The River, the Bidge, the Un-birthday!!!

Trip Start Jul 17, 2012
Trip End Jun 01, 2013

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

The day we left Bangkok for here was hot! We opted to get the train the short hop toKanchanaburi.For a couple of reasons, primarily we were sick of stuffy buses, we thought we'd rock it with the locals, plus it was the beginning of the historic railway built under the horrendous Japanese regime. 
We had to take a taxi to Thonburi sttion across the Chao Phraya river.The train only cost a pound  and took a couple of hours. We arrived in to Kanchanaburi in the lashing rain. The train journey itself was pretty pleasant. However arriving in the rain wasn't exactly ideal.The train station was about 2km from our accommodation (which I was quite excited about). With not a taxi or tuk-tuk in sight we decided to walk. So with or ever reliable brollies ( a steal at two dollars in Singapore), we strapped on our bags and away we went.
We eventually reached our house for the next three days, and we were mighty wet. When the woman on reception eventually found our booking (it was a bit like communicating with a deaf person), off we went up to our room.It was really nice, everything I had expected it to be. After the obligatory explosion of my bag, we each had a well deserved and much needed shower. We decided we would go across the road for dinner to the restaurant run by the 'retreat' owner and a restaurant I had read a great deal about. Just to give the lady on reception a treat we decided we'd each give her a bag of stinking clothes to launder!!
We arrived at the riverside restaurant and sat to choose and eat what was the best Thai food we have eaten so far. It was amazing. Noi who took our order was also the owner, the head chef, creator of the menu, and the teacher for the cookery class. She advised us what best to order, and we thoroughly enjoyed each morsel.
So full as ticks we left the restaurant and crossed the road to bed, tired and satisfied.

Rising late in the day, we crossed to the restaurant where we ate breakfast while watching the boats go up and down on the river. Down river from where we were was the famed 'Bridge On the River Kwai', however this was not always the river Kwai (Yai). The film 'Bridge On The River Kwai' was loosely based on the building of a bridge on the Mae Klong, which was the rivers original name.The river was renamed in approx. 1960 after the film had been released. This happened as tourists were arriving looking for the bridge on the river Kwai which did not exist. So in order to cash in on tourism, and avoid confusion the Thai government decided to rename the river. A novel idea, re-write history. Just to confuse the issue even further there was always a river Kwai however it is much smaller with no bridge. This river is now known as Kwai Noi (small) and the larger once Mae Klong is now called Kwai Yai (big). Simples!!
Anyway after an interesting breakfast we headed off for a look around Kanchanaburi town. We had decided to go to the Thailand Burma Railway Centre to have a look at what the bridge was all about. After spending quite a few hours here and learning of the harrowing experience these people went through we walked up and across the famed bridge. The original centre section of the bridge was blown up by the Allies, however the majority of the bridge was in its original form. The place was crawling with tourists and it was quite a warm day. It made me think if there was no bridge would anyone even bother to visit the wee town of Kanchanaburi? So Andrew  bought me a  coconut for my birthday and we walked back home the long way, acorss the bridge and avoiding the tourist crowds. Back at the guesthouse we showered and got ready for dinner. We decided to venture in to town and go to a restaurant recommended in the rough guide. Unfortunately it was rank! A massive disappointment after what we had eaten the night before. Andrew also decided I was going to eat a whole plate of spring rolls because they had mushrooms in them. What a very lucky woman I am!! 
After a emotional few hours it was bedtime. A birthday it was going to take a long time to forget but not for any of the right reasons!!


 Today we decided to go on a tour. The tour consisted of a visit to Erawan waterfalls, Hellfire Pass museum, and the Death Railway. 
Seven tiers of falling water up a very steep and muddy climb to the top, was Erawan waterfall. We didn't make it all the way to the top. It was hellishly hot, slippery, and muddy. My companion Mr. Happy 2012 didn't make the journey any easier plodding along beside me in a sullen sulk. Anyone would think it was his birthday I did nothing to mark the day before and not the other way around!!. So I made the decision to go back to the bottom and go for a swim. After the heat and exertion of the climb, sitting under the cool clear blue of the cascading water was heaven. After half an hour of getting pummelled (very pleasantly) by the water I emerged to rejoin Mr. Happy and get some lunch.
After a lovely lunch and lively conversation with two Dutch girls the group got back on the bus and we made our way to the Hellfire Pass museum. This was a museum dedicated to all the men and women who died and suffered building this railway. The building of this line was made even more difficult by the need of the workers to cut through the rock of the mountains on the Thai-Burma border in order to join the line and gain the access the ports of Burma in order for the Japanese plans of South East Asia domination to take place. The workers cut through these mountainsides using hand tools and dynamite. Work was carried out through the night in which fires (likened to the fires of hell) would burn to give off light and enable the work to carry on. Hence the name Hellfire Pass. After a pretty sobering 1.5 hours touring the museum and walking through Hellfire Pass (also called Cuttings Pass as it was a pass cut in to the side of the mountain) we returned to the bus and made our way back to Kanchanaburi via 'The Bridge' after a brief trip on the death railway across one of the many mountainside hugging wooden trestle bridges.
Once again we returned tired, exhausted and dirty from a day adventuring. We got ourselves decent and decided to stick with the reliable and cross the road to have heaven on a plate. After talking with Noi we decided to do her cookery class the next day and possibly leave via Bangkok to Chiang Mai if we could book a train which we would check out in the morning when the train station opened. After filling our faces once again with fantastic Thai cuisine (including blue rice) we went to bed excited about sleep.


Waking to the alarm clock at 07.00 on a Sunday is never my idea of a good time. Feeling extremely tired I decided that maybe we should just give the train station a miss and stay another night. I had no interest in either getting up or packing. Lying in bed until 08.30 until we had to get up for our cookery class sounded like the way to go. So after lying in bed for another 1.5 hours we got up showered, and crossed the road for breakfast. After the slowest service ever we inhaled our breakfast and I went back to reception to book another night. After discussing this with the receptionist the day before and her saying another night would be no problem she now decided she would refuse the request. The conversation went:
Me: We'd like to book another night please
Her: No
Me: Pardon
Her: Blank look
Me: But last night you said we could book another night, so could we book another night please?
Her: No
Me: Why can't we
Her: Fully booked, no room, no stay. Check out and leave bags. Go.

Well there's not much you can say to that really is there. There is no point getting mad, fully booked is fully booked. Part of me was laughing, part of me stressed out, and part of me wanted to lie down. I went and broke the news to Andrew. It was now 09.20, we had precisely ten minutes to pack and be in the restaurant for the class!! In the process of the rush to pack and ram everything in and get back across the road in time for the class I somehow managed to twist/strain my back. Now I just wanted to cry! 
I managed to make it a mere ten minutes late. After a brief chat we were loaded in to the back of a songthaew and brought to the market. The market was awesome, that is if you disregard some of the putrid selection of 'delicacies' we were given to taste. I mean when would sweet sticky rice with a crisp sugary topping laced with dried shrimp be a good idea for breakfast! Even the thoughts of it makes me gag a bit. It wasn't all bad though, here we were introduced to the divine sweetness of mangosteen, yum! It was definitely an experience not recommended for the squeamish. Dishes full of writhing snakes, tables laden with skinned pinky/grey frogs, silver dishes strained with the weight of (still flipping) red snapper. There were bowls of congealed blood, lifeless reptiles, fur less guinea pigs, and the list just goes on. Stall, after stall of fruit, veg, spices, rice, all varieties of fish and meat, and even some unidentifiable produce which were all classed as edible by the Thais. After walking around, looking, and tasting, and fighting the urge to pass out/lie down (I was in agony), it was time to return.
On the orders of wash your hands and sit down we were given an outline of how things were to go from here. Noi we would cook, we would watch, then eat, and then cook it ourselves. It was just going to be that simple!! Oh and then we were going to eat four courses after all that. Big day! It was a very enjoyable day. Noi is so passionate about her cooking, and provides very easy instructuion.
When we were all finished the cooking and eating I retired to the 'loo' on returning Andrew said we had to leave 'now'. I was a bit confused by this. Apparently in my abscence Noi had asked if we booked the train. When Andrew said no she got on the phone and arranged it all for us. A taxi from accommodation to train station to buy ticket, same taxi to bus station to get the bus to Bangkok, then a taxi to Hualamphong train station to catch the 19.35 to Chiang Mai. Thank God we had a plan. I was beginning to think we were going to be homeless for the night. The only challenge in all this was would we make the 19.35, it was already 15.00. So we raced across the road, paid our bill, said our goodbyes and expressed our thanks, and the 'taxi' arrived. Up pulled this motorcycle and to its side was welded a metal cage thing with an L shaped bench, a roof, and some plastic sheeting to prevent the torrential rain soaking us to the skin. Noi explained to the driver where he had to take us and for how much and off we 'sped'. I do believe if we hit 20km an hour that would have been the absolute max, it was impossible to tell as the speedometer didn't work. It was a precarious journey but we made it and hopped on the bus to Bangkok with five minutes to spare. I spent much of the journey perched nervously on the edge of my seat, primarily in pain, but also in apprehension. I had everything crossed that we would make it. We finally got to the bus station in Bangkok. It was well after six and we still had to race in to the city and across to the other side of it. Our feet barely touched ground as we leapt from the bus and made a race for the taxi stand. We pulled a taxi over and asked him for Hualamphong, he shook his head and pointed behind us to our right. 'Over there' he said, so we went 'over there' and pulled up another taxi. The same thing, we told him where we wanted and he pointed behind us, but that was in to the actual station. At this point we both thought we were missing a trick here, however we didn't have the time to be missing anything. Then some kind of marshal came towards us carrying a mega phone. He spoke into it (we were no more than six feet in front of him) asking where we were going. We told him and he brought us in to the building, out the other side to where we had come from. It was here that we eventually got in to a taxi that would hopefully speed us to our destination. In the curious way that is Thailand, when we emerged on to the dual carriageway it seemed we were going in the wrong direction. So i told the driver again of our intended destination and he agreed with a yes, yes. Then about 11km in the wrong direction I realised that in order to go the right way we had to speed 11km in the wrong direction to do a u-turn to head back the way we had just come. I just wondered if theses people had ever heard of bridges??
After much clinging to the edge of our seats, and consultation with the map to see where the hell we were we pulled up at the station at 19.30. Practically threw the fare at the driver, grabbed the bags and ran. This wasn't the easiest run of my life, twenty kilos of luggage, wet flip flops, and dodgy back. It very nearly ended in tears. We ran to the platform, figured out which train we were meant to be on and began the long walk to find our carriage. At 19.33 we boarded the train. We had just made it by the skin of our teeth. Soaked in sweat, knackered, dying for both a pee and drink in that order we had made it. I was very excited about sleeping on a train. I got the top bunk. And after what I would describe as a not to shabby a dinner, we settled in for the next 17 hours. Thank God for beds, night trains, very kindly ladies, and Zopiclone. Night, night xx

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