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Tamparuli Sabah - A place to visit

Tamparuli Sabah was known as an old town rich with cultural value and fascinating places. The town located in the middle of Tuaran District, 36KM from the main city of Kota Kinabalu, easy to be found and a lot of surprises waiting for the visitors. The visitor will be fascinated with The Extreme Para Gliding Sport, The legendary of “Bukit Perahu”, Hatob-hatob Waterfall, Hanging Bridge and The Old Suspension Bridge Made by the British in the early 50s, The one and only "The Upside House Of Borneo" and Chantek Borneo Gallery if you visit Tamparuli Sabah. ( Please read more inside this website). For local tourist who likes to travel outside Malaysia, you can e-mail to D7tours and Travel Co through For International tourist who wish to visit Sabah The Land Below The Wind, you can e-mail or call to our correspondent travel agency:

D7-TRAVEL AND TOURS-Registered Travel and Tours Co
H/p: 016-8121702


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Sketching Old Shop houses Of Tamparuli.

This article is taken and adapted from which I took for refference regarding to my blog name Tamparuli. I am the pure citizen of Tamparuli and very thankful to this guy Mr Richard Nelson Sokial for writing up this article someway back in 2007. Tamparuli is an old town dated back form it foundation in 1930s. Hope your guy satisfied with this new information about Tamparuli. Happy Reading...

Article from Richard Nelson Sokial "A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation from a good friend living in the town of Tamparuli. He informed me that the old shophouses there would be an interesting topic to highlight for heritage conservation. Intrigued, I packed up my notebook and camera, and set out for this little town.

Tamparuli, the rural township made famous in the 1970s hit song ‘Jambatan Tamparuli’ is located 22 miles from Kota Kinabalu and is the last town before one reaches the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. It is noted for its weekly ‘Tamu’ (local market), which has been immortalized in the sketches and paintings of Sabah’s renowned artist Tina Rimmer who stayed in Tamparuli for many years.

Upon reaching Tamparuli, I took time to observe the town centre and architecture. It was already midday when I arrived, and I had just missed the weekly Tamu – evident from the diminishing crowds. The town centre had a modern library and a well-shaded park area, where mini buses were parked whilst awaiting passengers returning to Tuaran and other nearby locales. In the background, some rows of colourful and well-built old wooden shophouses stood surrounding the park. All these elements combined to give Tamparuli, an endearing and rustic character - a common similarity of many old colonial townships in Sabah.

The origin of the name ‘Tamparuli’ has over the years, been subject to many different narrations. One of the most popular and amusing versions is that the town was named after a temporary bridge built by an unnamed British officer to replace a previous hanging bridge damaged by floodwaters. According to folklore, the British officer turned towards the locals and said ‘This bridge is temporary’. Thus the word ‘Temporary’ gradually became known as ‘Tamparuli’. However, this is just one version of the town’s name origin.

According to another source, the present-day township of Tamparuli was actually built on remnants of rubber plantations set up by the first Chinese families in the area, circa 1920s -1930s. The original Tamparuli town center was apparently, a row of wooden shophouses with attap roofs, and was built on the opposite side of the river, near a place called Bontoi. The original township was also where transport lorries were housed for the night, thus the place was designated as ‘tempat lori’ (Malay for ‘lorry area’) and later, became known as Tamparuli.

Soon my friend arrived and I explained to him the objective of my trip, having scrutinized the site earlier. I hoped to do some basic measured drawings as a preliminary documentation. Based on this short exercise, I would then be able to show the readers of Daily Express, the basic design and architecture of the old shophouses, which have mostly been taken for granted by our local people.

The first thing that we did was to survey the layout of these old buildings. There were six rows of old shophouses, with the first four rows built around the triangular-shaped open space in the middle of the town. I was introduced to some of the old shopkeepers who kindly allowed me to enter their shop premises to photograph, measure and sketch the details of its construction.

According to some sources, the earliest shops were built in 1946, a year after WWII. However, I met one shop owner who directed me to an old notation written in the concrete, which suggests that the current Tamparuli heritage shophouses were actually completed on 5th September, 1954 – three years before the Malayan Independence Day in 1957. Thus, I believe that the old Tamparuli shophouses claimed built in the 1940s were probably situated on the opposite side of the river but perhaps do not exist anymore. Interestingly, I have previously also found similar notations of construction dates on the five-foot ways of the old shophouses in Membakut township, dating back to 1930s. Maybe the builders in the past had the foresight to record their work in concrete, perhaps knowing that some day, a heritage researcher might come along in search of clues about the history of these old settlements.

The old shophouses of Tamparuli measured approximately 20’ x 80’ (6.06 m x 24.3 m) and each unit was elongated to the back, with a central courtyard in the middle. On the ground floor, the front portion was the shop display area, where goods were sold facing the five-foot way. The ‘five-foot way’ gets its name from the five-foot width of the common walkway area; I also measured the distance between the upper floor beams, which were placed approximately 1’ (3.06m) apart - and guess what – there were five beams above the five-foot way, which confirms the use of the empiric measuring system during that time.

The central courtyard had an open airwell, and housed a water storage tank made of concrete with a walled lavatory built right next to it. On one side of the courtyard, a roof-covered wooden staircase led from the ground floor to the upper floor area, where a living room and three bedrooms are situated.

The rear end of the shophouse housed the kitchen and main storage room. The kitchen’s roof is built as a ‘jack-roof’ construction, to allow fumes and smoke to escape through openings in the roof. A door at the rear leads to the back alley of the shoplots.

What was interesting about the upper floors of the old Tamparuli shophouses was that above the five-foot way, a wooden ladder was fixed below the floor beams, in case of fire emergency and such. Each shophouse lot had its own fire escape ladder. The two bedrooms overlooking the main street both had double-leafed timber casement windows with a half-door opening built underneath, which could have been used as a fire exit route. However, I believe that throughout the years, some alterations and modifications have been made to the internal spaces of these old shophouses. In some cases, the windows had been renovated and the half-doors were removed. Additionally, some windows used colourful ornamented glass panes that were commonly seen during the British colonial era.

Hence, if one visits these old shophouses today, there might be some variance from the exact measurements and spatial arrangements as described in this article, depending on the shophouse. However, the basic timber structure, consisting mostly of Salangan Batu hardwood species, remains the same.

Although the façade treatment of these old Tamparuli shophouses are not as elaborate as, say, the ornate decorative finial carvings on the old heritage shophouses of Bongawan township (built in 1920s), the old Tamparuli shophouses were nevertheless built by expert carpenters, evident from the refinement of timber planks used for the shophouse’s interior walls. In several shophouses however, the original timber plank walls had been built or replaced with solid concrete blocks measuring 400mm x 180mm. An amusing observation made was that as the rows of old shophouses progressed, the height of concrete footing at the five-foot ways - measuring approximately 2’ (0.6 m) high - became shorter and stubbier, prompting speculation that by the time the builders started work on the final row of these old shops, there may not have been enough concrete left for the timber posts’ footing! Bear in mind, folks, that in those days, concrete was a scarce commodity while timber was abundant. Notice how times have changed.

As I delved deeper into the investigation of the old wooden shophouses, more interesting findings resurfaced, each telling a story about the architecture of these old structures. At moments like this, the research of old buildings is most exciting; it seemed that the more findings I unearthed, the more it led to baffling, new questions about the town’s past history.

While interviewing the locals, I also observed the demeanor of some older shopkeepers of Tamparuli, many of whom exuded a dignified and refined bearing in terms of their mannerisms and use of spoken English. Perhaps this was another by-product of the past colonial British administration, who may have inculcated a certain sense of respectability and cultural appreciation through their interactions with the local people. As I concluded my brief study of the old shophouses’ spatial layout, one of the shopkeepers even offered us some complimentary soft drinks! Later we bade them goodbye and headed out to the adjacent park, where I did some freehand sketches of the old shophouse facades.

Tamparuli is very fortunate to still have its old heritage buildings as a testimony of its local history. I am also pleased by the fact that the Tamparuli town folks have built a library in the centre of their town – showing their town folk’s emphasis on knowledge and education as a core value of their community.

As a remembrance of the town’s history, I would suggest for the Tamparuli town folk to put up the actual completion dates of each of the old shophouses and have them displayed clearly on the shophouses’ gable ends, as part of an awareness drive for the heritage conservation and education of the younger generation. It will allow their children, visiting tourists and especially students to learn more about their town’s early history as they walk home from school each day. It is good to note that other old colonial townships in Sabah such as Bongawan, for example, have already started to embrace the significance of their beautiful old wooden shophouses and have even placed an official plaque acknowledging these historical buildings as an important architectural feature of their present township.

Meanwhile, the allure of Tamparuli lies in its relatively calm and relaxed cultural atmosphere, natural scenic beauty and historical shophouses. If these important factors are neglected, it is likely that Tamparuli will lose its unique character and identity as an old colonial township - which, in my opinion, is its main potential tourist attraction. Any future developments in Tamparuli should take in consideration of these aspects; it would be wise for future developers to pay special attention to appropriate building heights, scale, proportion and aesthetics in reference to those of the old heritage shophouses, so that the beauty and ambience of the Tamparuli township in its natural setting is not marred by the increasing modernization experienced by other rural towns in Sabah, many of which currently are not properly planned in context of preserving their early historical buildings.

Alarmingly, the old wooden shophouses in Tamparuli now face an uncertain future. I have been told by several shop owners that their ongoing attempts to renew their shop’s tenure lease has been repeatedly ignored by the relevant local authorities based in Tuaran. Evidently, once the shop owners’ current lease has expired, they may be forced to move out and abandon these old wooden shophouses, which I predict will then be ‘mysteriously’ razed, or gradually demolished for some random, so-called ‘modern commercial development’. I hope that for the sake of Tamparuli and the future of Sabah’s old heritage buildings in general, that this lack of urgency in renewing the old Tamparuli shop owners’ tenure lease is merely a result of complacency by the local authorities, and not a deliberate attempt to kick out the current tenants in order for certain individuals to profit from building new commercial buildings on the historical footprint of the old shophouses. If the latter is true, we must not allow for it, as the town’s historical and cultural heritage will be destroyed for the convenience and profit of these select individuals. The history of Tamparuli – embodied by the architecture of the old town centre – belongs to the people of Tamparuli, and should remain as such for perpetuity.

There are better alternatives and more creative ways to develop rural townships in Sabah without having to spoil their special architectural characteristics. However, it will require the interest and combined efforts of local government, architects, developers and the people of Sabah themselves to support the need for architectural conservation and be more open-minded in regards to different ways to approach the matter. If it is done properly and with committed implementation, there are many rewards to be reaped in terms of tourism revenue as well as leaving behind for the local town folk, a cultural and historical heritage that they can be proud of"

Sources and Special Thanks to: Richard Nelson Sokial
Picture: Richard Nelson Sokial


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