Kanchanaburi: Tigers and Elephants and Trains - Oh My!

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August 19th 2008
Published: August 28th 2008
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Time for a rest.Time for a rest.Time for a rest.

Tiger cub at Tiger Temple.
We collected our packs at the Bangkok Airport and found them soaking wet from being transported from the plane to the terminal. Its rainy season in Bangkok and it turns out that our cheap knock-off packs from China are less than waterproof. We made our way to the bus which would take us downtown with street directions which didn't yet make sense to us, just knowing that we would see a 7-Eleven by a skytrain station as a reference point.

We sat beside a nice man from Japan on the bus. He had actually sat next to us on the airplane, but we hadn't made conversation until we got on the bus. He gave us some tips as to how to read addresses in Bangkok. We tried to make light conversation while a man at the back of the bus sang songs and shouted profanities. We were so worried about missing our stop (we had spotted over 20 7-11s all under the Sky Train), so when we saw a sign for our hostel we got off the bus...two full city blocks too soon. We turned down the alley towards our hostel to find a man with an elephant collecting recycling. Bangkok is an interesting city, but we weren't going to explore it yet.

We rose the next morning at 6am to catch a van to take us to Kanchanaburi, home to the infamous River Kwai. The film we all know so well is based quite loosely on the truth... the Japanese used POWs to build the Thai-Burma Railway during WWII, and part of it passed over the River Kwai. The War Museum in Kanchanaburi documents the living conditions of these poor men through photographs, documentaries and sketches by the POWs themselves. It also told of the tens of thousands of Asian forced labourers who also suffered, but whose lives were not considered important enough to be counted in formal documentation at the time. We then took a ride along a restored section of the railway, and it is truly remarkable to imagine what these POWs did accomplish. The landscape is hilly, and full of jungle. Besides malnutrition and beatings, they also faced malaria, dengue and parasitic infections. Nonetheless they built this railroad, all the while trying to sabotage it without getting caught. They would bury termite nests alongside the wooden posts, or use balsa wood when they thought they could get away with it.

The next day we visited Hellfire Pass, which the POWs blasted out through the rocky mountain. We were a small group of 7, 2 of which are daughters of one of these POWs. They were generous in sharing the stories they were told by their father, and the experience became deeply moving for the entire group.

We spent 3 days in Kanchanaburi, besides exploring the WWII history, we also visited a Buddhist Tiger Sanctuary, rafted along the river and made a short elephant trek. My goodness but I can't imagine Hannibal made it across the Alps. Yes they are sure footed, but elephants are stubborn and need a constant food supply. We couldn't go five minutes before they needed to uproot another banana tree. We were informed they consume 200 kg of food a day.

We headed back to Bangkok on Tuesday evening...but there lies another story.


I have since had the opportunity to learn about the treatment of elephants for tourism, and the manner in which they are subdued. It is nothing short of torture, and I felt like being sick when I thought that I had been party to this treatment for my own pleasure of travelling. If you want to see elephants in Thailand, please support the Elephant Nature Foundation in Northern Thailand, who rescue elephants and offer a safe haven for them. You won't get to ride them, or see them do tricks, just see them being elephants and being free. It is an excellent organization that deserves our support. In Malaysia we of course have Kuala Gandah who also rescue and relocate elephants to Taman Negara the National Park, which is dangerous work done by volunteers. The Kuala Gandah elephant santuary is also worthy of your support. Check it out at http://www.elephantnaturefoundation.org/go/mission

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


Craig on board the Thai-Burma trainCraig on board the Thai-Burma train
Craig on board the Thai-Burma train

Of course only a short section has been restored.
Man in RedMan in Red
Man in Red

Taken from the train.
Traffic ControlTraffic Control
Traffic Control

Taken from the train.
View from Hellfire Pass. View from Hellfire Pass.
View from Hellfire Pass.

Myanmar is just over the mountains.
Peace VesselPeace Vessel
Peace Vessel

At the Hellfire Pass Memorial.
Its good to see bicycles again.Its good to see bicycles again.
Its good to see bicycles again.

Haven't seen many bicycles since moving to Malaysia...it was nice to see them again.
That's one big tiger.  That's one big tiger.
That's one big tiger.

Nope, don't actually want to pet it ... thanks.
Craig at Tiger TempleCraig at Tiger Temple
Craig at Tiger Temple

Yeah... I think I'll just watch...don't want to pet it.

29th August 2008

My favourite picture
My favourite pic is the one with Craig and the lions......the lions looking like they are going to eat each other's faces off and Craig kneeling down with a calm, cool, and collect composition. Awesome!
29th August 2008

You guys look amazing! Those tigers are so cute!
1st September 2008

Oh My is right. The scenery is beautiful. The animals I am not sure about. ha ha I like the bravery Craig as you sit with the tiger. Take care Kay

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