Day 12 - World War II history, a waterfall and some hot springs

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December 17th 2017
Published: December 23rd 2017
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Day 12 - Ok so this day didn't start out too well for me. 12 days in and I have had to say hello to my first hangover, courtesy of all the riverside cocktails last night! I was not in the best way. I laid in bed while Todd was in the shower wishing for death.....or if not death, at least for the panadol and berocca to kick in quickly! Todd took the boys down to breakky while I tried to get ready and compose myself lol. I came down for breakky and Todd had ordered me an omelette......I sooooo wasn't keen for eggs! I nibbled on my toast and chugged down some water and then it was time to get going! Today we were heading to the Sai Yok Noi Waterfall, the Hin Dat Hot Springs and Hellfire Pass. First cab off the rank was the waterfall, and it was a good hour away according to google maps so I thought I would try to nap on the way up. Yeah, not happening. The drive is windy and there is enough traffic to make the ride less than smooth, that and closing my eyes was making my queasiness even worse. I counted the minutes until we got to the first stop and tried to suck it up. Cup of concrete Kristal!!

We finally get to Sai Yok Noi and I jump out of the car for a nice stretch and some fresh air. The first thing I spot is the large flight of stairs that is required to get to the waterfall.......fantastic. We climb the first set, and of course it is followed by winding paths and more steep stairs through the jungle to get to the waterfall. Thank god the weather is beautiful, breezy and not hot at all, which is helping me cope! We walk through the forest and there are heaps and heaps of Thai families sititng beside the streams and pools on blankets with huge picnic spreads that would smell amazing if I felt better! I realise that it is a Sunday and a lot of these guys are local people having a nice Sunday outing. It is a beautiful spot. Some of the families had like full on portable cookers and stuff and were heating up curries and all kinds of stuff! What a great place to be on a day off if you live in this part of the world.

So there are lots of paths so we were at first not sure where the hell we were supposed to go to get to the main fall but we figured it out. Once there I was grateful to sit the hell down in the nice cool trees and splash a bit of water on myself. Wasn't up for swimming, and Kalyb wasn't keen for a swim either, so Todd and Corey jumped in the water and splashed around a bit. Didn't really go in much deeper than their legs, but enjoyed the cool water and climbed up yet another set of stairs to get to the top pool right in front of the falls.......gave me a heart attack scrambling across the slippery rocks to get a good photo in front!

We stayed in the nice cool rainforest by the jungle for an hour or so until Corey managed to stub his toe hard enough to make it bleed a tiny bit and he was not happy about this, so we decided we should bandage it up and move on!

We found our trusty driver outside (I never did catch this guy's name, but he was a friendly guy), and we jumped in our SUV and headed further up the mountain. I was feeling much revived after the fresh air and cool rainforest, a big gulp of cold water and I almost felt like I might survive the day! We drove for about another 20 minutes until we came to the turnoff for Hellfire Pass. There is both a museum and a rainforest trek here, and we decided to trek first. Again, I was enjoying the fresh air and the day wasn't too hot 😊

This country is just gorgeous. We are high up in the mountains and the views of the surrounding mountains and the rainforest are just amazing. We follow the path along the Hellfire Pass trek and lo an behold......more fucking stairs! Of course there is. Wooden platforms and staircases wind down the mountain into the valley where the death railway was built 74 years ago during WWII. Having to climb down all those stairs gives you a small amount of insight into how insanely hard it must have been to drag materials etc into the area to build this thing. No stairs to help at that time. We finally make it to the valley floor and walk along the trail where the tracks used to be. After the war the rails in this area were removed and re-used elsewhere, but the actual 'death railway' line is still operational from Bangkok up to Sai Yok Noi, the last station being close to where we had just enjoyed the waterfall down the hill a bit.

As we walked I alternated between appreciating the beauty of this place, and feeling a bit sick knowing how many people had died to build this terrible thing. I'm sure the beauty of the place was lost on starving, beaten, sick men who were forced to work 18 hour days in round the clock shifts to make the deadline for the Japanese. The numbers are truly shocking, and could be an under-estimate, since the Japanese didn't accurately record how many people actually worked and died during this period. The POWs were more accurately recorded than the local labourers. About 61,000 prisoners of wars were subjected to forced labour to build this 415km track. More than 12,000 of these died, nearly 3000 of these men were Australian. It was a death rate of about 20%, or 1 in 5 for the POWs. And if this statistic isn't bad enough, it was even more horrendous for the local labourers, from Thailand, Burma and Malaysia. Some of these people were forced to work by the Japanese, but many were just men who were lured to the project with promises of a good job with good wages. They came willingly to work but instead were treated at least as badly, probably worse, than the soldiers, and their death rate was much higher. It is not known exactly how many men came to work on the railway, somewhere between 180,000 and 250,000, but it is known that more than 90,000 of them died. That means at best with these numbers 1 in 3 perished......but it is more likely that the death toll was more like 50% for these 'free' workers. Terrible stuff, and their bodies were just piled into mass graves, with no notification to their families, no death records and nothing to mark where they were buried.

The railway was 415 km long and was completed within 16 months in extremely harsh conditions with only very basic tools......shovels, hammers and pick axes was about as sophisticated as it got, and the area we were about to enter, known as Hellfire Pass, was the most difficult section built. This is a cutting through solid rock, it's 75 metres long, about 25 metres high and probably 2 metres wide, 4000 square kms of solid mountain that was chipped away by hand and with rudimentary explosives. The resulting rock was then dragged away in baskets and dumped. When you see how tall the rock faces are it is unbelievable! As we approached the pass we could see fluttering in the breeze the Aussie flags and poppies that people have left here (I wish I'd thought to bring something!). Brought a tear to my eye walking through and seeing pictures and reading the plaques which are mostly tributes to Australian soldiers who passed away here (the Aussie and Thai governments partner in the upkeep of this place and jointly built the museum etc).

After we walked all the way through and spent some time at the memorial, we headed back towards the museum. Up all the bloody stairs that we had climbed down......if I wasn't eating an elephant's body weight worth of food every day I might actually have lost some weight on this trip! There are soooooo many stairs everywhere!

Anyway, we huffed and puffed our way to the top, with Corey doing a stair count (I think it was just short of 300 in the end). We were really happy to enter into the chilly air-conditioning of the museum after our trek, it isn't a large museum, but it has some great displays, including a scale model of the entire railway as it was when it was completed in 1943. It also screened documentaries about World War II and the building of the Death Railway. We wandered around reading all the displays and visited the 'Peace Vessel', which was made by an Aussie POW survivor of the Death Railway project, Peter Rushforth.

When we were finished we wandered over to all the little market type stands that were selling refreshments and souvenirs across the way. We grabbed some drinks and snacks and found our way back to the driver in the car park. Off we went even further up the mountain in search of the Hin Dat Hot Springs. So I had my google maps bit going, and I knew it was about another 30 minutes drive up the hill, but I was engrossed watching the outside world so when I did check my phone to see how far we had to go I was surprised to see that by Siri's reckoning, we had passed the hot springs some time ago. At this point visions of black market organ thieves briefly danced through my head and I joked to Todd that we had passed our stop and were probably on our way to the kidney market. Our driver spoke about 4 words of English, and after all he IS the one who lives here, and is a professional driver, so I just trusted that he knew where he was going and maybe the map was wrong. 10 minutes later however, he showed no signs of stopping so we tried to ask him how much further, he had no idea what we were saying. We said 'Hin Dat Hot Springs??' and he was like yes, yes, nodding. So we settled back. Another 10 minutes pass and I tell Todd to ask him again, I'm sure we have missed the bloody thing by now! So Todd asks again, sort of, and the guy was like hmmmm, yes. And a minute later he pulls in to a shack on the side of the road. This doesn't look like hot springs!! The kids in tubs of ice again briefly flitted through my imagination when he got back in the car saying 'sorry, sorry, so sorry'. He turned the car around and headed back where we had come from. He'd obviously asked for directions! At this point I give my phone to Todd with the google maps on it so that he can try to direct this poor guy who clearly had no idea where we were going lol. He made another 2 wrong turns on the way down and Todd showed him the google map twice and urged him on in the right direction. Finally we made it to the hot springs, all kidneys still intact, hooray! We were kinda hungry and thirsty at this point (thirsty for beer more than anything!), so we wandered down the line of little market stalls and food carts and found ourselves at a place that smelled amazing and had beer in their fridge. Boom, winning. The guy out front had a big grill with all kinds of different skewers of meat sizzling away on it. He said 'chicken!' excitedly as we passed him on the way in and it looked like there were at least 3 or 4 different sauces/marinades going on as well. We took a seat behind the big counter and realised that the counter was actually part of the crazy little kitchen that a lady was working away at top pace in. This was like a magic dance of Thai cooking an we were in the front row. Kalyb went out front to pick out some chicken skewers from the grill and I sat and watched this amazing woman cook up all different kinds of gear in the little kitchen. I have no idea what she was making, all the signs were in Thai and 'chicken' was the only menu item we were told about by the guy as we walked in, but this lady was not making chicken! She had these great big deep pots of boiling water and little metal baskets on long handles that she would put different ingredients in. Noodles, prawns, vegetables, all kinds of things, each dipped into the boiling kettles and left for just the magic number of seconds (and it really was seconds, not minutes!) then pulled out and thrown into bowls that were already full of sauces and spices that the lady had been pounding in the mortar and pestle for the mere seconds it took for the food to simmer in the kettle. It really was amazing. She never measured a single thing, just a frenzy of splashing sauces and throwing bits and bobs and pinches of spice all together. It smelled fantastic! I was tempted to try and order a bowl of the noodle soups that she was serving to the people behind us, but I was still feeling a touch delicate and thought a spicy thai lunch was probably not the best idea for me. A pity and a regret! The boys chomped down the chicken skewers and they were all good, except one odd one that was cold (which is a bit of a worry!) and was also chewy like rubber. On closer inspection I reckon it was probably some kind of offal, or chicken innard. But no idea what it was. We left that one on the plate, but everything else was eaten up. Once we were finished we paid the good people, left a good tip and headed off to find the hot springs.

Now, this is where the trip took a slightly unpleasant turn. I had brought my swimmers with me in my bag and so had Kalyb, so we went looking for the toilets so we could change. These were truly the most disgusting things I have ever seen. Not only did they absolutely reek, but the entire floor was soaking wet, whether it was urine or butt sprayer or a combination of both, it was seriously gross. There was a row of 5 stalls, all with squat toilets, and a channel running in front of all the doorways that was also full of water/piss. The old bucket and dipper in each stall to 'flush' the toilets and no doors on the stalls. Yeah......there was no way in hell that I was going to take off my shoes and stand barefoot in this foul place so that I could get my bathers on. Not happening. I came back out and saw the look on Kalyb's face and knew he had experienced exactly the same thing. I decided that I would either swim in my clothes or just roll up my pants and dip my legs in. We walked over a bouncy, rickety wooden plank bridge that scared the crap out of me (kids making it bounce ad swing more on purpose didn't help), and we saw some stairs so we (naturally) thought we needed to go up them. We found ourselves at a couple of old run down buildings, one of which seemed to be a toilet block no longer in use. Kalyb decided to have a piss here because it was dry and didn't stink lol. It's all drains, so whatever. We had definitely taken a wrong turn, and as we were leaving the old building I walked past what I thought was an old bee hive.......and then all the live bees started moving around and freaked me out! We moved on quickly and eventually came to the main hot spring pool. There was another set of toilets and showers here that wasn't nearly as digusting, but was still wet all over the floor with no where to put down my bag or clothes or anything so I was still not keen to get changed.......I did however, need to make use of the I had to give the squat dunny a go! I just reminded myself that it's not like I haven't squatted in the bush before, so just get on with it! It wasn't that bad, though my dodgy netball knees make it hard to get back up from a squat position without using my hands to steady myself on something, and there was no way I was touching the floor in here! So I pushed my hand against the stall wall and managed to get the knees to engage enough to get me back upright! Woohoo, success! I manage to use a squat toilet without peeing on myself or anything else. I can tick that experience off......not that it was on my bucket list to begin with!

I came back out to find that Todd and Corey were already in the hot spring, with Kalyb minding our gear alongside the edge. Close by was a smaller pool that was curtained off from the public, we didn't know it at the time, but this was a private area for monks only! Luckily none were in there at the time. I found the boys steaming away in the hot water which was SERIOUSLY hot. Hotter than the spa my Mum and Dad keep, and that used to be about 42 degrees! I left them to their hot water and dipped my feet into a much cooler, but still warm, pool a bit closer to where Kalyb was. A cool stream runs alongside all this natural hot water (which is a geological oddity apparently), and people jump from cold to hot and back again. It was fairly crowded (again, we are here on a Sunday!), but there was still plenty of space to get a spot away from others. Todd and Corey had had enough of the hot pool and had jumped into the cool stream so I took some good pics of them splashing about in was time to get out when Todd spotted some kind of weird big arse spider/water bug thing skimming along the top of the water and he high tailed out of there, dragging Corey along behind him lol.

We dried off and headed back up the hill an across the bridge to the carpark. It had been a long day and we were ready to head for home. It was about an hour and a half drive back to the hotel, and by the time we arrived I was seriously hangry! I regretted not having the noodles for lunch because at this point I had only eaten a piece of toast at breakfast and a few chips out of Corey's packet all day. It was not quite 5pm when we arrived back at the hotel but I was headed straight for the restaurant for a meal! I was at the level of hunger where I was just keen to order everything on the menu, but in the end I just got a carbonara pasta for the comfort food value. It was yum and I scoffed it down!

After tea we went up to the room to watch some movies. We watched Despicable Me 3 which I hadn't seen yet, and it was cute! By the time the movie finished we were of course hungry again, since we had dinner at 5:30, so I went searching online for pizza delivery or something and discovered, to the kids delight, that KFC delivers here! The boys thought this was the greatest thing in the world and I figured I could do with a Zinger burger, so we managed to negotiate the Thai KFC website and placed our order. A zinger is a zinger, wherever you have it, but the boys reckon the nuggets were TOTALLY not KFC nuggets, so there you go lol.

My throat was feeling sore again by this point and I was't sure if my headache was still hangover or if it was the cold/flu that I had been trying to ignore for a few days, but we went off to bed because we have an early wake up for the other Erawan tour we had booked in the morning.

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