The bridges we cross in Kanchanaburi

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April 30th 2009
Published: April 30th 2009
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Kanchanaburi trips

Kanchanaburi waitressKanchanaburi waitressKanchanaburi waitress

Waitress taking a break with her feet in the water a....t River Kwai Floating Restaurant

Railways and war

So, Kanchanaburi is so much more chilled out then Bangkok and the southern islands. I don’t know what it is really, it could well be my own state of mind with is calmer these days but I think it’s probably because it’s low season and there’s stuff to do here.

Proper stuff; Some genuinely sad things occurred here which attracts more interesting visitors shall we say. I’m talking about the Death Railway and the Bridge over the River Kwai. Moreover, the guest house I was staying at (Sugar Can) was right on the river, and I mean actually floating on it and they provided free wireless internet access. Yippee!

The first day I just chilled out in the town, it’s pretty touristy and all that, lots of bars, travel agents, restaurants and the ubiquitous 7-11. They are everywhere in Thailand and although of great convenience, they are exactly the same everywhere you go and that includes the produce. What was most curious was the size of the English confectionary bars on sale, tiny little things they are, and expensive too. I never once succumbed to the rip off appeal of a Twix or a Dairy Milk, okay maybe once in my naivety.

The first day I went to the Burma Thailand Railway museum to find out about infamous “death railway”. The railway line was begun by the Japanese during 1941 between Burma and Thailand in order to secure their supply lines between their newly conquered territories and Burma. They were forced into building a new railway route because the route by sea from Thailand to Burma was threatened by Allied navies. The Thai end was started in Kanchanaburi and Allied prisoners of war who were captured in Japan’s conquests were used to construct. As were many Asians.

Pretty staggering stuff; 60,000 prisoners died through disease, over work and mistreatment by the Japanese over two years through completion. Some of the things I discovered behind this whole sorry take was that the Japs regarded prisoners as dishonourable, the Samurai code expected suicide rather than capture by the enemy. Moreover, what I also didn’t know was that the majority of the Japanese guards were lowly conscripts and Koreans who took out their frustrations on the rail workers. I also didn’t know that an estimate of 100,000 Javanese (Indonesians), Burmese, Malay and Chinese also died constructing the railway line. Horrendous stuff really the conditions they were put under, and worse was to come when the Speedo tactic by the Japanese of speeding up the work to complete it on time.

I couldn’t help from writing in the visitor book that it would be educational if the museum had Japanese language signs too, it seemed a bit pointless if they could not see for themselves the misery and barbarity they inflicted upon so many.

Anyway, a bit barbed I’ll admit but Japan has a bit of a history when it comes to ignoring the bad stuff in its history, particularly the Second World War. Regardless, what brought it all home to me as one who’s interested in history anyway was that one of the camp’s burial places was just opposite the railway museum. The Allies at the end of the way collected all of their dead that they could find in camps along the railway route and reinterred them in one of two cemeteries. It holds 6,000 British soldiers’ graves as well as a couple of thousand Dutch and Aussies. And the average age was just 25 years old.

What was really nice over the next couple of days was to visit one of the railway routes, called Hellfire Pass because of the camp fires that lit up the dynamited karsts of rock to lay down the lines. I also happened to be in town when ANZAC Day occurred so I went to the Allied War Cemetery for the big ceremony, remembering the dead of the Aussies and Kiwis who died principally during the First and Second World Wars.

Anzac Day

All of the relevant ambassadors were present and even a small group of Scottish pipers from the British Club in Bangkok which added a sense of occasion. So, there I was standing in amongst so many young British lads who’d died in horrible circumstances - whilst captives in a foreign land. It was an introspective moment, despite it principally being a purely Aussie/Kiwi event. Anyway, during the service (an overtly Christian one at that and to which I become more and more uncomfortable with) what was a privilege was to hear was one of the readers, an Aussie former POW. He was surprisingly frank in describing the inhumane treatment that he and others received from the Japanese. The River Kwai stuff was a bit lost on me to be honest, mainly because the film is a bit dated and an old war type movie; devoid of realism and generally quite moralistic and/or simplistic in the hero-villain outline. Enough analysis John!

Plus, the facts are a bit different to the film anyway, the bridge was bombed by the Allies (the USAF in fact) and it was struck a few times, with a fair few misses as well, so it was not a commando raid as portrayed in the movie. But also there were two bridges, a wooden one alongside the steel one, which of course gets in the way of the storyline a bit, so Hollywood ditches the facts on the ground. Nothing terribly new there. Anyway, it was nice to be somewhere that the British had been and to which a famous novel had been written about.

Nada nada nana

Something is missing so far, oh yes, crazy women. Always one of them lurking somewhere. Before long I got a phone call from Nana, yes, remember her, the quite cute Thai woman in Nakhom Pathom who was trying to help me but I ended up speeding off on a bus without them?

Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase a bit and basically through pidgin English she says I come to Nakom Pathom and see her and also that when I went onwards to Laos and Vietnam she come with me. Hold on love, are you inviting yourself onto my backpacking trip around SE Asia? Have you not read my blogs? I’m happy solo, besides, I’m not interested in a Thai girlfriend thanks very much (with all that entails), and nor do I wish to financially support you or get myself into all kinds of speculative trouble involving ex boyfriends, stolen passports etc. Prejudgment I know, but hey, what normal person does that? Oh, I forgot, poor Thai girls.

Anyway, I didn’t put her straight just put her to the far reaches of the back of my mind, near to horrible childhood memories and Elephants eating poo (see above entry for Chiang Mai). I got another phone call a few days later in Bangkok but just didn’t answer it. Stop yer crowing you lot.

Weird Germans (No, I meant Austrians…)

Hitler was Austrian y’know. Just thought I’d get that in to the preliminary statements. So, with all that introspection going on I decided to go out one night in Kanchanaburi. It’s got lots of ferang bars, with what seems like an inordinate amount of middle aged men inside them. Oh, and very young Thai women (dressed up like whores). Please excuse my blunt language,but this country has a massive sex industry mainly for fat, balding exploitative, erectile malfunctioning corpulent Brummies.

There, I got it off my chest. So, I’m an innocent in all of this you see, this dirty world of paid for sex. So, of course I go eat somewhere and settle at a place that has loads of really old Loaded magazines, brilliant. I had such a fun time reading about old celebrities, album reviews and just silly British editorial humour, made me wonder why I never actually bought these mags before. Then, I hit an open air bar across the street, which was pretty desperate as it was bloody live Thai reggae again and it was practically deserted.

Anyway, at the bar some hippy long haird older guy (in his fifties) acknowledges me and come over to him, whilst nodding his head to the marley covers reggae band. So, I’m out on my own, I’m game (not that game mind). Thus proceeded the John and Gary show (Gary being short for Gerhard - pathetic man). Anyway, he’s a bit pissed, well, pretty pissed but hey, he’s speaking English okay, right?

Gary is from Austria but lived in Spain, he left his wife and kids 19 years ago and went travelling on his typically German motorbike. There’s no plan, just literally hanging out in places doing nothing, watching the world (and his life) go by. I’m listening to a lot of hippy crap about gems having power, how he uses Ohm through the gems for energy instead of religion. Load of shite I tell him.

I’m asking uncomfortable questions about his previous life and you know, where he’s been (man). He’s not that happy, he doesn’t call or send letter to his family and grandchildren back home etc. He’s just living, removing himself from modern life, celebrating his achievement of not having a mobile nor using the internet. A curious man, with more questions than answers, but also a bit of a cliché. Surely he must know he’s not the first and only man to have a mid life crisis? Regardless, he’s pissed so he’s a bit growly with my innocent Louis Theroux lines of questioning; even revealing a little arrogance but more memorably Teutonic condescension by scoffing at my own travels.

So, then the conversation gets to the point where I ask about Austria. So, in no fixed order what the hell do I know about Austria. More than you! Okay, the Alps, skiing, Vienna, Mozart, Salzburg, Linz, chocolates, baroque churches, Catholicism, we’re forgetting Hitler aren’t we? Anyway, I try to go for the easy and softer option of Halder, the Austrian politician known for right wing views and Nazi sympathies. He’d been in the news just after I left because he’d been killed after crashing his car and was found to be over the drink drive limit. Mr hippy travelling like a free person (man) suddenly burst with enthusiasm for this “great man”. So, it turns out Gary really is split between his previous life that he constructed and left behind and the one he has here, just having a few troubles keeping to the hippy line. So, Gary left on his big fucking motorbike, pissed as a fart and I hit the bars, well I got dragged into one if truth be told.

Hustling whores

I wanted a drink and some Thai girls hanging outside a strip of them got very friendly and jumped on little old farang me all on his own. I wasn’t intimidated as I was in a good mood, the drinks were expensive and they were tiny, so I wasn’t gonna hang around long. Then a cute girl, although too cute by half, cosied up to me. I wasn’t having any of it and despite the doe eyes I announced I was gay and had to move on elsewhere. I am not, I repeat not, craving sex and I’m certainly not paying for it either.

Anyway, passing the bars full of paying shit bags and whores I fall in on a quieter place. I see the empty pool table and beckon an English looking guy to come play a few games. Oxfordshire lad, but his accent is real country, quite distinct, bit farmer like. He’s here with his uncle, an old far who’s just had a scorpion tattooed onto his foot. This guy is something, already agreed on a price for a whore he’s agitated that she’s now having a game of pool and that she’s reneged on the agreement. What comes forth is expletive and coarse language to what he thinks is just cheap and easy sex with hot women. Fair enough I suppose, but gross and ignoring the other side of things. His nephew has had a bit too by the sound of it, and he’s being a bit sheepish what with him being in his late to mid twenties.

I’m on the beers so we move on elsewhere as the whole place is closing and we leave unc to his shameless task. Anyway, this place is seedy and also immediately I get groped from behind but what I can only describe as a bit weird looking. More cocktails are purchased, this time they are more generous. But I’m getting serious testicle grabbing by now and I’m trying to shake this bint off, to the rescue comes Martin the scouse gay man. He asks her bluntly if she’s a lady boy in Thai. Off she goes like a wounded animal for the rest of the night. I just got felt up by a pre op ladyboy, I should have know by the less than womanly “touch”.

Anyway, proceeded to get pissed that night. Got on my bicycle to my guesthouse and proceeded to puke my guts up for about 2 hours. Luckily I had my own bathroom and also my own cold tiles to spread myself onto. The lesson which I had strangely forgotten since being at uni was to never mix your drinks. I laid off the booze there for a good few days.

Waterfalls and Montrealers

To get myself away from the malaise that was the strip, I paid for a day’s outing to Erawan National Park and the Death Railway. I was hanging out with a young Montreal chick who was on the same trip. So I got to reminisce about Montreal and she got to reminisce about Australia (to which she had gone and done the work visa thing). The seven-tiered falls in the park were unusually good, and are said to resemble the erawan - the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. It was a very pleasant hike up to each one; Gorgeous pools of water and some nice swimming dips too, as well as trips.

I slipped on the treacherous rock all around and managed to destroy my swimming shorts with a lovely huge rip on my arse. Anyway, Hannah offered me her spare pair of surfer shorts to preserve my dignity in this arse shy country. Then we went on a nice trip along the actual death railway across the Bridge over the river Kwai and into Kanchanaburi. Back in town we went to a really nice food market and had some local snacks, including some pretty tasty fruit ice drinks (blueberry and strawberry) and cute ‘n’ colourful sushi.
Kanchanaburi had been good to me so far, free internet, some pissed up ness, observing the otherside of Thailand, some genuinely moving history and some swimming in pretty gorgeous waterfalls.

Next stop, waiting around in Bangkok….

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1st May 2009

Peace at last
John, Good to see you're back on form. The tone of that posting is a lot more airy than the last few. It's great isn't it, when after weeks of stressing you fall into a place that really suits you. Shame you've got to move on huh? Respect for that dive of the waterfall, and the jenny-grabber shunning. nice one. Hold onto your passport.

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