Papar, Malaysia

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District and Town
View of colonial-era shops in Papar town.
View of colonial-era shops in Papar town.
Official seal of Papar
Location of Papar
Papar is located in Borneo Topography
Coordinates: 5°44′0″N 115°56′0″E / 5.73333°N 115.93333°E / 5.73333; 115.93333
Country  Malaysia
State  Sabah
Division West Coast
 • Total 1,243.2 km2 (480.0 sq mi)
Elevation 9 m (30 ft)
Population (2010)
 • Total 124,420
 • Density 100/km2 (260/sq mi)

Papar is the name of a town as well as a district located in West Coast Division of Sabah, Malaysia. It is situated 38 kilometres south of Kota Kinabalu and is one of the main stops on the North Borneo Railway. Papar is also a major stopover point for people travelling by car from the southern Sabahan towns of Sipitang and Beaufort to Kota Kinabalu.


The name 'Papar' comes from a Bruneian word meaning 'flat or open land'.[1] Like most of the west coast of Sabah, it was originally ruled by the Bruneian sultanate.[1] Its first local leader was Datu Amir Bahar, of Bajau descent.[1] Papar was then handed to the Overbeck and Dent brothers in 1877.[1]

The first British officer to serve in Papar was H.L. Leicester.[1] He started in February 1878 aiming to increase Papar's revenues.[1] However, financial problems affecting the British North Borneo Company made Leicester's goal difficult to achieve.[1] He was later replaced by Alfred Hart Everett.[1]


Papar District Mosque.

Papar is an important hub for the proselytisation of Islam on the west coast of Sabah, owing to its large Muslim community.[1] The district's first mosque was built at Kampung Laut around 1890.[1] It is now known as the Masjid Daerah Papar (Papar District Mosque). Other mosques in the district include Masjid Pekan Bongawan (Bongawan Town Mosque) and Masjid Haji Mohammad Yaakob (Haji Mohammad Yaakob Mosque), both in Bongawan and Beringgis respectively.


A typical small-town sundry shop owned by ethnic Chinese in Papar.

The population in the district according to the 2010 census was 124,420,[2] and is almost evenly divided between Bruneian Malay[3] (Benoni, Buang Sayang, Bongawan, Kampung Laut, Kelanahan, Kimanis, Kinarut), Kadazandusun[3] (Rampazan, Limbahau, Kinarut, Kopimpinan, Lakut, Mondolipau, Koiduan, Ulu Kimanis, Sumbiling, Limputung), and Bajau[3] (Pengalat Besar, Pengalat Kecil, Kawang, Beringgis). There is also a sizeable Chinese minority,[3] predominantly of the Hakka subgroup, scattered throughout the district along with smaller numbers of Filipinos, Indians, Koreans and Pakistani.

The Papar area is characterised by low lying coastal areas which extend inland towards the Crocker Range.[4] Traditionally this was good rice growing land and the flat open paddy fields may have given it the name. Even today, despite the rapid expansion of the city of Kota Kinabalu, the district is still dominated by paddy fields, which are largely worked by natives, and fruit orchards, most of which belong to the Chinese.


One of the old shops of Papar.

The town itself occupies the southern banks of the Papar River not far from the sea. There are also areas of tidal wetland that are home to mangrove trees and saltwater palm or nipah. Both banks are connected by two steel-concrete bridges, one (with a railway bridge) connecting directly into the town itself, and another much farther upriver (on the old Kota Kinabalu-Papar road) leading into the paddy plantation hamlets.

Papar railway bridge.

The town has seen considerable growth in recent years but still preserves some of its older buildings and features. Important architectural features which can be seen in the Papar town includes the District Office, Papar Public Library, Papar Public Park, New Papar Market, OKK Mahali Park (which constitutes a large part of the new town), Salleh Sulong Hall and a new bigger Papar Community Hall which also hosts a weekly wet market on its compounds, a sports complex with a field, a stand and a gymnasium, and the new train station, which doubles as a bus and mini-van station which serves the Kota Kinabalu-Papar-Beaufort route.

The well-known Shaw Brothers film company once operated Papar's sole cinema, called New Gaiety,.[5] It closed in the 1990s; however, a nearby street is still named Jalan Cinema ("Cinema Road") after the now-defunct theatre.

Despite repair and refurbishment over the years, the Papar railway bridge looks much as it did in the Second World War. It featured in Allied plans to retake North Borneo from the Japanese. References to it and the Papar River can be found in reports on the Agas and Semut covert intelligence operations, and later in the Stallion and Oboe 6 attack plans.[6]


Papar is known as the West Coast Division education hub. Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara (National Youth Skill Institute) or IKBN and Maktab Rendah Sains MARA (MARA Science College) or MRSM are the first IKBN and MRSM built in Sabah. Papar main secondary schools are SMK Majakir, SMK Benoni, SMK Takis, SMK Kinarut, SMK Bongawan I/II, SM St. Joseph, SMK St. Mary and Papar Middle School.

Papar has the most religious schools among districts; SMK(A) Tun Datu Mustapha, SMK(A) Limauan, new SMA Toh Puan Hajah Rahmah and SMA Islamiah Papar. Both SMK are under central government administrative while both SMA are under state government administrative. Papar education complex type area is situated at Kinarut which includes the IKBN, MRSM, SMK(A) Tun Datu Mustapha and SMA Toh Puan Hajah Rahmah. A number of primary schools can be found in the district.


Utan Paradise Jungle Camp.

Tourism is an important industry in Papar, arguably coming after the agriculture industry. Many resorts can be found along the coast. Some of the tourist attractions in the district are:

  • Beringgis Beach Resort
  • Dinawan Island
  • Kawang Forest Centre
  • KK Adventure Park
  • Mai Aman
  • Utan Paradise Jungle Camp


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Sejarah" (in Malay). Papar District Council. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "Total population by ethnic group, administrative district and state, Malaysia, 2010" (PDF). Department of Statistics, Malaysia. 2010. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Penduduk". Papar District Council. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  4. ^ "Papar". Borneo Trade. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Shaw Cinemas, Borneo, Post War (1945-1970)". Shaw Theatres. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  6. ^ "Journal of the Australian War Memorial". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 5°44′N 115°56′E / 5.733°N 115.933°E / 5.733; 115.933