I’ve never seen the film, I didn’t really know what it was about but knew it was an old film, something to do with the war and so not my kind of thing. Apart from now I want to watch it. Because now I know what it’s about. Now I know what it’s based on.
Kanchanaburi was the place we headed to after Krabi. Two buses and about 15 hours after leaving Krabi we arrived at the bus station before 8am where some unenthusiastic tuk tuk drivers were having a snooze. Usually, when you get off a bus you’re surrounded by them, all asking “Where you go?” or “Taxi?”, unable to move or even have chance to breathe. This time, not so much. We managed to get one chap to take us to the main street but it was a bit of an effort.
We’d not got anywhere to stay booked so we jumped off the songthaew, had a quick look around and headed to the nearest guest house. A quick check of the room saw it was clean, cheap (the cheapest one yet – about £2.50 a night) and set back from the main street so, after dumping the bags and a quick shower, we were on the search for some breakfast. We were STARVING.
We were worried that as a popular, touristy place there wouldn’t be much choice, or street food, but rather would just have loads of Western restaurants serving burgers, pizza and chips but we were wrong! A hop, skip and a jump down the road we headed into the first Thai street-food type place after asking if they did Pad-Ka-Prow. You remember, my favourite dish of minced pork with holy basil, chilli, garlic, rice and a fried egg on top? Their eyes lit up when we mentioned it, we asked for it “phet phet” (very hot) and they were clearly delighted to be serving us a traditional Thai dish. And oh, it didn’t disappoint. 9am in the morning, we ate the hottest, fieriest, chilli-laden Pad-Ka-Prow yet. And it was just delicious (aroi-ma). Set us right up for the day it did.
Our bellies full of fiery chillis, we headed to the bridge. Apparently the bridge in the film [Bridge over the River Kwai] doesn’t look anything like it does in real life (the film was shot in Sri Lanka) but I’ve never seen the film so I couldn’t really compare. And besides, we didn’t come to Kanchanaburi to see a film set, we were visiting to see and learn first hand about the awful history behind the bridge. Which we did, by going to the excellent Thailand-Burma Railway Centre as well as the bridge and the war cemetery. We got to see the bullet holes and bomb blast markings on the bridge which you wouldn’t have normally spotted thanks to a lovely Thai violin player who we chatted to a bit in Thai after he started to play Lady Gaga.
Now, I’m not normally much of a museum person but the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre was extremely well done. I actually found it incredibly moving and struggled not to cry in some parts. Such awful conditions and treatment for so many brave men. We decided to have a few beers afterwards to toast to all those that died because of that railway, and I can pretty much guarantee than neither Nick or I will ever forget that day.
We hired bikes the day after to go exploring the outlying countryside. Bikes from the smiling Yanee who no doubt was always smiling because she knew how HARD the bike seats were. I swear I’ve sat on softer floors. Despite this, we clocked up around 25 miles (yep, my arse hurt like hell at the end of it) trying [and failing] to find a waterfall. We did however, get to bike through some stunning countryside, past some (what we think were) Chinese graves and amuse staff in a remote 7/11 who didn’t really get Westerners there that much. Traffic and driving is different to the UK here. Thai people are so friendly and such tolerant drivers. They stop, and let you out. They have patience. They never use their horn (unless it’s a songthaew). You never see road rage. I’m probably safer here on an old rickety, rattly bike with no helmet, wearing flip flops and shorts through manic traffic than I would be in Lincoln. And I certainly won’t get cut up, swore at or overtaken aggressively.
The final day was spent taking a journey on the so-called ‘Death Railway’. A slow, rickety journey through the Thai countryside, over rivers and through the jungle. Because of the history of the track, it was a thoughtful train ride, only slightly marred by the fact that it was a bit packed with tour groups. It was a bit hard to try and sit and reflect when I had a German lady’s wide angle lens in my face (literally, and it’s not a euphemism) trying to get photos out of the window. We ended up at a small station in the middle of nowhere, so we walked towards [another] waterfall which we never found. We did find however, the bus stop, so hopped on a local bus to make the shorter journey back. The local buses are great; the conductors are really helpful and friendly and it costs peanuts. Around £1 for a 2 hour bus journey. A steal! You wouldn’t get that in England.
Kanchanaburi is a strange place. Despite the awful history, it’s an upbeat place. In fact, it’s a bit of a party place, which surprised us. We stayed at a guesthouse on a road called Thanon Manem Kwae which we renamed ‘Bar Street’. Every other building was a bar. Not normally our first choice but our room was set well back from the street. Handy to get a beer, and during the day the street was busy with street vendors, traffic and people walking. At night though, it took on a slightly seedy feel. Which is not what we expected. The bars were full of older Western gentlemen being entertained by young Thai girls. Or older Western gentlemen waiting to be entertained by young Thai girls. You had young Thai girls so drunk they were falling over one another. Thai girls dancing around poles trying to lure us in to their bars. Bars where shots were only 10 baht (about 20p). Like a Thai Ibiza or Aiya Napa. Shudder.
We had one night where we had a few beers, some games of pool and chatted to other travellers but stayed in some of the safer bars. Mainly for Nick’s sake, I think some of those ladies would have not let him get out alive!
Despite that, I’m so glad we made the stop here though; it was an incredible few days, for all kinds of reasons and I won’t forget it.