Kanchanaburi, Re-incarnation and the King

Kanchanaburi Travel Blog

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Kanchanaburi. Or for more dramatic effect: Kanchanaburi, the Bridge over the River Kwai, Hellfire Pass & the Burma-Siam Death Railway...

Is a lovely place, it is of course tied up with the story of prisoners of war in slave labour encampments during the second world war, and there are plenty of places to visit to get a sobering reminder of the costs of war and the lost innocence. For most it is a dramatic contrast to the general frivolity of 'travelling'.

The tour group visited a cemetery for the war dead, which is pretty but I feel guilty for saying this, quite boring. Close to this there is an outdoor museum (JEATH Museum) to help you understand and experience the conditions of the railway workers, and it is grim, again its difficult to have the moments of solitude you need to appreciate these sights on a tour and my preference is to not burden myself with the guilt of my relatively lavish western lifestyle.

Kanchanaburi railway station is not far from both these sights and we get there via the tour bus, we have a bit of time to look around the stalls and appreciate the town. If you walk from the platform, which dominates the area down to the river side there are numerous tour boats which will wisk you up and down the river. This is great fun, its the sort of fun you can't really get in the UK, where you know the boat would not be allowed to go as fast as the engine will allow it, you will require safety jackets and a safety briefing, be shackled in and then the weather will be rubbish.

It feels so liberating to just haggle with a guy with a boat, get in and just rip up and down the river, sounds simple but it compulsively brings a smile to everyone’s face and with the heat the splash of the river water and breeze is wonderful.

When the train comes you get on it, as is the fashion with trains. Its basic, there is a hole in the floor for a toilet, or the guys can simply wee out the doors or windows depending on who is around and how bashful you feel. From memory the scenery is pretty and you can count chickens if your slow or palm trees if you count very fast but to be fair there is not much to look at.

Again the contrast between the UK is what is wonderful, there are no beeping doors, no air conditioning, no conductors intercom. Just seats and the ever present breeze.

I do not recall the full details but at some point we were at a town where we were going to catch an overnight train down to Krabi. The place had a massive temple and I know I should recall where it was and what it was because I am sure it is no doubt significant. However I do not. What I do remember are two things, firstly Isla trying to find herself by learning some of the language and bowing down in a rather elegant way. She taught me how to say the Thai greeting Sawatdee Khrab. It seems in reflection if you say ‘sweaty cap’ Thai people will generally respond in the same manor.

 As a short Vignette, Isla, relative to everyone else on the tour was looking to widen her horizons, she was curious to learn about Thailand and seemed eager to embed her experience in some of the local customs. She would later reveal that in Edinburgh she led a reasonably sheltered life and described it as 'living like a monk', it is this later comment which probably explains why after becoming good friends with the blondes Isla propensity to find herself through different customs was displaced by a desire to find herself underneath some guy shagging her way across numerous time zones and finding part of someone else embedded within her. It is really none of my business but I preferred her second incarnation. Ironically, given that she was in a country whose religion proposes re-incarnation that hers would see her fall so far from the apple tree, so to speak.

The second thing I recall, and blast it, I was not there to see it, is Tom, a guy who couldn't stand foreign food, people or places and burdened the group with the constant requirement to find a McDonalds, to the point where you could clearly see him losing strength on about the fourth or fifth day that we could not, decided to try a cockroach sold from a vendors stall by the side of the road leading up to the main temple. As he describes it he was ok with it until he had broken through the hard outer shell and the gooey inside squirted and then leaked into his mouth. Tom fled from the stall and threw up behind a tree, the fact that the tree was only two foot from the stall and only about three inches thick was handy as between retches Tom was in a position to apologize to the vendor for throwing up so close to his 'food' outlet. Apparently cockroaches are high in protein and as close to superfood as science is ever likely to find.

I lied, I also remember from that town a group of children playing on model train, it was a beautiful image that has stayed with me.

This is a close run thing but I think the train journey was my favourite part of the tour. It was an overnight sleeper train, we each had a full length flat bed which was comfortable. There was not much storage and people clambered to find space for their bags. As is often the case the skinniest girl on the tour had the biggest bag, I would say with no exaggeration that she probably had 25 to 30 times as much stuff as I had (as much a reflection of my frugality as her, 'girlieness'?). However she was stunning and so people found some space for her bags.

Conveniently there was a beer porter on board; probably the driver in reflection. At this time the group was newly forming still but the bond me and Tom had made with the lady beer porter had put us in a position to bring the group closer together. As she brought bucket after bucket of Singha, and when that had run out Chang, the group chatted; about god knows what, Tom offended Isla then Jane, then the whole train for being too loud and eventually we went to sleep.

My god, what perfect sleep, the sound of the wheels on the railway sleepers creates a beat similar to the pattern of a beating heart and is so easy to drift away into, I have not slept so peacefully since and do not recall sleeping so well before. I do not know why but there was a collective waking up time even though the train journey was far from complete, daylight had replaced darkness and the weather was glorious, in an effort to stretch my legs I walked to where the doorways at the fore and aft of each carriage are on either side of the train. That is where the breeze is best and the sun is most accessible. Leaning out the doors, hanging onto a rusty piece of iron with the majority of my weight outside the train I take in what is a glorious day and a glorious part of my life.

I have never had a conversation with someone I didn't know on a train in the UK and only when drunk on the tube, when either I, or they are being obnoxious. On this train it would seem weird not to say hi to whoever is next to you when you want to talk. When I wanted to talk I was next to a leathery faced English guy who had left his wares behind him in the UK many years ago and lived in a constant commuter journey between Thailand and Vietnam. It turns out that a visa is only issued for 30 days, so every thirty days he has to complete a cycle, go into Vietnam and stay 30 days there, then go to Thailand and spend thirty days there, and so on.

My new friend explained how he sold his house and has been living in Thailand like a King for less than ten grand a year for years and had no plans to go home, his Queen was a prostitute he had a long term relationship with, he subsidised her on a minimal wage and for that he got cooking, clean clothes and 'a good fuck', it seemed as well she was not the first, he had had other girls he had long term arrangements with. I did not ask but I assumed he had swapped the old one for a newer model, why, I guess if my morals had lapsed that much that is what I would do.

Such people are fountains of useful knowledge. With as straight a face as was possible with skin leathered in a way only tropical weather and a lifestyle on the move can create he told me about the poor quality of Koi Samui prostitute. With an impassioned expression he insisted relative to Thailand’s other prostitutes they are not as caring, in the Kings own word ‘they have no heart’. I have no other reference to assure anyone if this is the case or not but the Thai people are known for their friendliness, it seems a shame if one part of the country is letting the side down ;-)

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Kanchanaburi
photo by: wbboy29