The Bridge on the River Kwai, the real thing
Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
44Trip End Dec 12, 2012
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For the third day in a row, I am up once again at 4 am to get to the Southern Bus Terminal by 5 am so that I can catch the first bus out to Kanchanaburi, site of the famous bridge over the River Kwai, which served as the basis for a popular book and award winning movie. I had wanted to make the trek during my last visit, but was unable to do so, so made sure one day was set aside this time for it.
Like yesterday, a number of taxi drivers don't want to take me to the bus terminal, stating that it is too far out, and they won't likely get a fare coming back into the city. I finally find a driver who is willing to take me, or so I think, so I tell him I want to go to Sai Tai, which is the name the Souther Bus Terminal is known as by the locals.
Even with my bad sense of direction, I knew this driver wasn't going in the right direction
When we arrive at the terminal, I look at his meter, then pay him the exact amount that I was charged by the driver from yesterday, who knew exactly where he was going. That fare was about $4.50, which was close to what the guidebooks said it sould be, so I handed him the equivalent in Thai Baht, the local currency, and step out fo the car. He says nothing to me.
When I buy my ticket, the woman tells me to go to platform 10, which I do, as it is marked "Kanchanaburi." I wait for the next bus, which does leave every 20 minutes without waiting to fill up, but there is no bus at the platform, nor is there one arriving
During World War 2, the Japanese needed to link its ground forces in Thailand with its forces in Burma, as well as move goods and ammunition between the two. To accomplish this, they decided to build a railway to connect the two, using British, Dutch and Australian POWs, along with local slave labor, to do the work. The line was later dubbed the Death Railway, as a result of the incredibly high number of lives lost during the contstruction in very difficult terrain, and under horrible weather conditions. In addition to the rebuilt bridge -- later rebuilt by the Japanese and paid for by the Thais, irony of irony -- there are three museums and two cemeteries to honor these POWs and this episode of WW2 history.
One of the museums was just excellent. It went into detail on how life was like for the prisoners on a day-to-day basis, and showed their ingenious ways of doing things, For example, in the makeshift hospital, lacking supplies, the medics would turn old saki bottles in drips for surgery
At one of the other museums, there was one display that rather baffled the hell out of me: the casket containing the body of a US soldier who lost his life in the Korean War. Why it is here, or how it got here, I don't know, but in my opinion, it should be turned over to the US governement, tests should be done to determine the identity, then return his body to the family. Using it as a display is rather cruel and gruesome.
Like any place where money can be made, the site has turned itself into a theme park of sorts, where you can ride a tram across the tracks for about one hour, and attend a sound-and-light show at night, where they have makeshift Japanese huts, flags and mannequins staged for effects, then they have explosives go off, as if the bridge is being bombed, just as in the movie, by the POWs. With the exception of the train ride, all of this can be seen and enjoyed from your seat at a very touristy restaurant.
The problem with this staging is that in reality, the bridge wasn't bombed by the POWs, but by invading allied forces via plane
I didn't stay for the light-and-sound show, nor did I take the train, but I do wish I had had more time to spend here, as the countryside was just so beautiful, and there are so many things to see and do here: visting wats, and other historical sites -- war and non-war related, among many other things.
After walking the portion of the bridge that stands over the river, visiting the three museums and one cemetery, it was back to Bangkok. Hopefully, with the long weekend being over, there would be less traffic. When I got to the bus station, I noticed a number of beautiful temples on street next to the terminal, so decided to extend my stay in Kanchanaburi to do a little exploring.
For the ride back, instead of taking the bus, I agreed to get back to Bangkok by private van
Things were going fine, we were moving, but when we stopped at various control points, that is where the problems started. These small bus companies make sure no one cheats them out of any money, so they stop several times along the way, count the passengers and note the places of departure, then call the person at the last control stop to confirm their records are similar. They then call the next station to share with them their data. At one stop, the woman couldn't get her numbers in synch, and with only 13 passengets. As each passenger was questioned as to where they got on and asked to produce their ticket, one girl who got on in Kanchanaburi with me, did the talking for me, of which I was thankful.
As it turned out, it was the woman seated in front of me that turned out to be the problem
So between the traffic and this run-in, it took well over four hours to get back to downtown Bangkok, which was actually quick; I can't imagine what it would have taken if I had taken the regular bus to the terminal, then switched to the the local bus to get to the metro station. Given that I return home tomorrow, when I get back to my hotel, I spend the rest of the evening doing nothing but trying to pack, as my large suitcase is too small for all the things I have purchased. Trying to get everything squeezed in to it and my carry-on is going to be a challenge, and I'm up against the clock to get it resolved.
The clock strikes midnight, but I try to stay awake for my 3 am departure for the airport, hoping that by staying awake, I'll be so exhausted that I'll able to sleep on the plane. It doesn't work. I am fast asleep, but at least everything is in my suitcases.