Bridge on the River Kwai

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Saturday, March 20, 2004

Monday 15th March
Our plane left on time at 1.25am from Perth and we landed in Singapore at 6.30am where we took advantage of Singapore Airports vast freebies such as email and games. We had 2 hours before our flight to Bangkok and wow Singapore airlines are brilliant. You get a steaming hot towel before take-off and some lovely snug burgundy socks! Not like the blatantly bright blue ones that the other airlines use! You get 29 movie channels and 100 others and you can pause, rewind and ffwd your programme. We had a lovely meal of salmon steaks with creamy potatoes (a bit early for lunch but hey!) and we arrived at Bangkok at a reasonable 10.15am. We walked through the airport and ignored the tout which weren't as bad as we were expecting and headed straight to the taxi meter stand and got a ticket from a lady that governs the taxis. These Meter Taxis are governed by law and won't take you passed their friends shop or pretend your guest house has closed down and take you to another one that thier friend owns like ome of the other taxis do!

We got in a cab with a swift lady driver whoe taxi was impeccably clean with white seat covers and smelling a little of dettol! We headed to Khoasan Road in the Banglamphu area of Bangkok as this is where all the backpackers start off and where all the cheap guesthouses are and we know it would be a safe bet till we got our bearings. We found a place to stay which was really clean and had an ensuite for 350 baht a night (we later find out this is way in excess of what we will normally pay!) We dumped our bags and headed to RamButtri Road nearby for something to eat. Everyone told me how cheap Thailand is but i still couldn't believe it. We had a Pad Thai, a noddle dish wok fried with fresh vegetables and chicken, really delicious and it cost 20 baht and a Pepsi cost 10 baht so 30 baht for lunch (less that 50p!) (71 Baht is 1 UK pound)

We had a bit of a walk round taking in the atmosphere and delicious smells from the street stalls and watching the crazy Tuk Tuk drivers (3 wheeled motorised rickshaws that make a right racket!) So far we loved Thailand a lot! We headed back to our room and had few hours kip before making our way back out to discover Bangkok by night. Wow it is one crazy place. It was ten times busier than lunchtime and a million stores appear on the streets selling everything from banana pancakes to the tackiest rolex watch and millions of items of clothing. We walked round just taking it all in. I bought a pineapple from a vendor for 10 baht who chopped it up for me and put it in a bag with a skewer for me to eat it.

Everyone I have met and every guide I read told me to eat from the street stalls and not teh restaurants. They certainly looked amazingly clean and they have plastic tables and chairs around them on the street. We opted for a Thai Green Curry and a soup that I pointed out so don't know what it was and chicken fried rice. We had a couple of Chang Beers to wash it down with which was lovely but at 650ml a bottle and 6.5% you don't need many!! We had a little bit more of a wander round before heading back for a longer sleep.

Tuesday 16th March
Before we headed out to see Bangkok we need to ort out our visas for Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam as each embassy in Bangkok needs your passport for a number of days. The longer you have your passport the cheaper it is. As it is working days and today doesn't count and the Vietnamese embassy alone took 4 days it meant it would take 10 days from today. We paid our fees and had our photos done. It cost 3000 baht each which isn't much but seems a lot when it could cover 35 nights accomodation for us both!! By the time we had sorted this and filled out all the relevant paperwork for each country and worse still handed over our much loved British passports we decided to just have a chilled afternoon and a walk along the river. We now have plenty of time to see Bangkok and the surrounding area.

Wednesday 17th March
Today we got up and had fresh pineapple for breakfast and the walked down to the Grand Palace and had a walk round which is huge! We then took a boat down the Chao Phraya river for 6 baht each and made our way to Ratchawong which is the pier to Chinatown. We took a walk through the busy streets squeezing past people in the streets to get past the pavement stalls that used the whole pavement and most of the road so you found yourself dodging traffic. The smells and colour of the stalls were amazing. It was so busy in the markets which sell every fod imaginable - huge bundles and bags of noodles and mushrooms, ginger and garlic. There was also the more unusual side with snake parts used in Chinese medicine.

Incence sticks burn around the thousand of temples and Wats (Wats are a type of temple and there are millions in SE Asia) they are beautifully decorated. We had some lunch at a street stall and sat on plastic chairs while watching the women in the flower markets making amazing displays with beautiful flowers. We made our way back to the river and caught a boat back to Banglamphu where we had a further wander round. I traded in my Bridgitte Jones II book for a Lets Go guide to South East Asia and sat drinking Pepsi while reading it. We had a very chilled evening.

Thursday 18th March
We got up and checked out of our guest house and made our way up to the bus station buying some gorgeous coconut puddings for breakfast and a pineapple on the way. We were heading to Kanchanaburi which is a 2 hour bus journey away and is best known for its association with the Burma Siam Railroad or more specifically the Bridge on the River Kwai (made famous by the David Lean film).

We arrived shortly after 12.30 and found a place called Sams House which had raft huts actually in the River Kwai or Khwai Yai River to use its proper name. It was 150 (2 pounds) for a lovely ensuite room and a garden, restaurant, TV room and snug area on an above terrace. We instantly took to Kanchanaburi and headed out to pick up a couple of bycycle which we hired for 24 hours at 35 baht so we could see all of the sights a they are quite spread out. We had a cycle into the town and stopped for a couple of Pad Thais and Pepsis which are even cheaper than Bangkok!

We then made our way about 1 mile north to the bridge. The bridge was part of an imense 414 kilometre railway that the Japanese wanted built after finding their sea route blocked early in World War II. The Japanese forced 60,000 prisoners of war and 300,000 Asian workers many of which were Thai or Burmese to work on the railway in appaling conditions for 18 hour shifts. 15,000 POWs and 100,000 of the asian labourers died in the process through malnutrition, maltreatment and malaria. The bridge that we saw today was a replica built as part of the Japanese war repatriations and two of the girders were sent from the Japanes Bridge Company of Osaka. The original bridge was built of wood and then an iron bridge replaced it but was repetedly bombed and damaged by the US army air force. It was never in service very long.

Kanchanaburi has two cemetaries and we headed to the biggest one which is the Kanchanaburi war cemetary which has 7000 graves for mainly Australian, British and Dutch prisoners and is a very moving place. It is immaculately kept and every grave has a flower bush planted next to it. We walked around for an hour reading the poignant words on the headstones. Many of the ment just in their twenties. We headed back to our accomodation and cooled off before heading acros the road to a resturant that showed the film Bridge on The River Kwai every night! I am sure in its day 1957 it wa a good film but I think it was a bad version of events to what actually went on. It was made slightly worse by the owner of the restaurant who insisted on plugging in his amp and big speakers which actualy hurt your ears but he was so proud smiling and saying "Just like movies!" before retreating into the comfort of his own front room!! Regardless we had a good feed and a few beers and toasted those who had worked on the railway.

Friday 19th March
We planned on moving on today but decided to stay on another day so paid for aother night at Sams and headed out on our bikes to a nearby street stall. We bought banana fritters for 1 baht each and they were gorgeous. We then cycled the 5km to the Chang Kai war cemetary which had been used as a hospital and camp during the bridge building. It has 1,740 graves and has a more peaceful setting than the one in town on the banks of the Kwai Noi River. We had a wander round and got back to town for lunch at a street stall.

We had a lazy rest of the day returning our bikes and then went to sit on our roof terrace watching the boats (and the odd house) float past on the river while the sun dropped down in the distance.

Saturday 20th March
We got up and headed to our banana fritter lady for breakfast and she gave us potato fritters and sweet dumplings to try for free as well! We then walked to the bus station in town which was 2 km on the other side. We arrived and checked at information to see how we get to Damnoen Saduak some 100km away and home to one of Thailands largest floating markets. We had to get a bus to Bang Phae and then change from there. We got on our bus much to the amusement of the locals who stare at you. As soon as you break a smile a huge beaming smile crosses their face and they nod at you.

We had a good journey down to Bang Phae for 30 baht passing rice paddy fields, waving children and the occasional tethered elephant and wild monkies. We arrived in Bang Phae after an hour and a half and the driver pointed a at a songthaew which means in Thai "2 benches" and that is exactly what it is. Its a sort of van with 2 benches in the back which they wait until are full before setting off on their route. We thanked him and boarded the songthaew which fortunately had quite a few people already on so wouldn't wait much longer before leaving. We said Damnoen Saduak to the driver who nodded and took 20 baht off us. He set off and after half an hour he nodded at us to get off.

We found the main floating market (there are 3) It was now closed as the markets run from 6.30am till 11am. The trips from Bangkok arrive at 8am. Our plan was to be there for 6.30am and see it for 2 hours before it got too busy and be back on our way to Bangkok by 9am. Once we got our bearings at the market we headed to Damnoen Saduak which we had read did have one hotel called Little Bird. Our one concern was if it would be expensive with theri being no competition. It turned out they also had few customers as they were located on a little side street not far from the turning for the floating market and charged just 220baht. We got to the reception where tha manager came out to meet us personally. He offered to show us one of his rooms. It was a bit like walking round the hotel in the shining big long corridors but with no one there. In fact I think we might have been the only guests and as the only other option wast to get a bus 2 hours back to Bangkok we were going to take it no matter what it looked like! He showed us a huge room ensuite, TVand phone which wasn't bad at all.

We dumped our stuff and had showers and watched a bit of Thai "Who wants to be a millionairre and playing cards before heading out to find some food. The manager gave us a leaflet for a private boat into the floating markets which included a pick up from the hotel to take us to our boat where we would then go to a coconut farm en route to the floating markets and stop at a fish farm on the way back to feed the fish. All this for 200 baht. We took him up on his offer as the touts at the market start at 600 and it meant a lot of bargaining at 6.30am!!

We then headed out to the street where we found a group of stalls where we found one and sat down and tried to order a Pad Thai or Khoa Pat (A rice version of the noodle dish.) She shook her head and said something in Thai to both dishes so I pointed at a dish a Thai couple were eating and put up two fingers in a polite manner and she smiled and said no problem. We ate whatever it was praying it wasn't rat and washed it down with Pepsi. We then took a walk down and back up the only street in Damnoen Saduak. We then bought an ice cream and headed back to the hotel.
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