Bangkok - Khaosan Road

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Friday, November 25, 2005

India said goodbye to Heather with a vengeance, by giving her a severe dose of "Delhi Belly" on the day we flew out to Bangkok. Not a pleasant experience being sick on a plane! 

Fortunately we had decided to book our accommodation ahead so we were able to grab a "limo cab" on arrival at the airport and go straight to our hotel room in comfort and without much delay, where Heather could begin the process of getting better again.

We stayed in Khaosan Road where all self-respecting backpackers gravitate to in Bangkok. Two things struck us immediately (1) how clean the streets are, and (2) that happy cheerful woman are, again, a visible element in society. It was very apparent to us we were not still in India!

Having not been to Bangkok before, even though we have been to Thailand twice previously, we enjoyed seeing the sights and getting the feel of the city. One amazing sight was Wat Traimit which houses a 3 metre high SOLID GOLD Buddha, (yes, solid gold it weighs 5.5 tonne!) which has quite an interesting story attached to it. This figure had once been hurriedly covered in stucco during one of the Burmese invasions. It had remained hidden for hundreds of years until quite recently it was being moved to another site and the crane driver having trouble with the weight, which seemed out of proportion managed to drop it, cracking the stucco cover and hey presto the solid gold Buddha was found again!
The story was quite pertinent to us as we had heard it told at a work convention.

Bangkok is also home to Wat Phra Kaeo, an amazing (and to our minds, garish) temple to honour another Buddha, this time Emerald, in the grounds of the Grand Palace. It is just too much for the eye to take in, of colour and shine in the form of glittering mosaic encrusted pillars, lots of gold leaf towers and pagodas and highly polished bright green and orange ceramic roof tiles.

A day trip to see the Bridge over the River Kwai was quite an experience just in the style of trip itself. We had only paid 500baht ($15A) each for a budget tour that included lunch so weren't quite sure what to expect. During the course of the day we were shunted between no less than 6 different mini buses and pickups. What happens is that tour companies sell different tours that contains certain elements and these are mixed and matched around the people. So our tour was a one day tour that included the River Kwai War Cemetery, Museum, River Kwai Bridge, Train trip on the death railway, lunch and a waterfall, but someone else's may have been quite different with for instance elephant rides, no railway and no cemetery visit. Everybody was mix and matched and off loaded to another group each stop. It was all quite hilarious and all co-ordinated by coloured dots and mobile phones. We really wonder how all the different drivers and guides managed to get paid out of our $15!

Our tour first went to the town of Konchonaburi where there is an allied war cemetery where the remains of thousands of Australians, British and Dutch are buried who died while building the Burma railway. A huge POW camp was based in this town and we found a visit to the museum really informative in explaining the importance of this railway and the bridge over the Kwai to the Japanese. The plan was to connect Yangoon (in Burma) with Bangkok via rail for the transport of military supplies for the eventual push into India. In the 415kl section of railway built, more than 100,000 PO W's and many more civilian natives lost their lives. Engineers estimated that this section of railway would take 5 years to build but it was done in 16 months at this amazing cost of lives.

One of the reasons (we learned in the museum) was that all the survey work through the jungle and for the bridge crossings was done undercover prior to the war. Two Japanese engineers married Thai girls in the clothing business who had freedom to move between Thailand and Burma to sell their products. The Japanese husbands joined them in the business but to do the undercover survey work! When the war started they emerged in their uniforms to become the site engineers!!

We walked on the bridge made famous by the movie and then took a hour and half journey on a section of the railway to Nam Tok which is almost to the Burma border. We had a late lunch on a tethered house boat with a Thai family on the River Kwai and ended the day at a beautiful cooling waterfall.

Our next day was to start early leaving Thailand for neighbouring Cambodia.

Footnote: Wat Pra Kaeo features in the book Unforgettable Places to See before you die.
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