Published: March 21st 2008March 21st 2008
Fully relaxed and ready to go we bode farewell to Koh Chang and caught the return bus back to Bangkok, the complete journey (both ways), including the ferry rides cost us the grand total of around $16 USD or £8, man you gotta love this country. On returning to Bangkok we decided not to stay around the Kao San Road circus this time, opting instead for the much more sedate and civilised Rambuttri Road, which is just a stones throw away from the infamous street and nestled up against a lovely old temple (Wat) - infinitely more relaxing. Claire was going to be heading off to a Buddhist retreat for a week leaving me to have a nose around Bangkok’s surrounding area, but before she went off we took a joint excursion up to the fallen kingdom of Ayutthaya, a couple of hours away by bus. Our guide for the day looked like Mr Miagi (from the Karate Kid flicks) and had a most gracious wispy length of white hair sprouting from his chin that enhanced his master’s presence as he narrated in detail and escorted us around the ruined pagodas, temples and wat’s that make up what remains of this
Ayutthaya - Reclining Buddha Head Detail
note the gold leaf on the arm where people offer lotus flowers and pray
once glorious city. Historically speaking the Ayutthaya Kingdom flourished for over four centuries between 1350 and 1767 before the invading Burmese eventually destroyed it and it was abandoned thereafter. This place was once a truly rich and vibrant cosmopolitan centre having many European embassies and traders dotted outside its city centre - the Spaniards, Dutch, Portuguese and French all had extensive trade routes and supply chains leading to and from this majestic old city and during its golden years its wealth and size was compared with Paris by King Louis XIV of France. Today however ruins are the order of the day, after the city had been sacked by the invading Burmese the Siamese relocated there countries capital to Thom Buri, which is near present day Bangkok. The destroyed Ayutthaya was left to natures will and the myriad of wats and pagodas were left to the elements, to add insult to injury the majority of the Buddha images were be-headed during the dark reign of Pol Pot and by opportunist antiquities dealers selling on their countries heritage for a quick buck whilst leaving a hollowed out shell of a once mighty Kingdom. Due to its forlorn grandeur Ayutthaya is still
Ayutthaya - Last Remaining Buddha
the rest have been decapitated over the years
a very special place, one of the highlights here is a carved and discarded Buddha head which has been raised and incorporated into the roots of a Banyan tree, and nearby is a gigantic reclining Buddha with bright orange robes - great photogenic stuff. All in all a great days snapping and a good insight into this countries fascinating and bloody past.
With Claire off and away with the Monks Meditation Retreat
, I was left to my own devices for a week in Bangkok; I moved hotels and chilled back for a few days before my next venture out of town to the infamous ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’. Just a few hours out of Bangkok you can visit the inconspicuous little town of Kanchanaburi that is home to a stretch of the Burma Railway that spans the infamous bridge. The construction of this railway (also dubbed Death Railway) inspired the film of the same name and although the suffering caused by the building of the railway and its bridges is true, the incidents portrayed in the film are mostly fictional. Historically the conditions were much worse due to the dense hilly jungle terrain and sweltering heat, the
forced labour made up of Asian, American, Australian, British and Dutch POW’s perished in huge numbers falling prey to diseases like malaria, cholera and dysentery bought on from being overworked and malnourished. Apparently there was originally two bridges constructed here, one made from wood, and the other steel framed construction that we see today, however due to it’s strategic location the bridge was under constant aerial barrage from the Allied Forces. On one such occasion to counter these strikes the Japanese forced all the available POW workers to form a human shield during the bombing run, which ended tragically with the total destruction of a mid section of the bridge and the massacre of hundreds of workers that had been forced to shield it, it is recorded that the river literally ran red with blood. Aside from this one of many deadly instances, it is estimated that around 160,000 people died constructing the railway that ran 258 miles between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar) and is acknowledged as one of the war crimes the Japanese committed in Asia during the war. There is a dedicated ‘JEATH’ (Japan, England, America, Thailand & Holland) War Museum (which overlooks the bridge)
Ayutthaya - Buddha Head In Tree
its funny how nature has created an attraction that gets more attention than the splendid man made ruins here
and houses a variety of odd war memorabilia including armaments, weapons, vehicles, and shows mock-up displays depicting the conditions and events that unravelled here in more graphic detail. Also to commemorate and remember those fallen prisoners of war there is a nearby cemetery to pay your respects at, row upon row of tiny plinths/headstones with heart-rending, tear jerking epitaphs. Needless to say this is a very poignant and emotionally moving place, the whole experience of seeing the railway, the cemetery and the nearby war museum brings up a wealth of feelings, it is a truly horrific history lesson but one we should never be allowed to forget.
Having paid our respects at the Kanchanaburi War cemetery the day trip took on a lighter, reflective turn as we hopped on board a steam train and pootled down a repaired stretch of the Death Railway. Clickerty clack, clickerty clack the ride was so full of people that I was forced to sitting on the steps leading onto the train, which fortunately turned out to be a whole lot more fun than being cooped up inside the stuffy carriages. This unique vantage point afforded me a most amazing view of the scenery
rushing by, over streams and bridges, through gorges and around rocky outcrops running parallel to the Kwai River meandering through picture postcard landscapes; the day was brightening up in more ways than one. We reached our stop and disembarked from the train and made our way by mini-bus to a tiny little restaurant for a refreshing spot of lunch. Our next port of call was a beautiful waterfall and nature reserve at a secluded spot (can’t remember the name unfortunately as wasn’t paying much attention) needless to say it is advertised everywhere in all the tour agents and is within striking distance of Bangkok so can’t be too many waterfalls out and around there! This was just the tonic to relax at following the mental assault on the senses that the morning had dealt, plenty of trees, tranquillity and wildlife; butterflies swarming near quiet pools of water, hugely splayed banyan trees with roots finding their ways into earth from heights, a breath of good clean fresh air. There’s also a enticing little shrine crudely fashioned inside the hollow of a nearby rock cave which looked like it had suffered in the hands of an earthquake some time in the past,
with statues of golden Buddha’s, elephants and offerings of incense burning in a bowl it was another little gem in what tuned out to be a truly memorable day out.
So apart from the above mentioned locations I really didn’t do a lot with the rest of the week, I am supremely lazy at times, and hey there is so much here on your doorstep in Bangkok, why spoil the ambiance? Claire was soon returned from her meditations with monks and we were fast coming to the end of our 30 days visa in Thailand. Time to up sticks and move the party to another country. We realised that we will be coming back to Bangkok in the near future so we deliberately left things for us to do when we come back this way…. until that time however we were going to start a big old circuit of the South East starting in Cambodia, next stop Siem Reap and the amazing Angkor Wat. So until the next time I get inspiration to start jabbing away at the keyboard again… I’ll bid you all farewell… Sawatdee Kap!
There are more photos below