The Kanchanaburi Province
Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
394Trip End Ongoing
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An entire week of scouring Kanchanaburi and the surrounds. And it's been a peach. Could've spent much longer here. Easily.
The Jorry Frog is spot on (cheers for the heads-up) - amazing staff, beautiful shady garden for chilling out in and the magical floating platform down on the river where we've spent many a reflective hour watching the sun set with a Singha. Divine.
As for this cosy little corner of Thailand, well we've seen some differences. The people are more laid back, generally all-round friendlier and er.. generally more beautiful. I mean it. The women over this way are staggeringly gorgeous and there have been a couple of incidents where I've had to thrust a brown paper bag into Bera's face to stop him hyperventilating.
Then there's the food. The Kanchanaburi night market is well worth a sly visit. Naturally we sampled what is boasted as 'Thailand's best fried mussels' - they weren't so great, though there were plenty more sumptuous snackeroos to keep us going for at least a week or more. It's no touristville either so you actually do get real food. One night saw us in full banter with a lively family who rustled up some delectable munchies, including the same egg-based tofu tossed through those insanely crunchy greens we discovered in Thong Sala. Markets, family kitchens and street vendors rule. You can keep your western-tarnished restaurants.
There are plenty of tour operators kicking about here too and every guest house is set up to arrange everything for you, regardless of what floats your boat. While this can be a nice breath of fresh air we made a point of taking the independent option. In all cases. This meant an interesting mix of results but on the whole an experience that was a much more wholesome one. After all, 'it's good to put yourself in a few situations' Dave.
Bridge on the River Kwai
I was surprised how much I got out of this, I mean how much can you get out of gawping at a bridge across a river? It helped immensely that I'd read a book on the whole Death Railway scenario beforehand so to see it in the flesh was incredibly moving.
Speaking of moving, standing on the infamous bridge halfway across the River Kwai is not the best place to be when a sudden panic-inducing stab of the much dreaded '30-second warning' punches you in the bowels. The nearest hole-in-the-ground was almost a kilometre away and I'm not joking when I say I very nearly had to drop one from the bridge, which would have been awful, just awful - for everybody, not to mention memorable.
Bera followed loosely behind, his smile reflecting my more serious anxiety-riddled expression as I negotiated a haggard walking path through hordes of careless oncoming bridge dawdlers. He reckons I walked like a chicken for the last five minutes. Well just try walking fast with your knees locked together, see what you look like. Even when I got to the general vicinity of civilisation it wasn't a pretty moment. Let's just say my personal 'Bridge over the River Kwai' experience and the memories associated with it will remain just like it was back then.. explosive.
The Erawan Falls
A full days adventure. Seven tiers of soothingly peaceful falls across two kilometres of gradual ascent. All very rewarding of course, especially as we adopted the self-help approach and hired a cartoon-like motorcycle to take us there. This came in the form of a red 175cc chopper-esque Kawasaki, branded oddly as 'The Boss' - a comical contraption really considering our combined weight was around 190 kilo's and 'The Boss' had clearly seen better days. Running out of petrol on the way back just added to the demise.
The Floating Market
In the guidebooks you'll find striking displays of cleverly captured colour that make the Damnoen Saduak's floating market positively enchanting and naturally intriguing. Hardly surprising that it's become a thriving tourist hotspot. Good to experience sure, especially if you take your time on the water (you get one chance) - it's just a shame it's crawling with holidaymakers and all the associated bullshit. On a quiet morning, say at sunrise with a bit of mist rolling in, this would be magic. Great photo opportunities though and well worth the early start and four modes of transport it took us to get there from Kanchanaburi.
'It gave me a great understanding of men. And a great appreciation of the ordinary things of life. And the value of human relations. You know, when it comes to the end, the only thing that really matters are the people whom you love and who love you.' - Dr Kevin Fagan, who served in 1943 as a doctor on the Burma-Thailand Railway as a prisoner of war of the Japanese.
The track from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok winds gracefully through some stunning rugged terrain, the highlight being a slow sweeping arc along a treacherously unforgiving mountain face. This is just what we were hoping for, especially as we'd spent the majority of the previous day solemn-faced taking in every one of the sobering realities imparted on us in the museum at the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre opposite the war cemetery - easily one of the most well-documented well-delivered museums I've come across. But that's probably more to do with the subject than the museum. Swotting up on this beforehand really paid off, big time.
The war cemetery was like hitting a brick wall. We spent most of our time in a cold insular silence. Most visitors did. That's how moving it was. Some of the inscriptions were just.. soul jerking.
I still find it startling though, how there isn't a single identifiable grave for any of the Asian civilians that we're mercilessly rounded up and driven through hell (and then to death) on the Burma-Thailand railway. Yet the number of their deaths out-numbered the deaths of the allies by a staggering factor of over five to one.
Continuing with the independent theme meant dragging ourselves out of bed at 5am to catch the 0557 train to Nam Tok - the end of the line (at least it is these days) and no-mans land in terms of your average tourism playground. From Nam Tok we jumped on the back of a pickup which rocketed us to a lone bus stop where we politely turned down a 600 baht taxi in exchange for a slightly more attractive 40 baht bus which appeared four minutes later. Both were going to exactly the same place we needed to get to: Hellfire Pass - the REAL memorial on Death Railway.
There's little point in me waffling here. The experience of finally being there, walking it, taking it in and sniffing it all through the senses was absolutely magic. As always, the pics will do little justice.
The Tiger Temple
The whole tiger temple thing is a highly controversial tourist attraction that is often argued about. Are they drugged? Where's the money really going? Are they being saved from a worse fate? How much part does the black market play in all this? Any illegal trading?
Whilst I'd had many reservations about visiting I'm an inquisitive little shit and have to see things for myself.
Yes, they're making a fortune. 300baht per person through the gate and believe me when I say the masses are literally flooding through. You're pushed in, have your photo taken then it's piss off, next please. As for the tigers? Not sure what to say, I'm no expert. To me their breathing was pained, erratic, problematic. Drugged? Sedated? It wouldn't surprise me. Sad to say I'm glad I saw it for myself, but I wouldn't go back..
Where I stayed
Jolly Frog Backpackers