Sunday, November 24, 2013 11

  Today I took a tour to Kanchanaburi. It is about a two hour drive from Bangkok; but a world away:

      I have been exploring Bangkok on my own, and decided to take a private tour. I was met by by guide, Kay at the hotel at 7am. She told me that Kay was not her real name; that every Thai person has a nickname, because there names are so long; and difficult to pronounce. She led me to the van where the driver was waiting. I was surprised at how nice it was:

It looked like this one, but wasn't a Lexus; it was a Toyota, but they are really one in the same. Actually the only difference I see is the badge on the hood. (and I'm sure the price-tag) With room for 9 it was just me, lounging in the back by myself. Kay spoke very good English; and boy she liked to talk. I think she went for the first 30 minutes without taking a break. She was extremely knowledgeable about the history of where we were heading. I sat quietly in my comfy leather recliner and intently listened.
            It seemed as if Bangkok went on forever. Even flying down the highway; and we were flying; it stretched on endlessly. As we finally turned west we escaped the grasps of the city; it was noticeable and welcomed. High rises and concrete gave way to mountains and jungle. The smells entered the van and were so inviting; as if we were entering a world almost forgotten. The stench of the city and exhaust was replaced by sugar cane fields and flowers.

          We finally arrived in Kanchanaburi earlier than expected. Our first stop was the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery and Death Railway Museum.

          The museum was quite simple and no pictures were allowed.The museum and cemetery were to pay homage to the 1000s of POWs who lost there life while building the railway for the Japanese during WW2. The graves were mostly of Australian, British, Indian, and soldiers from the Netherlands.

         Approximately 60,000 POWs were used to build the railway; of those about 12,400 Allied soldiers died; 356 of the Americans. In contrast to hollowed ground such as Arlington this is a small, hidden, almost forgot memorial.

           Amongst the buried are unknowns, resting with their comrades:

           A stark reminder of the men who fight, and ultimately give their lives; and a reminder of the different walks of life they come from; can be found in these two graves; next to each other. A 19 year old boy, never haven seen what the world and life is all about; and a 42 year old man; a private none-the-less; old enough to be his father, rest forever side by side; much as they may have worked on the railway.

            We moved on to see what this sacrifice had ultimately created; 250 miles of track and a number of bridges.

          It was rainy and warm; and this is one of the nicest times of year; I could only imagine how bad it must have been to be slave labor in this place. Around the tracks was obviously cleared and now maintained; but I gazed off into the jungle, thick, tangled, and uninviting; thinking of how horrible this would be.

          We arrived at our stop and had lunch. I took some time to explore the area a take some pictures with the hoards of other tourists. There was a natural cave where workers escaped the heat, if only for a minute. There is now a very large Buddha inside, and monks for people to visit and pray with. 

         This section of the railway is around the River Kwai. It is probably most well known for The Bridge Over The River Kwai; the bridge itself, as well as the 1957 movie of the same name. I will show that bridge in a moment, but this is what this section, along with is section of bridge looked like.It is called the Wampo Viaduct. More people died constructing this section than in the entire rest of the railway's construction. Beautiful now, but to building it........a nightmare beyond imagination.

        The wooden trestles are the original WW2 construction. They are slowly being replaced, and luckily have been reinforced with steel and concrete. Down river lies the famed Bridge Over The River Kwai.
 The bridge was bombed by allies, and POWs were ordered to rebuild it immediately. Now bwfore I share my pictures of the infamous bridge; I have a bit of a spoiler alert. The bridge is not actually over the river Kwai! It actually crosses the Mae Khlung. When David Lean's blockbuster came out, this gave the Thais something of a problem; thousands of tourists flocked to see the Bridge on the River Kwai, and they hadn't got one, all they had was a bridge over the Mae Khlung. So, with admirable lateral thinking, they renamed the river. Since 1960, the Mae Khlung has been known as the Kwae Yai ('Big Kwae') north of the confluence with the Kwae Noi ('Little Kwae'), including the bit under the infamous Bridge. "Toe may toe....Toe ma toe"....(hard to spell out....but you get it); semantics. Here is The Bridge of The River______.

            Moving on it was time to get in touch with nature.....and animals in particular.

   No not this little guy, but he was too cute to leave out!
This guy!!!

 In the interest of brevity...which I think I may have already forsaken, I will just add pictures from here. They are pretty self explanatory. Dogs...check....elephants...check....tigers????....oh yeah, check that one too!!

            After riding the elephant, I took a boat ride on the river. It was the most peaceful place I have been on this journey thus far......

And Finally!!!!!

Prrrrrrrrrrr........yes they are "sleeping". There is no nice way to put it.....I think some of these tigers have a substance abuse problem. They swear they are not tranquilized. I just can't believe that. The Thais actually don't go to this temple or give donations....unfortunately thanks to Westerners like me...the temple is flourishing. I was torn, but couldn't pass up the opportunity, I guess I am part of the problem.

This feisty little girl was Definitely NOT sleeping...They had to let her calm down a few times before the next person could pet her...

She got a little rambunctious while I was with her, so I cut my visit short. A side note; when a cat this "meows" its not quite as cute as a kitten; it's actually a little unnerving.... 

               That concluded my day and we headed back to Bangkok. Kay, my guide, said it would take about an hour longer to return to the about 4 hours later, we re-entered the city. My guide told me that there were protests going on throughout the city. I saw some small crowds gathering when we left the city. Upon returning to the city, it was now in full swing. My tour guide explained the situation and told me it was a peaceful protest; yet I was extremely unnerved by what I saw. Some of the streets, including the highway were closed in parts. We drove in circles around the city as the crowd swelled. The protesters blow whistles and as usual with theses gatherings; there were random places throughout the city where a guy was screaming into a bullhorn or sound system. We made it as close to we could to the hotel, which unfortunately was across the river. My guide told me we had to get out of the van; in the middle of the crowd; and walk to the ferry. OK, now I'm freaked out! I felt like when you see embassies being evacuated on TV. She once again assured me it was fine. We made it to the ferry and I stood in awe as I watched the crowd growing on the bridge that I was supposed to cross. The roar would rise and fall; the whistles never stopping. As I returned safely to my hotel patio I let out a sigh of relief. Kay continued on; unsure of how she would make it home. I'm sure she made it safely. I changed and decided on some dinner and a "show" I sat down to dinner by the river and watched the bridge, no idea of what I could hear.

               I settled in, ordered a burger, and listened to some relaxing lounge music from a New York girl. Calm and familiar; it was a nice ending to an exciting day. 

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