kanchanaburi - Where's Byrne?


12.09.2011 – 13.09.2011 Sunny 32 °C

Bridge over the River Kwai and a Waterfall. A two hour ride west of Bangkok is Kanchanaburi, most famous for the Bridge over the River Kwai, some old Waterfall, the Tiger Temple and a couple of Elephant Trekking parks. Also on offer is a visit to the Hellfire Pass Museum which details the horrors endured by the 120,000 POW’s under Japanese order during their attempt to unite Malaysia and Singapore with Rangoon (Burma) through a railway. We booked a tour to see these sites over two days with one nights accommodation, all meals and transportation for £50 for the pair of us. Nice.

The Bridge, although not the original because it was blown up during WWII, was impressive. I think anyone who has seen the film would enjoy this trip. Don’t bother with the museum right near the bridge though, what Dinosaurs and the evolution of man have to do with WWII and the bridge itself, I have no idea. Poor excuse for exhibits too although they do have some WWII artifacts of interest, they’re just not displayed or explained properly. Over the bridge, there was a guy with a violin playing the theme tune from the film which was a nice touch, although after repeating it twice, he broke into Lady Gaga – Bad Romance, which was surprisingly good! I gave him a quid for his spontaneity and humour which he was very smiley about. We hopped on a train over the bridge heading for the end of the line. The train was old and authentic and was an enjoyable ride even if there wasn’t anything to see on the way. We got chatting to James, a guy sitting opposite us who was travelling on his own for a year and was only a week in. I suggested he joined our tour which after a bit of negotiation with our tour guide he did and so we all hopped on our bus at the other end. Funny how random your day can be when you start saying ‘Yes’ to different opportunities…

After this we went off to the waterfall which was, well a waterfall. I may seem a bit uncultured here but for me, waterfalls are like temples, if you’ve seen one. you’ve seen them all. There were a load of Russian idiots all jumping and playing around in it (surprising how many Russians there are in Thailand) you lot have fun with that. After spending most of the afternoon chatting with Thailand James, as we affectionately branded him, we decided he wasn’t an axe murderer and arranged to hook up with him later in Chiang Mai.

It was nearly the end of day one after this and so we sat down to have dinner on our floating accommodation on the river, yes it really was a floating homestay just tied to the bank. We got talking to a couple of English girls from Berkshire, Katie and Rochelle. They told us they had booked an intensive 3 week all-inclusive trip that covered nearly everything Thailand has to offer for £600. Not bad if time isn’t on your side. An enjoyable evening was had by all playing ‘shithead’ and drinking beer. But on our return to the room, we had the joy of finding a big rat on B’s bed eating some dried bananas we had bought from outside the waterfall. Rat-tastic.

Elephant Trekking and the Hellfire Pass. The next day we woke up to the stench of our damp room and a cold shower, the shower water was a murky brown colour and was no doubt drawn directly from the river. The days first activity was bamboo rafting. This involved sitting on 20 lengths of bamboo tied together and being dragged up the river by boat, then allowed to float back of our own accord. Wasn’t bad but wouldn’t have paid for it if it wasn’t part of the trip though.

Next up was elephant riding, we jumped in the van and drove ten minutes up the road to a small elephant sanctuary. We pulled up to find two monkeys chained to some railings. Mr Monkey however, was snuggling with Mrs Monkey, or to be more graphic he had her bent over, with one arm waving around in the air, lasso style and the other on her hip which was hilarious, me and some polish guy were killing ourselves laughing, must be male humour. Next to the randy monkeys was a platform with a set of steps that you walk up with a square cut out level with the elephants back into allowing you to jump right on.

First up was a big bad boy, or should I say girl as she was female, who was 40, which the Polish couple jumped aboard. She had a baby who was 2 years old tied humanely to her, training her for her future career. Next up was a 35-year-old and a black couple from Oman jumped on him, lastly there was a teenager, a mere 14 years old which was half the size of the other two. Due to the size difference I assumed that B and I would be going on one at a time but the mahout (the elephant driver) told both of us to jump on. The others had already left so we had some catching up to do but this didn’t take long with our mahout sat on his head urging him on. He sprinted (yes, an elephant sprint) after the other two and before we knew it we were in front of them. He was stopping every ten yards to rip some shit off trees to munch on but we didn’t mind, our mahout told us they need to eat about one hundred and fifty kilo’s of food a day. We trekked around for about half an hour, including an offroad experience down a near vertical ditch and then back up again, which he negotiated really well. Unfortunately our time was up and we returned to the platform to disembark, as we got off we spotted bananas for sale at 20 baht for 8 to feed to them so we bought 100bt worth (£2). As I approached with a basket they already had their huge trunks grabbing at me for a ‘nana. I held one out and the nose like tip curled round it, threw it in his gob and then sprung back straight away for another within seconds. All the bananas were gone within a couple of minutes. I went to give our mahout a one hundred baht tip (£2) and the elephant held its trunk out thinking that it was another banana, I thought sod it and gave it to the elephant, instead of eating it he passed it to the mahout realising it was cash. Clever eh?! Fantastic experience and one I’ll never forget.

Last on the agenda was the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum. This is dedicated to the 120,000 POW and the 90,000 that died building the railway from Bangkok to Rangoon. It has been tastefully put together and funded by the Australians so no Thai bullshit involved. I did feel it was a bit biased towards the Aussies but they did build the place. The museum itself was laid out brilliantly with excellent exhibits and two videos explaining in detail what happened over the three years the Japanese were in power. Together with this was a walk which leads you through a real section of the original railway allowing you to see the rock that was blasted apart using dynamite and hammer and tap techniques, and an audio tour explaining the story through various interviews with survivors, which all results in a well told tale. A real touching effort which makes you think and was a great round off to the day, well worth going to see. After succumbing to more terrible Thai timekeeping we eventually got back to Bangkok where we checked in for one more night to a hostel in Khao San before moving up to Chiang Mai. Verdict: The trip was an absolute bargain at £50 for both of us. I recommend.

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