Kanchanaburi, the Cave temple and the Russians at Erawan Falls…

15 Jan

After spending a delightful Christmas and New Year with my brother on the Southern Islands of Thailand I decided to make the most of my Thai 30 day visa and headed to Kanchanaburi, east of Bangkok.

I checked into the Jolly Frog “Backpackers”. Its Lonely Planet description of a “young backpacker” “happening” crowd should be rewritten to “perfect for old, fat, bald tattoed Western men either seeking or with young, beautiful Thai women”. Still it was amusing to watch them in the bar at night chatting to other “old Western men”. The mind boggles as to what they chat about.

I went out jogging after I’d checked in hoping to see the Bridge Over the River Kwai at night but was chased by Thai dogs, one of which tried to bite me through his muzzle (!) so gave up on the idea.

Next day I chose the safer option of a bike and cycled to the Bridge.

The railway bridge was built as part of the Thai-Burmese railway (415 km long) intended to link Thailand and Burma and as a supply route for the Japanese conquest of India. The Bridge was built with parts from Java, Indonesia.

I went to the Thailand Burma Railway Centre in town which explains everything about it including the huge number of lives lost during its construction.

113,000 died during the construction from exhaustion, malaria, cholera, beri beri and vicious beatings from their Japanese captors….13,000 of them were allied prisoners of war. The rest Asian labourers.

They called July to October 1943 the “speedo period”. During it, the men had to work 18 hours a day in hellish conditions, sleeping in bamboo huts or outside, ravaged by mosquitos, without shoes (it was during the rainy season), with a little watery rice to eat and few medical supplies.

They used spikes from trees as needles to insert drips, traded with locals to try to get some extra food and carved their food tins to count the days and their location. They tried to keep cheery by having competitions on the number of bowel movements per day. The winner would get a cigarette.

I cycled to a Buddhist Cave temple outside town. It was quite interesting with small Buddhas inside but was a bit creepy as I went deeper into it as I was alone. The Cave was used by the Japanese for weapons storage and torture during the War.

Local women were selling food outside the cave and as they had finished serving they shared their lunch with me which was very kind.

I took a local bus to Erawan Falls. I walked to the top of the falls and got the dry skin on my feet eaten by the little fishes. The best pool was number 7 at the top as it had the fewest Russian travellers.

Most of the Russians who arrived in a huge tour bus were at pool number 1 which involved the least walking from the carpark. The Russian men all wear tight speedo swimming shorts. I wish someone would open a bermuda swimming shorts shop in Russia. It would make life more pleasant for many people. The Russian girls are very slim and reasonably pretty until the age of about 25 when they seem to get fat. This is ok as by then they seem to have found Russian husbands wearing speedos.

The older Russian women complained all the time about the nice fishes.

The fishes got their revenge by eating the dry skin on the Russian women’s feet in a particularly vicious way. I tried to explain to the Russian women that it was nice to have the fish eating the dry skin and they charge 200 thai baht for this service in other places. They just shrieked loudly about this and then instructed their Russian husbands to dive in on top of me in the pool! Oh well!

By 2pm their big fancy tour bus had taken them away and I had the pool to myself as the Thai tourists there do not swim. They just look at the waterfalls, eat lots of food which they have brought with them and sleep! They also try to hike to the top of the waterfalls wearing high heels which is not very successful but they smile a lot and are nice so that’s ok!

Another day I took a local bus to Hellfire Pass. This is a really deep pass which the Pows were made to cut through hard rock for the railway to pass. They called it “hellfire” as at night with the lanterns burning (they had to work right through the night as the Japanese wanted the Pass cut very quickly) the men working thought it was like the fires of hell. There is a great museum here which has been set up by the Australian government. There is a good movie but I got into trouble when I sat down to watch it as you are only allowed to stand and watch it for some reason. I also got into trouble as I had a picnic with me and you are not allowed food there. So I went back outside and ate my food. A nice local man gave me some nice fruit from a tree. I don’t know the name of the fruit but it was delicious and kind of him to give it to me. He got it down from the tree with a very big stick.

I walked along the railway cutting. It is really good as you walk and press the buttons on the audio guide and it gives you a lot of information. It was very, very hot though and I could only imagine how hard it must have been to work here with hardly any food or water. One of the prisoners recounted that he came back after the War was over and was so sad that all the lovely teak trees had been cut down. One of the only things that kept him going was the lovely view of the trees.

After being woken very early in my Hotel in Kanchanaburi by a Thai women shouting about how she had not been paid by her “Western boyfriend” I left Kanchanaburi and headed further East to Sankhlaburi…next post adventures over East…where I got to use my Burmese words again with some of the refugees there…

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