 10-shop building is a mix of 1922 and 1939 shop joined together, though there is a year stamp “1939” on it.

1939 pre-war shophouse

Kimanis and Membakut also have this kind of building but look newer. Fire has destroyed some post-war building in Tamparuli and Beaufort. Once this historical heritage is gone, it will be replaced by cement structure (which would last less than 20 years by the standard of Sabah developers).

Below is a photo of 1950 post-war building, just in front of the 1939 shophouse. The shops in ground floor are usually sell food or grocery stores. The first floor is family house.

1950 post-war shophouse

Bongawan was once a heavily guided town of Japanese during World War 2 coz Beaufort railway was the key transport centre. I was trying to know more about the Japanese occupation from a 80-year old local. He said everyone was hiding in the wood, and there was a massacre happened in Kota Belud but the bodies could not be found.

A local let me visited the kitchen inside the 1939 building. Besides tap water, there was a well behind the shop. The toilet has no toilet bowl, and you only see a small hole at the bottom. It makes me feeling uneasy to pee to the ground. Frankly, it was quite fun coz I didn’t need to aim, haha…

Ice coffee
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Kopi-O Ping (ice coffee) costs how much in KK? RM1.80 per glass right? A bottle of ice coffee is only RM1.40 in Bongawan! They fill the coffee in used Tiger / Carlsberg beer bottle then cold it in refrigerator. The glass bottle allows the thorough cooling of coffee, and the ice coffee has been served like this for at least 20 years. So far I only find such”featured drink” in Bongawan.

Ulu Bongawan
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Besides the town itself, I also checked out the Kopi-O+Teh-C (coffee + milk tea) rivers in Ulu Bongawan, a village and plantation region 1.5 KM away from town. When the brackish river flows into the brown river, it looks like milk tea special. Too bad it is not big enough, otherwise it can be one of the 7 wonders in Sabah. Bongawan beach, about 2.5 KM away, is also a nice and white sandy beach to hang around.

I wonder what will happen to the old shophouses in the future. Hopefully the government will preserve them. I will come back again many years later to see if they will vanish under development…

Photos taken in Bongawan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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  • nottyboy

    wow the shop house is masterpiece!

  • Hi, I am the follower of your blog and originated from Bongawan (Orang Brunei bah!). Actually, for your info, there are lot of things you can shot in Bongawan. There are one incomplete pre-war bungalow built by British then occupied by Japanese. But, no one dare to go this place (my parents told me it was haunted, that is the reason why it was incomplete). There are also some rocks with human shape eating ‘ambuyat’ and a frog inside the ambuyat bowl. Just nearby is the crocodile shape rock. My parents told me that they actually eating ambuyat and suddenly the frog came inside. They laughed when they see the event and suddenly all of them turned became rocks, including a crocodile which passing nearby. If you go to the railway bridge nearby the station, you can see few holes – bombing hole during japanese war…lot of things actually can be captured in Bongawan…

  • MySabah.com

    lensadigital> Wow, you know a lot of things man. I should have looked for you as my shooting buddy instead. Want to go together next time? I want to shoot the haunted house, no kidding..

  • TTL

    the coffee in the beer bottle also can be found at inanam town 🙂

  • Hi MySabah…actually, I do not realized your reply on my comment…hehehehe…too bz bah…yes, hopefully one day we can go there. I am staying in KL actually. But always ‘balik kampung’. I also have similar passion with you…taking picture…but I really like your blog, coz, lot of things about our state can be read…good work…

  • Nenita38

    Hi, very interesting sites you got here and very educational too. I went to Bongawan last Saturday and took a snap of the 1939 building. After reading LensaDigital comment, I might go down there again to look for that crocodile stone and haunted house…thanks:))

  • mysabah

    Thank you Nenita. Hey, I was in Bongawan last week too. I’ll post some new photos during weekend. Tell me if you see the stone b’coz I don’t know where it is.  🙂

  • Itslamps63

    asalam ello i really aperciate what you done conguraltion,anyway may i suggestion,how if u can make story about,water fall at rural river ulu bungawan,i have been there,is nice place to expose…please making reality tq.vilalove jay   

  • mysabah

    Hi Jay, thank you for your kind words. 🙂 Would you please tell me more about the waterfall? e.g. how tall & where it is.

  • vilaboy jay

    ooo its easy,the waterfall,if i not mistake near by sumbiling vila ulu bungawan,or just ask somebody living in the village ok,highest the wterfall thirdfloor building.see uuuuuuuuuuu

  • mysabah

    Thank you so much. I’ll visit the place.  🙂