Bangkok Day 3 (20 Dec 09) – The Township of Death: Kanchanaburi and Riding the Death Railway over River Kwai

The day that went wrong. Well initially wanted to head to Ayutthaya, overslept and as a result missed the first 2 trains to Ayutthaya. So I changed the plan and head towards Kanchanburi instead. Before embarking on the trip, things had already gone wrong. First thing on the list was the cab (no choice the bus station is so far that the only way to get there is by cab), the cabby told me he was rather new on the job and he drove me to a service terminal instead of the passenger terminal. However he was nice enough to charge me less for the boo-boo and ensured that I get on the right bus headed for Kanchanburi. The bus then drove to the right station and again there was a wait. This is the 2nd thing that had gone wrong; this wait had resulted in me missing the Death Railway train. The journey to Kanchanaburi takes about 2 hour, but the time the waiting at the bus terminal commenced it was already 9am and the death railway leaves at 10.30 am, while the next train leaves at 4.30pm and there wun be any train back. I thought to myself “since I am already on the bus, just head out and see what can be done about the situation”.

So the bus headed out for Kanchanburi. Upon arrival, it was already 12.30pm. I headed for the Tourism Authority of Thailand office. The lady there said I can still take the death railway on the return leg. I was thrilled to know of that! She advised me to leave Kanchanaburi latest by 2pm in order to make it for the 3.15pm return leg. Taking her word for it, and I did not bother to read the timetable she gave me. Anyhoo will come back to this later. So in the meantime I got some time to kill, so I decided to head towards the JEATH museum.

Streets of Kanchanaburi
Streets of Kanchanaburi
Streets of Kanchanaburi

JEATH museum is an open air museum that was established to collect various items linked to the construction of death railway. It showed case the sufferings that the POWs went through during the construction. The first thing that caught my eye was this bamboo hut. It stored various photos, drawings and news clippings of the constructions and the POW. By the way, if you are asking what in the world is JEATH, it simply stands for” Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland”. These countries were involved in the death railway project. Anyway back to the hut, as I read further, the hut was the living quarters for these POWs, everyone was given only a small space to sleep. These men were practically packed like sardines. The museum also displayed a bomb that was dropped over River Kwai (seem like River Kwai is the life of Kanchanaburi, pretty much like Chao Praya to Bangkok). Outside the hut, part of River Kwai can be visible. This museum right next to a Chinese temple that worshipped Guan Ying. This gave me the thought that Kanchanaburi was predominantly Chinese. As I headed towards my next destination, the war cemetery, it became very clear that there is heavy presence of Chinese community in Kanchanburi.

View of River Kwai behind the JEATH Museum
View of River Kwai behind the JEATH Museum
Inside the JEATH Museum

As I was walking towards the War Cemetery, I came by my next thing on my to-do list for this trip that is to eat on the road side store. I walked past this lady and her assistant selling noodles just beneath a tree. Well since it is lunch time, might as well catch lunch there. The noodle prepared was simple, by tasty. As I added quite abit of chilli flakes (that was provided), the spiciness of the soup gave the noodles extra tastiness. Din take long for me to finish the noodles (and the soup of course), I headed towards the cemetery. As I was walking past what seemed like the Chinatown of Kanchanburi, it seemed that I was transported back in time in the 60s/70s period in Singapore! Everything was so retro and life was really simple for the locals. One can see pre-teen children riding around on their motorbikes with perhaps 2 other passengers and no helmet on!

The delicious soup noodles by the road side
This is where I bought the soup noodles

After around 30 mins of walking, I reached the War Cemetery. It seems like the one we have in kranji, but of a smaller scale. This cemetery has a total of 6982 POWs buried in it. These men died during WWII while building the death railway. It seem like death is the main theme in Kanchanaburi and the whole town was there to remember these men who gave their lives in the construction of the railway! I took the advice of the lady in the TAT office and started to wait for the bus heading for Sai Yok Noi train station to catch my death railway ride back to kanchanaburi. This is where one thing led to another series of event that went wrong for me today. As I was waiting for the bus (which never seemed to come) , I realised that the bus actually took 1½ hour to reach Sai Yok Noi! Given the bus departed every half hourly (assuming that it left at 2pm), by the time I reached where I wanted to go I would be late for the train ride. As I was looking for a cab to take me there, a local turned up in his tuk-tuk. He proposed to bring me to this place called Tham KraSae Cave, where I will still be in time to catch the last train back to Kanchanaburi. I guess this was the only logical way to do it and I went on with it!

Gate near the war memorial
Inside the War Memorial
Inside the War Memorial
Inside the War Memorial
Train Museum

The ride to Tham KraSae Cave took around 1 hour 15 mins. By the time I reached there all I can do there was go into the cave and see the Buddha statue in the cave and walk part of the death railway by foot! I remember reading somewhere one of the things to experience was to actually walk on this stretch of the railway, as this is the stretch that killed the most people in the construction! As I was walking on the railway I can see on the right, River Kwai! On the other side of the river bank there are raft houses for tourist to stay in (these people really dig into the tourists pocket deep). However it was interesting to see people jumping into the river for fun (note: the river was #1 really dirty if ; you were to take a closer look; #2 the current was really strong), thought interesting I thought these people are really stupid for jumping into the river! After waiting for 30 mins, the train finally arrived! The seats on the train were made of wood and 2 benches were facing each other. There were a couple of Argentines and an Israeli sitting together with me during this train ride. Thanks to them, I got a free ride!! Apparently the train conductor must be thinking I was part of the tour guide (locals get to ride the train for free), and he din bother collecting my fare from me… so I act blur like what most Singaporeans would do.

On my way to Tham KraSae Cave
Some shops at Tham KraSae
Overlooking River Kwai at Tham KraSae
Part of the Death Railway
View of River Kwai
View of River Kwai from the Death Railway
View of the Death Railway
View of River Kwai and water lodges for tourists
View of the Death Railway and the cliffs
Tham KraSae Cave Shrine
View of the railway from inside the cave
Tham KraSae Railway Station
Train pulling into the station
View of River Kwai

As the train pulled from the station, going pass the cliff that the railway was built on slowly, the views were amazing. However much to my disappointment, it was a really short stretch of the rail. So the Argentines and the Israeli left with their tour group a few stations after we embarked. It seemed that that short stretch was the highlight of the train ride, and the rest was monotonous. True enough the rest of the ride was pretty much farms, mountains etc. Nonetheless my next stop was at Bridge at River Kwai so I continued the train ride towards the station. After about 2 hours of bumpy ride, I finally reached Bridge at River Kwai.

Riding on the Death railway
View of River Kwai from the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Inside the train
Me on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Crossing River Kwai
Crossing River Kwai
Crossing River Kwai
View of the railway bridge
View on the Railway Bridge
View on the Railway Bridge
View on the Railway Bridge
View of the Railway bridge

The bridge over River Kwai was part of a strategic railway route to Myanmar in which the Japs aimed to secure supplies to aid them in their conquer of the other western Asian countries. History was it that part of the bridge was damaged by allied plane attacks in 1944 and 1945. However several arches of the iron bridge stood undamaged. The bridge was repaired after WWII, and is usually opened for people to get across the river and of course, it became one of the tourist attraction. On either side of the bridge there is a small platform for bridge users to stand on in the event a train is trespassing the bridge. It is quite interesting to see tourists, locals seeking temporary shelter on the platform when the train was crossing the bridge. I was lucky that I was in time for sunset when I reached River Kwai. The view was beautiful and tranquil, it had seemed that things fell back to where it was (and even better, as I did not expect to see sunset at over River Kwai). Not too bad a day after all!! The area around the train station at Bridge over River Kwai was rather touristy. Huge hordes of tourists flocked there just to see the bridge during sunset timing. So I decided to leave this place and head for the bus terminal for my return journey to Bangkok (all that I wanted to do was accomplished so no point staying around). So I walked to find a Song Theaw that would take me to the bus station (was a long distance if I were to walk).

Upon arriving at the bus terminal, I walked pass this area that seemed to be a place for the locals to eat other (just by the road outside the bus terminal). As I walked past 2 of the 4 stores there, there was this store that sold something like our Hao Jian. I ordered a plate and decided to try it (the other store I walked past sold what looked like satay to me). Waited for around 5 mins for my food to arrive. It was tasty! Goes very well with the chili sauce that was provided. The food was crispy (even the oysters tasted crispy), topped with semi cooked bean sprout! Not too bad did 2 road side eateries in 1 day. After eating I walked to the bus terminal (was around 7pm already), I got to know from the staff there that the next bus would be the last bus at 8 pm. As the bus does not leave from the terminal, they directed me to go “outside” to take the bus. As I was walking I saw this tentage with the words “To Bangkok”, so I enquired about the ride. It turns out that the van’s destination was at Victory Monument, next to it was a BTS station which I can ride back to the hotel. I thought this would be a better deal as I dun have to take a cab back to hotel. Boarded the van and made it back to Bangkok within 1½ hour. Took the BTS back and had a sudden crave for Starbucks coffee so I headed to Siam Paragon to get 1. As I was there on the B1 level, it struck me that this looked exactly like Singapore! Lots of eateries, a huge supermarket, and it even has a breadtalk/toast box selling nasi lemak!

Well the day went past starting with things that went wrong, one leading to another like a domino effect. I realised that it may not be a bad thing after all. Things would straighten itself out and I had achieved what I started out to achieve! Of course that takes a bit of making things happen and not just let things be. I guess this is what we should do in life! Things go wrong (and they DO go wrong), instead of whining perhaps we should do something about it rather than allowing it to deteriorate. Well tomorrow is another day, hope I can wake up in time for the train to Ayutthaya……

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