2. Exploring Kanchanaburi – very slowly

07/11/14 – 12/11/14

My first stop of my three month journey was Kanachanburi. The place was always on my list as I wanted to see the Bridge of the River Kwai and part of the Death-railway. My interest in history finally won and I arrived here.

For a change I booked my accommodation for Kanchanaburi in advance – wasn’t sure if I fancied looking for a room after such a long journey. The additional advantage was that a Tuk Tuk was waiting for me at the train station. Some other tourists I met on the train took advantage of this and got a lift as well. Who could say no to a free transport??? Two fellow Germans, Margaret and Christiane decided to stay at the same place. Which turned out to be quite nice as we spent the next 4 days together.

I stayed at the VN guesthouse, and got a nice room on the river raft house. They didn’t had a river view room available for the whole 5 nights, so I got a corner room looking out to the guesthouse and the river – from my own little balcony. It turned out to be a good thing, as the riverside rooms were slightly hotter. It was hot enough for me, and after one night I decided that i really need the A/C – the fan only was not enough. The view from my little balcony was nice (if you looked out the side), and I found the little waves rather relaxing. In addition of the nice room the guesthouse had a lounge area overlooking the river, with comfy pillow seats, where you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We had our very first dinner there – my Burmese curry was ok, though my two new friends thought it was very good. Was probably too tired to appreciate any good food.

I decided to stay four full days in Kanchanaburi – which should give me plenty of time to explore this area, and also to relax a bit.

The latter I did on my first day. Sleeping a bit longer (not as long as I would do back home), having a light breakfast, and then get ready to explore the town. I finally made it out after 2pm. Did I mention that I took it very slow????

After walking in the heat for 15 minutes I thought it was time for some food and a cold beer. Walking always makes me hungry and thirsty. I stopped at Zab Zab for a cold large bottle of Chang beer. Unfortunately, deep fried Morning Glory doesn’t taste as good as it sounds…Maybe the Thais should leave deep frying random food to the Scots (though I am not saying that deep frying mars bars or Pizza is a good idea).

Strengthened after the break I headed to the War cemetery in Kanchanaburi, where nearly 7000 PoW who died building the infamous Death Railway. This is the last resting place for many Brits, Australian and Dutch soldiers. The cemetery is kept in a great condition, making sure the graves receive the respect they deserve. This was the first impression of the event that took place in this area over 70 years ago.


The remaining day I relaxed at the guesthouse, and went out to explore the nightlife. The main tourist road of Kanchanaburi was full of bars, and for me it looked a bit like Little Khao San Road. Some of the bars are very classy, using advertising like “get shit faced here”. After watching a bit of England NZ game, I went to a little Reggae bar, where you could listen to some Live music, which was actually very good (apparently the quality of music differs every night). As usual I got too comfortable there, had a few beer, and stayed there even after closing time with the owner and some other guests. Not the best idea if you agreed to meet up with the others at 9:00 the next morning. I realised it was a stupid idea after I managed to sleep only 4 hours. Sometimes I really hate beer!!!

Well – the next morning I managed to get out of bed in time to meet my German friends for breakfast. The plan was to take the train to Nam Tok to travel part of the Death Railway. Arriving in time at 10:15 for the departure time at 10:30. We should have learned the other day – the train is always late (bit like Scotrail). This time it was only 45 minutes. But then we all were told to enter the train carriages that was standing at the station the whole time. I was thinking that we might need to push the train. I was already thinking about excuses why I cannot move. Well – I shouldn’t have worried. As soon the train arrived from Bangkok, the locomotive was de-coupled from the other carriages, moved to ours, and then the other carriages moved to the rear. An interesting experience (especially the constant breaking).

Finally we were on our way to the first stop – the bridge over the river Kwai. After seeing the movie, and planning to visit this place for the last two years, it was nice to finally see the bridge The train crosses the bridge very very slowly – I think I could walk faster – and that means something. You can walk over the bridge as well, and there are little platforms where you can move to as soon the train is on the bridge. Still, it is a great experience to take the train over this famous bridge.


As soon you are over the bridge the train moves faster and once again you can enjoy the beautiful scenery. Even with the window open it can be quite warm inside the carriage. So I was happy that the doors were not closed, and I was able to sit at the door, my feet hanging out of the train. Still had to be careful as in some instances trees and other plants were so close to the railtrack they hit the outer side of the train. Quite painful if you are too slow.

After a while the next highlight of the train journey was upon us – the Wang Po Viaduct. it is a wooden viaduct, still here from the original death railway built during the 2nd World War. Once again the train went over it very slowly, and seeing your feet hanging out 20 metres or so over the ground was rather interesting. At least no one was fighting with me for space (imagine every passenger trying to look out at the right side of the train. Not an issue at the open train door!!!).


Most people left the train at the next station, and only a few stayed on the train – including the three of us. Here you could see who was travelling with a tour or independent. This just showed me once again why I would hate guided tour groups!

With a total delay of 1 1/2 hours we arrived in Nam Tak. Well – clearly we wouldn’t be able to get to the last train at 15:30 for the return trip. We will find a other way back home – we hoped buses would leave a bit later.
After a short lunch (nothing can beat a nice Papaya salad in that heat) we got a Tuk Tuk to the Hellfire Pass. We got a price quoted of 500 Baht – and decided to take it as it is 25km one way from the station.
The Hellfire Pass is a war memorial for the PoW who suffered here. Unfortunately we only had 1 hour time here due to the train delay – so no chance to walk the whole 8km path. We decided just to see how far we could get. Here you could get an impression how difficult the conditions for the PoW must have been. It was very humid here, and there were plenty of information about the various bits. To see the path that was created by the PoW through the rocks was quite powerful, and only when we where at the main memorial site, I realised that it was actually Remembrance day, as you could see several Poppies left behind at the rocks. It made the visit even a bit more special.


But walking along the path, with the beautiful scenery (you could even see Myanmar from the viewpoints) it is now impossible to understand how much the PoW suffered here.

As planned we were able to get local bus back to Kanchanaburi. All windows open, several fans throughout the bus, it was actually quite comfortable and nice to travel with the locals. Thankfully I was not too busy enjoying the scenery, as I spotted that we were near the guesthouse, and the bus stopped for us. I am sure Margaret and Christiane would have been lost without me….but don’t tell them that!!

We finished the evening with a trip to the night market. This is one thing I love the most about SEA. You can try new food there whenever you go. After introducing my company to lovely Noodle soup, it was time to try some other bits – like fresh chicken on skewers, some strange looking pancakes, local dumplings, sweet potatoes fritters, and having some crickets. Just delicious (for those who don’t know me – I really love trying new food).

 

For our third day we decided to have a slightly later start, and through the guesthouse ordered a taxi for the day to take us to the Erawan National park – mainly for the seven tier Erawan waterfall. The price quoted for the whole day was 1,200 Baht – considering the distance and waiting time that seemed to be fair. The taxi turned out to be a songthraw (imagine a Pick-up truck, with seats in the back for around 8 westerners, and maybe 20 locals!!!), with a roof over your head and a open side – though you have some wooden or metal bits to lean against). As the side was partly open you got a nice breeze at the back. After an hour drive we arrived – and we told the driver that we are back in 3 hours (I use the royal version of we, as I agreed that with the driver). For a change I was wrong with the timescale.

The Erawan waterfall is based in the Erawan national park – which offers some nice pathes for hikes. The fall itself has 7 tiers, the highest tier 2.25km away (obviously moving up-hill).


I must say I was impressed with the whole set-up. Good facilities there, and the path to the first 2 tiers was in great condition. At the second tier was a lovely large pool to swim at – probably the biggest one.

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While I would have loved a break already, we marched on to get the highest tier first. However, to reduce the amount of garbage, you are not allowed to take any food above tier 2, and had to pay 20 Bhat deposit for any bottle you take with you. Bit strange, but I think it is a nice idea to keep the falls tidy.

The path got a bit more uneven the you higher you get, climbing over some fallen trees, but you were constantly rewarded with stunning views. After 45 minutes we made it to the top – it was a beautiful little spot, a great reward and a good place to cool down in the water. So off I went into the water – I know that in some falls you always find little fish who like to eat the dead skin off your feet – you know them from some massage places. But I never had so aggressive fish encountered in my life. Some of them were literally biting you. After the initial surprise it was rather entertaining to see the reaction of other people when they entered the water – obviously I didn’t warn anyone.

Why ruin my own fun. Well, at least I thought the screams were funny.

You could climb up to a smaller pool, where sitting down was more comfortable – the fish up there were more gentle!!!

Realising that it was time, we walked back, but arriving at tier 2 I thought I need another cool down period in the water. it was a lovely spot, but near the edge it looked like a fish summoning. Not caring for the world you could see relative large fish passing your feet, the smaller ones happy with the sudden snack appearing. It felt like I had 20 or 30 fish on each feet (maybe my feet are just too big..). But the swim was just fantastic, the water was once again clean and cool. Well – I had to come out at some point, and four hours instead of the agreed 3 hours we arrived back at our taxi. Who would have known….

Here comes my first rant of this blog…as most know I like my random rant – covering a wide range of different themes. This one is about fellow tourists. Like all other Buddhist countries Thais are quite conservative, and they prefer more conservative dresses. Therefore you often see signs advising tourist what to wear, i.e. No bikinis or bare chests wearing men. This was also the case at the falls (obviously not for the swimming part), but you clearly saw some tourist there who do not show their respect for their host. Some men who apparently like beer and food even more like I do (yep! they do exist…) decided not to wear a top, or a woman who thinks she looks good in a t-string (really honey, it doesn’t suit you). I wish they could be shown a red card, and put onto the next plane (my initial idea of shooting them on the spot was seen as too drastic for some very strange reasons…despite the fact that we all suffer from some views, which clearly breaks the Geneva conventions!!!).

Anyhow, back to the trip. We decided to head from the waterfall to the bridge over the river Kwai for the sunset. Thanks to me being slow as usual, we missed the actual sunset, but it was nice to walk over the bridge, and we were lucky that a train actually passed us.


Walking back to our guesthouse we looked out for a place to eat, Christiane decided to walk to one little restaurant on our way – Baan Peek Mai. And I hate to admit – it was a great choice. The owner is a retired police officer, and he put a lot of effort building this
restaurant: lovely wooden benches and tables, and most important serving absolute delicious food. We ordered quite a few dishes to share, and we didn’t have one bad choice. As we were the only customers, we had an interesting conversation. And it turned out, that he really likes everything from Germany. He probably knew saying “Germany World Champion’ would go down well – and obviously it did. It was a lovely evening, and would recommend this place to anyone heading to Kanchanburi.

 

For my last day I decided to take it slowly again. I walked a bit through Kanchanaburi, visited a lovely Wat,

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and then met up with Margaret and Christiane to head to the Death Railway museum. Here you can learn more about the history of it. Seeing the railway and cemetery before, it is a sobering reminder of the conditions the 60,000 PoW and 200,000 Asiaabourer had to live and work in.

After the visit I headed back to the bridge, and this time I made it to see the sunset there…

For the way back to the guesthouse I was too lazy, so I tried the local taxi – a scooter with a sidecar. I was slightly insulted as a second woman took a seat on the scooter – I know I am not the lightest, but two people required to keep the bike stable was a bit too much. But after seeing 4 US Westerner type people sitting on such a sidecar I understood it was not about me – but the girl needed a lift as well, and apparently I paid for it too. Well, I always knew I am a kind person!!!

To the surprise of the others I was on time, and they were not ready (I was shocked they assumed I won’t be on time…). Well, after I had to wait a bit the three of us enjoyed one final nice dinner in a restaurant mainly visited by the locals (Zab Zab), where the food was once again just fantastic.

The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Kanchanburi, and getting my first bus to Sukhothai.

Overall I must say that I have enjoyed my stay in Kanchanaburi, and it was a great first place to visit for my journey.

 

Accommodation:
VN guesthouse is a good choice – close to the touristy bit but still away from the noise. The floating’ rooms are comfortable, but get quiet hot. The rooms on the lower levels across the raft house could be slightly cooler, while still having a view of the river. But being on the river could be something different to do, though they are more expensive.

 

Recommendation:
As mentioned above I would highly recommend Baan Peek Mai between the tourist area and the railway bridge. Great food – great host.
Zab Zab is also a very good place to eat (walking from the main tourist strip to the cemetery). You will always see a lot of locals eating there (do not try the deep fried morning glory though..)
We had a good foot massage at a place called Lady Bug, but cannot compare it to the other massage places.

(stayed in Kanchanaburi November 2014)

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