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Published: January 15th 2008
Well left India behind and now in Bangkok, which is as far opposite to India as possibly can be. Though I have be told many times that Bangkok is most definately not Thailand. It is a city that could almost be anywhere in America with sky scrapper buildings, shopping malls with the latest, trendiest shops and where the newest gadets to be found. I am in reverse culture shock after spending so long in the quiet Rishikesh where the largest shop was probably a 2 metre square box and the tallest building a full 3 floors high!
And I arrived not expecting to be celebrating Christmas in the traditional English sense but I was in for a surprise, signs of Christmas were everywhere, fancy christmas decorations festooned every corner and the shopping malls compete to have the biggest and best Christmas tree outside! And the Thai's were in a shopping frenzy so there was no escaping Christmas!
If the few days before meeting up with Ricardo I spent a few days loitering around Ko San Road area - the major backpackers and tourist area of Bangkok. During these few days I managed to drop my big SLR camera and
smash the very expensive lens whilst visiting the National Art Gallery - luckily Bangkok is the right place to buy a replacement and talk about 'Clouds and silver linings' because whilst in the camera shop I meet a really nice guy! So I am still smiling dispite having to part with 450GBP to get a replacement before heading off for a 1 day excursion to see the Floating Markets, River Kwai and Tiger Temple.
So first stop on the tour was the famous toursist trail destination of Damneon Saduak Floating Market
- a 2 hours bus journey outside Bangkok. Arriving at 9am the market was already heaving with tourists piled into small flat boats jostling their way along the canals (khlongs) between the stalls and sellers flat boats piled with fresh produce and souveneirs. The sellers call desperating trying to get the attention of the tourists who were more interested in taking photographs than making purchases! The market at this time is already hot and sticky and sweat was soon trickling down my forehead under my borrowed Thai hat.
For over an hour we edged and barged our way through the canals traffic jam and though an experience
the best way to get the photos is afterwards by walking around the banks of the market. This is the time to make purchases and get the best bargain when you are not been hurried on a moving boat.
It is noisy it is touristy but it was worth a visit.
After wandering amongst the stalls for a further hour is was time to board our bus and head off to the next destination, the Kanachaburi region which has the infamous Bridge of the River Kwai and the Death Railway. Sadly this pretty region and river has a tragic past.
"In 1943 thousands of Allied Prisoners of War (PoW) and Asian labourers worked on the Death Railway under the imperial Japanese army in order to construct part of the 415 km long Burma-Thailand railway. Most of these men were Australians, Dutch and British and they had been working steadily southwards from Thanbyuzayat (Burma) to link with other PoW on the Thai side of the railway. This railway was intended to move men and supplies to the Burmese front where the Japanese were fighting the British. Japanese army engineers selected the route which traversed deep valleys and hills.
All the heavy work was done manually either by hand or by elephant as earth moving equipment was not available. The railway line originally ran within 50 meters of the Three Pagodas Pass which marks nowadays the border to Burma. However after the war the entire railway was removed and sold as it was deemed unsafe and politically undesirable. The prisoners lived in squalor with a near starvation diet. They were subjected to captor brutality and thus thousands perished. The men worked from dawn until after dark and often had to trudge many kilometres through the jungle to return to base camp where Allied doctors tended the injured and diseased by many died. After the war the dead were collectively reburied in the War Cemeteries and will remain forever witness to a brutal and tragic ordeal. 6,982 Australian, Dutch and British war prisoners who lost their lives during the construction of the Death Railway. But the loss of life in the region did not end there with a further 1,740 lives lost (by countries: 1,379 British, 313 Netherlands, 42 Malayan and 6 Indian)at Conk-Kai Prisoner of War Camp. most died in the hospital nearby.
The black iron bridge was
brought from Java by the Japanese supervision by Allied prisoner-of-war labour as part of the Death Railway linking Thailand with Burma. Still in use today, the bridge was the target of frequent Allied bombing raids during World War II and was rebuild after war ended. The curved spans of the bridge are the original sections. A daily train is still following the historical route from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok Railway Station."
Conversations were kept to a minimum as we crossed the bridge following the railway line and reflected on the tragic past in quiet respect and rememberance. I can but hope that no more tragic war memorials are created in future anywhere in the world and that we can learn to live together in harmony and peace after reading about the massive loss of life and cruelty that occurred here.
Then it was onwards to our last stop; Tiger Temple. Since 1999, the monks here have taken care of tigers which have been rescued and have about 20 living within the temple grounds. A quarry is the afternoon sleeping area for the tigers and is where the vistors which get to get see the tigers from only a
few feet away. I was assured that the tigers are not drugged and as nocturnal creatures they laze around during the day and have been de-sensitized to touch through handling form a young age. Because of this it is possible for the visitors to have a photo with them patting them though you are hurriedly moved away if the tiger aroused and starts to move around even though tethered.
Again a very touristy experience and one to be done but it still deeply saddened me to see these magnificant creatures away from the natural world all because of the continued poaching trade in Thai-Burmese Border region.
Time was short and with a long trip back to Bangkok we were soon heading back to the bus and on our way back to Bangkok and back to the night life of Ko San Road which was in full swing in the run up to Christmas.
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