Published: July 21st 2009July 10th 2009
After the disappointment in Mae Sot we were both feeling a bit low but visiting the Kanchanaburi area had been on our list of things to do since leaving the UK so we hoped that this would pick up our spirits a little and get us back on track.. it certainly did that and a whole lot more!
After hanging in the Bangkok bus station for 3 hours from 3.30am and being amazed at just how busy this place is at this time of the morning we booked a bus to kanchanaburi for 6am. It was only 3 hours away but we were both so tired from a long nights travelling we slept all the way and woke up in the bright sunshine in the town at just gone 9am. After a bit of a sleepy faltering start walking the wrong way down the road we managed to find the guesthouse area and had a real result finding a room straight away for just 150B. Best of all it was the coolest room ever! It was like a little mini house with a mezzanine bedroom and a lounge area downstairs with a tv overlooking the River Kwai and we couldn't
Monk walking tiger
This one was HUGE!!!
have been happier.
We headed straight out to take a walk down the mini Koh Sahn Road road full of girlie bars, restaurants and massage places but it was so hot and we were still tired so we just headed back to our house on the river to relax for the afternoon and get a few hours sleep in. In the evening we headed into town to try and find the night market but it was like a ghost town.. so we went back to the main tourist road where a few restaurants were open but still quite empty, even the girlie bars were shut! We later found out that for the 2 first days we were there it was a Bhuddist holiday so no shops or restaurants can sell alcohol, this means that everywhere is dead because of course people can't go out without drinking.. doh!
On our second day we planned a historical day visiting the bridge and some of the museums. It was a gloriously sunny day so we walked the 2km to the bridge from our guesthouse and were amazed at just how busy it was so early in the morning! The tour groups
obviously stop here first on their whistle stop tour of the area from Bangkok, we managed to get some good snaps of the bridge with limited background people but it was quite difficult. The worst part was actually walking over the bridge.. well it was the worst part for Sophie because there are no handrails or anything so if you miss your footing you fall right over the side into the river! Add to this the number of rude tourists who blatently refuse to try and move to the side a bit to make passing easier and the result is Sophie getting very annoyed and also refusing to move (the English are too polite sometimes!) so a lot of stand offs, pushing and tutting went on as she proceeded along the bridge.
Some people comment that the bridge is not quite what they thought it would be, this is the problem when things are made into movies, but we thought it was just how we imagined and were just happy to have again seen something so significant in our history. After seeing the bridge in all it's glory we headed back to town to visit the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre
and learn all about the building of the death railway. We realise that this sounds pretty boring to people back at home but after seeing the bridge and part of the railway and knowing a little bit about the background of it's creation, we really wanted to learn more about it. This museum is amazing. It's been done so well and clearly a lot of thought has gone into it considering the background and parts are quite moving. Lots of relations of those who were POW's have donated items and we found it fascinating seeing items that the prisoners had and had kept. Probably the saddest was a letter from a prisoner to his family telling them how well he was, it was then revealed that he had died just after sending the letter and this was the last his family had heard from him. There were also numerous items of clothing, mess tins, drawings etc and went spent a long time looking at each item.
The museum also went into great detail about how they planned the railway, the POW's, the construction etc. Even Sophie found this all very interesting it was presented in such a good way
with lots of models, photos and videos. The conditions the prisoners were kept in were terrible, they didn't have enough food and many died from malnutrition and disease from lack of care, this was all after they'd been transported like cattle from Singapore in small train carriages where there wasn't enough space to even sit down. It was so sad to read just how many people had died making the railway under the Japanese, as people will know many of these were British along with a large number of Australian and Dutch too.
From the restaurant in the museum you have a panoramic view of the Allied War Cemetery which is another sad reminder of the outcome of wars. Here in the cemetery lie the bodies of 6,982 POW's, predominantly British. The cemetery is immaculately kept which is pleasing to see, we learnt in the museum that they Thai's had wished they could do more for the POW's at the time but obviously couldn't so perhaps this is their way of making peace with those who died.
From learning such a great deal in this informative museum we ventured back to the bridge to visit possibly the strangest
and most random museum we've ever been to. This was the WWII museum although it didn't really have a lot to do with the war and was more of a random storeroom for various items that had been collected over the years. There seems to be a fascination with guns as 100's were on display, lots of money, some bones of people who died in the war, some materials.. what they were we have no idea, some paintings of Miss Thailand, more guns and some typewriters. There was no logical way to see what was in the museum so we bumbled around sniggering at what was in there and wondering what it was all about.
Possibly the most amusing thing is the English translations. There were a few newspaper items and a small display on the way, all covered in cobwebs, and someone had obviously gone to great lengths to translate with lines like.. "the bodies lay higgledy-piggedly under the bridge" and "in the twinkle of an eye the atomic bomb killed 100,000 people".. it was incredible that such a sad line could be made amusing by words that no one uses any longer!
The museum does have
great views of the bridge so we ventured to the "Thai" part of the museum which was even stranger with a whole room dedicated to cut up newspaper articles and explored to find the terraces which overlooked the bridge.
So to our second full day in Kanchanaburi and also what proved to be one of the best days of our travelling so far....
We had both been torn about going to the Tiger Temple for a number of months now after reading an equal number of glowing and awful reports on how the tigers were kept. In the end we spoke to a few locals who seemed to think that all was ok so we hired out a bike and drove the 40km to the Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monestery which is home to 17 orphaned tigers. Here at the monestery you have the opportunity to come into close contact with the tigers under the close supervision of the monks & keepers.
When we first entered the temple we were gobsmacked at seeing a group of fully grown tigers, on leads just lazing around under the trees. Never in our lifetime would we have
expected to see something like this and our fascination with seeing tigers close up since we've arrived in Asia just made this whole experience more memorable. After about 10 minutes the monks tell the tourists to enter an area above the tigers so that they can start to walk them down to the canyon safely. Four tigers were left behind and these are the ones which we got to walk down. In large groups we got to hold the lead of a tiger one by one and have our photo taken. This alone was amazing because we would never have dreamed of walking a tiger!
Inside the canyon the tigers are left to relax in the shade and get hosed down with water to keep them cool. This time of day is their sleeping time and this is exactly that they do! We were all kept behind a rope until everyone was together and then told about the photo session. You have the opportunity for free photos with you behind a tiger touching it's back so we both did this which in itself is scary enough but when we saw lots of people paying the 1000B (yes it's a
lot!) to have a photo with a tiger on their lap we just couldn't resist... it really blew our budget but really when else in our lifetime would we get to have a tiger on our laps?!
We paid our money and Sophie was first to have her photo taken. The photo was with the biggest tiger in the group and when we say this tiger was big it was enormous.. HUGE! Although it's in a controlled environment she was so scared about this. The tiger was asleep but just the thought of it waking up and being able to turn round and take off her head is quite nerve racking! They may be chained down to stop them running around but we know how fast cats move and if a tiger wanted to eat someone we doubt that much could be done.. we certainly saw no evidence of tranquilliser guns or the like and monk magic wouldn't stop kitty enjoying a tasty snack! So Sophie had her photo taken with the tiger twitching and her heart beating in double time, she's just glad that Tigers aren't like dogs and are able to smell fear because she was reaking
Next it was Dale's turn and he too was pretty scared, it's really difficult not to be when you have the biggest cat in the world pinning your leg down.. whether you've paid for the priviledge or not! We both came out with fantastic photos that we will remember for ever and an experience of a lifetime we will never repeat or forget.. it really was that amazing and worth every penny.
After being in the canyon for a few hours watching these amazing animals chilling out we ventured back to the tree area where the monks had brought out some of the younger cubs for photos too. Yet again we got in line and were able to get a photo with a teenage cub who you could actually cuddle. This was also quite scary as he was quite playful and although still fairily small his paws were still the size of our heads and could inflict a lot of damage should he wish to! The monk kept him amused with a stick though that he loved to chase around until the buffalo caught his eye and he decided to go for a walk over to
Rumours surrounding the monestery say that the tigers are drugged, abused, badly kept, not fed enough and so on. What we saw and experienced though was a group of people who have a great love & respect for the animals and genuinely care for them. We will say that we find the entrance fees and subsequent fees a little high and wonder when the long awaited Tiger Island will be finished because they do seem to be dragging their heels with this a little. We really cannot express how good this day was for us and would encourage anyone who has any doubts about going to go and see it for themselves, it's a truly amazing place that is totally unique and was probably the best thing we've done since being away so far.
Kanchanaburi is a lovely place but having had such an amazing few days we left on a high catching the train back to our base city of Bangkok for a few days of errand running before heading south on our way back to Malaysia...
There are more photos below