29th July – 6th August, 2014.
This first entry might not be quite as exciting as usual, for I am not really “travelling” yet. I have mostly just been hanging low in rural Thailand while waiting for my travel buddy to arrive (Roy is currently in India and will be flying over to meet me soon). When he gets here the two of us will be crossing the border together into Myanmar, and then the adventures will truly begin.
That said, the last week or so hasn’t been too uneventful. I decided to go back to Kanchanaburi, which was one of my favourite places last time I visited Thailand. The fact that I have come back here is a special occasion in itself because it is not very often I return somewhere. Kanchanaburi is special. It is a scenic, laid back area, surrounded by green mountains and tapioca fields. I couldn’t think of anywhere better to kick back and unwind for a while.
I got myself a cheap little room by the side of the river Kwai, and I told myself I was going to relax. Maybe even write some of that novel I am currently working on. And, for the first couple of days, that is exactly what I did.
But eventually I started to feel a bit restless and I began taking afternoon strolls which, over the passing days, escalated into full on day-trips.
I visited some old haunts, such as this famous bridge over the river Kwai:
But, once again, I found the idea of paying money to ride across it in a sparkly, tacky, rainbow-coloured tram somewhat distasteful considering its dark history.
Instead, I chose to walk across it, quietly. There were some pleasant views of the Kwai valley from up there. Kanchanaburi is such an idyllic, peaceful place, that it is often hard to imagine the terrible war crimes which were committed here.
I visited some of the local museums which were, just as last time I went, informative, respectful, a little bit upsetting, but a compulsory part of the experience. One I believe everyone visiting the area should explore.
One of the new places that I visited was the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum. It was a bit out of the way (about two hours on the local bus) but well worth the journey. When I arrived there I was handed an audio-guide and set walking upon a 4km trail which took me on a journey through some of the infamous railway line prisoners-of-war and Asian peasants were forced to build by the Japanese army during the Second World War. Many of the accounts the audio-guide gave, as I walked along, were from POW’s who survived the horrific experience. The previous museums I had visited had taught me quite a lot about what happened and shown me many relics, but this was different. It made the whole thing much more vivid and real, treading along the rough and rocky ground, seeing the sides of the railway cutting they were forced to hack out of the mountain, towering on either side of me.
They call it “Hellfire Pass” because the war-slaves were eventually forced to work well into the dark hours in their rush to complete it. They were all malnourished, and many were suffering from cholera, malaria, dysentery, beriberi, and a whole range of tropical diseases by then. The sight of their emaciated bodies lit up by fire of flaming torches, as they hammered away at the rocks at night, was said to resemble a scene from hell.
It is all surrounded by bamboo forest, now, and the views you can see from up there of the surrounding mountains are stunning. Walking through it, as I listened to stories of the terrible things which happened there, was both melancholic and oddly serene. It captured the very essence of the Kanchanaburi experience in general.
On a brighter note, I went to Erawan Waterfall again.
Look at it! I don’t need really to explain myself, do I? That was just one tier out of the total of seven you can swim in, stretched along a 2 km trail. In a rainforest. Here is another picture:
And apart from that most of my time has been spent sat at this little table on balcony of my guest house:
Writing away. It is a nice spot. In the morning there are usually lots of tropical birds flitting between the greenery on the other side of the river.
Every now and then, when I get a little bit sweaty, I have been having a little dip in the free pool.
And that’s it, for now. I am heading back to Bangkok soon to meet Roy and sort out some visas. Overall, I don’t really I have anything bad to say about Kanchanaburi apart from that, like many touristy places in Thailand, it does have a few “girly bars” and therefore plays host to some of the western sexpat brigade. And the sight of greasy, old white men with their arms around much younger (and much, much more blessed) Thai women can be quite spiritually challenging sometimes.
Stay tuned for the next instalment. Myanmar here I come!
Oh, and for more pictures click here to check out my Flickr account.