We then drove south along the back roads to Kanchanaburi, arriving about 6.30pm. We eventually found the River guest house where we had been thinking of staying However the floating buildings looked pretty dilapidated and there were no European loos, only holes in the ground that emptied straight into the river so we continued our search for overnight accommodation. On the outskirts of the town we found the R.S. Hotel and decided to stay there.
Wed 28.01 we got up at 8.30, had breakfast and then went to the train station to get tickets for the train for our ride on the Thailand-Burma death railway the following day. We then drove to the Khmer temple at Muang Singh (City of Lions), thought to have been built at the end of the 12th century.
“As with al Khmer prasats, the pivotal feature of Muang Singh is the main prang, as always surrounded by a series of walls and a covered gallery, with gateways marking the cardinal points. The prang faces east, towards Angkor, and is guarded by a fine sandstone statue of Avalokitesvara, on of the five great Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism, would-be buddhas who have postponed their entrance into nirvana to help others attain enlightenment. He’s depicted here in the characteristic style, his eight arms and torso covered with tiny Buddha reliefs and his hair tied in a top knot.
In Mahayanist mythology, Avalokitesvara represents mercy, while the other statue fond in the prasat, the female figure of Prajnaparimata, symbolizes wisdom – when wisdom and mercy join forces, enlightenment ensues.” (RG).
We then went on to visit one of Kanchanaburi’s “more controversial” attractions in the form of Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua Yannasampanno, the tiger sanctuary temple. Temples are traditionally regarded as sanctuaries for unwanted and illegally captured animals. We arrived just after 12.30, as advised by a friend of ours, and shortly before 13.00 joined a group of people to walk with the tigers to the canyon where they spend the afternoons sleeping.
We paid the 500 baht entrance fee which entitled us to walk with the tigers but decided against spending any more money to have our photos taken with a tiger’s head in our laps. For 4000 baht you could spend the morning inter-acting with tigers or you could spend an evening session with them. Many people return from such visits disgruntled by the commercialism of the whole set-up and the apparently poor conditions in which the tigers are kept when not on display to the public. I can’t comment on this as we didn’t see their living quarters. I have to admit it was quite a thrill to be so close to tigers that were not in cages and to touch one.
We left about 2pm and drove towards Si Sawat, stopping en route to visit the famous Erawan falls in the Erawan national park. They are probably the most photographed waterfalls in Thailand.
The visit was disappointing because of the park staff’s attitude – you couldn’t take food or drink beyond a certain point – unrealistic not to allow water in such a warm climate. We continued around the Srinakarind reservoir as far as Si Sawat where there was nothing more to see than a couple of very dilapidated floating houses. However, as hubby was reversing the car, I looked out of my window and saw an Indian Roller, perched on a post about a metre away from the car. These are beautiful birds and quite spectacular in flight when you can see the vivid turquoise colour of its back and wings.
Thurs. 29.01 we took taxi (a/c minibus) to the train station. We were going on the day trip on the infamous death railway. As my tummy wasn’t very good that day we decided to go to Nam Tok and return straight away, travelling in one of the tourist class wagons for which we paid 300 baht per person. You could travel ordinary class for 100 baht and the seats were exactly the same but the difference was that we got supplied with cold drinks and snacks – very welcome. The train left nearly one hour late and took 2 hours each way. The scenery wasn’t nearly as spectacular as we had been left to believe. Probably that was partly due to the fact that it was the dry season so everything looked very dry. We passed fields of cultivated tapioca plants and papaya trees.
It was hard to imagine that the construction of this railway caused the deaths of so many people and in such appalling conditions. We got back to Kanchanaburi about 4pm and had a beer in one of the floating restaurants near the bridge. Everyone expects to see the metal bridge over the river Kwai as featured in the film of the same name. The reality is very different and less impressive.
I’d got talking to a Dutchman while waiting for the train that morning. He told me he was staying in a place called the Jolly Frog Backpackers (which he said was very cheap – he was only paying 75 baht per night for his single room and that the food was very good with 300 items on the menu). We decided to try and find it so walked from the bridge, about 2km). We ate dinner there – it was indeed very cheap – and then caught a tuk-tuk taxi back to the hotel.
Fri 30.01 We checked out of the R.S. Hotel and started our drive up to Sangkhlaburi and the 3 pagodas pass. We stopped off to visit the excellent Hellfire Pass memorial museum, which quickly reduced me to tears. We had neither the heart nor the footwear to walk the 7km memorial walk along much of the railway track. The peace vessel by Peter Rushforth was beautiful.
At Thong Pha Phum we stopped for the lunch at the lakeside restaurant called the VIP (mentioned in RG)
and then continued through montane rain forest and steep crags with the reservoir on our left.
We caught sight of the drowned valley, with trees sticking up out of the water.
We went as far as the 3 pagodas pass where the border with the Union of Burma is. A cheeky little boy tried to sell me some tiger balm. When I told him we already had some he pointed out that ours was not Burmese but Thai, the implication being that ours was of inferior quality. I asked where he had learned his English and he replied he’d learned it in school. Apart from the 3 surprisingly small pagodas and some shops selling jewellery and snacks there was little to see other than a small memorial to the railway and an ornately decorated shrine with two handsome lion dogs at the foot of the steps.
We went back towards Sangkhlaburi and the nearby Mon village, linked to each other by a wooden bridge,
which I had wanted to visit but we had run out of time except for a brief look at Wat Wang Wiwekaram which has a massive golden chedi built in a fusion of Thai, Indian and Burmese styles.
I was very surprised when a monk wished me a good afternoon and we had a brief conversation about where we were both from and what we were doing. Usually monks don’t speak to women.
We returned to Kanchanaburi by the same route and booked into the same hotel we’d left that morning. We drove into town for dinner and ate at the Jolly Frog again.