Stickman Readers' Submissions February 16th, 2007

A Kanchanaburi Trip

On my way back to Australia from a family wedding in England in August 2006, I had arranged a one-week stopover in Bangkok. On the Wednesday, I had lunch with one of the women I had met over the Internet. Her name was
Cartoon and we met during her lunch break at Silom. She was petite and very pretty, and looks much
younger than her 29 years of age. She was quiet and reserved and obviously a very good girl. Although she had majored in English at university, her English skills were rusty and at times I struggled to decipher what she was saying. It was obvious this was not going to go anywhere, but I enjoyed her company. She works for a travel wholesaler, and one of the benefits of her job is free accommodation at various resorts and hotels around Thailand.

Towards the end of the meal, she indicated that she and several colleagues were possibly going to an hotel outside Kanchanaburi on the weekend, and was I interested in coming along? Never having been there I quickly agreed. It subsequently turned out they were indeed going and I met Cartoon at lunchtime on Saturday in the Silom Centre, where I was introduced to her workmates. There was Jaeb, who spoke good English and was a laugh a minute and two other middle-aged women (
Aye and
Wang) who spoke very little English. The
driver was the husband of one of the middle-aged women, who also spoke very little English, but who owned a lovely 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Off we went. The traffic wasn’t too heavy and we were soon out of Bangkok. I got the front seat next to Dang. The drive west was lots of fun. Dang was a really good driver and I felt very safe. The women were joking continuously and they made sure
I wasn’t left out. We also ate continuously, snacking on one thing after another. This is something I have experienced on all my Thailand road trips, laughing and joking, and snacking continuously.

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Our first stop was the Kanchanaburi War cemetery where many thousands of the Allied prisoners of war who perished building the Japanese Thailand to Burma railway are buried. It was a very sobering and awe-inspiring place, so many graves, so many young men killed in their prime. To my astonishment they treated it as a photo opportunity, taking photos of each other. The setting was merely a backdrop, an opportunity to record that they were there. The westerners that were there were treating the place with great reverence, but not my hosts. Again, this is something I have noticed repeatedly when visiting monuments and places of interest with Thais. There are the obligatory photos of them and their friends, rather than the attraction itself, and they sample the attractions rather than explore or investigate them in any kind of detail.

Not that I was complaining, as I am an avid photographer and snapped away to my heart’s content. Then we were off again to Hellfire Pass, a 25-metre deep railway cutting dug by the prisoners of war. The scenery was very impressive, huge mountains jungle-swathed in verdant green. The humidity was oppressive. It would have been a living hell for those unfortunate enough to suffer the wrath of the Japanese. There is an excellent museum there, financed and supported by the Australian Government, and which really brings the horror home. I have more than a passing interest in this as my great until Bertie was one of the British prisoners of war forced to work on the railway. He survived, minus two fingers, but was psychologically damaged and never really recovered.

I mentioned this to the group but it only really registered with one of them, although all were obviously shocked by the graphic exhibits. We walked along the
Hellfire Pass track, again a very sombre experience for me, and an opportunity to take more photos for them. I was glad when we moved on and drove to our hotel. We turned into a side road until we came to the River Kwai. Our destination, the River Kwai Jungle Rafts Hotel, could only be reached by a 20-minute boat journey. What an experience as the river was flowing strongly. The
hotel itself was incredible, about 40 rafts strung together in the middle of nowhere on a bend in the river. There was no electricity, no lights, no fans, no air-conditioning and everything was very basic, but beautiful, including the rooms. An eco-tourist delight and the place was overrun with new age European types communing with nature. Dinner, held in a long open room, was plentiful and we had brought our own alcohol and got very merry. There wasn’t much to do after dinner so we hang around on the hummocks outside our two rooms (3 to a room) until we went to bed. Fortunately, they put us on the end raft so we didn’t disturb those trying to communicate with nature. The mosquito nets saved us from being bitten, and the strong current soon lulled us to sleep.

We got up early next day and went to the Mon village which is connected to the rafts and wandered around. Then breakfast and the boat back to the “mainland”. After that it was off to the Bridge over the River Kwai. A surreal experience, clambering over the railway bridge, which is really high above the river, and then standing in the
recess area while the
train went slowly past. The gaps in the decking are quite large and it would be very easy to fall though. Only in Thailand.

We had lunch at a roadside restaurant somewhere. Delicious food, really spicy, which I love and relish. They were most impressed that this farang could match them chilli for chilli. I asked Cartoon what she thought of this meal compared to the dinner
at the hotel last night. She replied that the food last night was shit and they had all hated it. I asked her what was wrong with it and she laughed and said that it was food specially prepared for farangs – bland and tasteless.

We then drove back to Bangkok. I sat in the back this time, with Jaeb, and we flirted and joked all the way home. It was a great weekend, everyone was so welcoming and hospitable, and they included me in everything.

You can view my photos of my Kanchanaburi trip at http://jeremy29.smugmug.comThailand/223017

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Stickman's thoughts:

I have only been to Kanchanaburi once, and given how east it is to get to, I really must go again.

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