28.10.2010 - 01.10.2010 32 °C
A long day's travel. Six hours on a train, we splurged on the air conditioned second class seats which were great, if a little uncomfortable on the arse, but the windows had this film on them so the sun couldn't come in and bake you. As a result you didn't get to see much of the countryside passing by. This is probably best as I spent most of the time sleeping anyway. On a side note, I've determined that Thai people must have arses of steel. We have got to the stage where we rejoice when we find the luxury that is cushioned seats. On the bus, on the train, on scooters, on elephants, in restaurants and bars, we have, on many occasions, left with rather sore behinds which results in a little groan each time we sit down for at least 24 hours afterwards (or in the case of the elephant, about three days). I did consider writing a whole post on just this topic, an ode to a cushion if you will, but I doubt it would have been appreciated.
So we arrived in Kanchanaburi by bus from Bangkok (after the train journey from Phitsanulok) having broken a golden rule...never book accommodation in anywhere with the word 'resort' in it. We were tempted by the good reviews but instead got a location THB60 out of town (ok so it's €1.50 but every penny counts) and a completely dozy staff with no personality. We have been really spoiled/lucky with some of the guesthouses we've stayed in with great friendly staff so the bar is set high when we move somewhere new. It was clean which is what matters most so I'll stop moaning. We had a little bungalow to stay in which was nice too.
The town itself seems to be split in two, one end that is purely tourist orientated and another for the local Thai population. We unfortunately were stuck in the touristy end and never got to explore the other end as we were only there for three nights. To avoid the tourist horde, on the second day we chose the 06.05am train from the River Kwai Bridge to Nam Tok, the last station on this stretch of track. When it was first built, it crossed the Burmese border but that has since been ripped up after WWII. This particular stretch of track is one of the most scenic in Thailand, according to seat61.com (http://seat61.com/Kwai.htm) and I can't argue with it. The Death Railway is so-called as they say for each sleeper laid a person lost their life in the building of the track. Something that I didn't know was that there were more Asian labourers in the camps than there were POWs - labourers that were recruited by the Japanese on the promise of high wages and good working conditions.
From Nam Tok we took a taxi to the Hellfire Pass - named by the POWs because it was a part of the track that cut through a mountain and when the labourers were working at night the light from the fires resembled the fires of hell. There's a fantastic museum there established by the Australian government with a trail leading along the bed of the old railway track and a stunning contemplation deck looking over the valley. It included a great audio tour as well with stories from Aussie POWs, some with particularly admirable views on the Japanese officers that treated them so brutally. The Japanese looked upon the POWs with disgust as they believed death and suicide was more honourable than living as a captive in enemy hands, hence the sub-human treatment that was inflicted.
On a more frivolous note, we found a brilliant bar! Run by Nong a local guitar teacher who was giving lessons to a guy from Manchester who kept a nice little collection of guitars in the bar. One beer led to another and Will, Nong and Phil from Manchester had formed their own little band in this little bar on the side of the road.
After this brief sojourn in Kanchanaburi we are Bangkok bound again for a few days of rancho relaxo and a restock of supplies before heading on an overnight train to Nong Khai and onward into Laos, a whole new country!!!!