The Bridge on the River Kwai & Hellfire Pass

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October 5th 2009
Published: October 11th 2009
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(I finally found a place to develop some of the photos but they are not the best quality. Better than none though! So this is the updated version!!)

We were picked up at 8am to go for our tour to see a seven tiered waterfall, visit Hellfire pass and take a spin on the train over the Death Railway. Our trip would take over and hour to get to Erwan falls so we just watched the fantastic scenery and caught up on some sleep. There were four others on the tour, a couple from Australia and a couple on their honeymoon from Holland. There wasn’t much talk at the start but by then end of the day we all knew plenty about each other. We arrived at the falls at around 9:30am and we were told we had until 12pm to enjoy them, before meeting back at the restaurant for lunch.

The walk from the start of the falls to the top tier is 2km’s. Most people don’t make it to the top as it gets difficult after the 5th but we decided we would do it. When we got to the first tier I took out my camera to take a photo. I pressed the button and nothing happened. I pressed it again and looked at the screen. NO SD CARD! I had taken it out to put photo’s on the laptop the night before and never put it back in. My heart sunk. I had bought this camera for wonderful picturesque moments like this. I mean it wasn’t any old waterfall, it was a seven tiered waterfall! Then it dawned on me that Michelle was bringing her camera, which would have a memory card, but I told her not to bring it when she had asked me back in our guesthouse, as her batteries were low! I put the camera back in my bag and we soldiered on. I was really mad with myself, but part of me was saying don’t ruin it for ourselves. By the 3rd tier I had calmed and was starting to forget about it and realise that I was here and that’s what counted most. I was still a bit pee’d off though.

So now instead of my photo’s doing the describing, I have to do it myself. I don’t know how this will work out, but I’ll give it a shot. There were seven tier’s all feeding into the next spread out over a 2km stretch and always rising, or descending, depending on which way you were walking!! The water was turquoise in colour and very inviting in the heat of the day. Each tier had its own characteristics. You could only swim in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th and as the day progressed they became busier and busier. As it was a Sunday, lots of local Thai were out in force. We stopped counting the amount of times we heard ‘Helllllloooo, welcome to Thailand’. Teenage girls would giggle, and teenage boys would stare. Not at me though, Michelle was the star attraction. Monkeys would swing from the trees and at one point a dog below was curious if not agitated at these strange creatures above him. Some waterfalls were bigger than others and you could stand under them or behind them and dive out into the water, even though the big circle with a man diving and a line going through it suggest you were not allowed too.

When we got to the 5th tier the walk became impossible for us to continue on. As I only had cheap croc’s, my feet were slipping on the roots and rocks so we couldn’t go any further without causing harm to myself. We went back down to the fourth and decided it was time for a swim. We got ready and went to the edge of the waterfall pool. It was full of fish, all ready to nibble away at us. We were told not to mind them but some were big enough to feed a family. All over Thailand and Malaysia you can get a fish massage. This is where you sit with your feet in a tank and the fish nibble away the dead skin from your feet. It is meant to be very good for you but they only use little fish and not one’s over 5lb in weight. I remember back to a time in Argentina when I was told by an American to ‘man up’ as we had to cross a river ( In search of the Salmon of Knowledge! ) and felt this was really a time to ‘man up’. I jumped into the pool and swam for my life to the middle where there wasn’t any fish, or so I thought. Michelle wasn’t long behind me and every now and again we could feel the suction of fishes lips on our feet. Your normal reaction is to pull your foot away, as your brain tells your foot to do it before you actually think about it. I did try and leave my foot and let it be nibbled but I kept pulling it away. We swam there for half an hour or so before attempting to get back out through the fish at the edge. There was only one way out and that was through them. I was never phased by any fish while snorkelling but when you know these guys want a little nibble at you, it makes being in the water a little un-nerving. I eventually ‘man-ed up’ and swam through them, again Michelle not far behind. I can honestly say though, that I came out of the pool like a dolphin in an aquarium show.

We had lunch at a restaurant beside the entrance to the waterfalls before heading off again. Next up was Hellfire Pass and a bit of history. During WW11 commonwealth soldiers were ordered to cease fire, unconditionally by their own army. Nearly 130,000 in total. Japan needed to build a railway and build it quick and now they had the labour to do it. Add to that over 200,000, Thai, Burmese, Chinese and Malay slaves they knew they had a workforce capable of building it as quickly as possible. The section at Hellfire Pass was particularly gruesome. It was named Hellfire pass because to the soldiers, it felt like hell, and at night when they worked their flame torches gave the appearance of what we all think hell would look like. A section had to be cut out of the side of the mountain for the train to pass through. It was strange trying to feel what these men and women had to go through. Disease was rampant, with cholera been the one that most feared. The men had to live on rations that were so small. In fact they were only ¼ the size of what a man needs to stay alive never mind a man working all hours of the day. They also had no shoes and had to walk and rocky ground. Add to this the unforgiving weather that SE Asia has. Very hot, extremely humid and torrential rain. We all think the weather here is nice but without fans, air-conditioning, food or shoes, this place would be unbearable for most. Even as we walked it was only mildly humid and we felt uncomfortable. Imagine what hell they had to go through.

The Japanese army also had some brutal officers and many soldiers spent up to six months in hospital recovering from brutal attacks. One particular guy carried a two foot wrench and would hammer anyone not working fast enough with it. It was very interesting to hear audio accounts from the POW’s on the free headset provided by the people who run the memorial. It is also free to enter but people are asked to make a donation. The park is also mainly funded by the Australian government of whom most of the men working on the line were from. I would have liked to spend more time there but when your on a tour you are always pressed for time. It was very interesting and I think impossible for us to really imagine what went on. Also it is estimated that nearly 100,000 of the local slave workers died building the railway, either from starvation, disease or brutality. I could go on about the place but I would say it is better to come and see it for yourself. Unlike the manufactured experience of ‘The bridge over the river Kwai’, Hellfire Pass has nothing manufactured about it at all, other than the railway line laid by the men in 1943.

After rushing out of there (we’re beginning to hate tours) we took a short spin on the railway line that is called the Death Railway. The views are stunning and some soldiers recounted that the scenery was the only thing that gave them hope and dreams while working there. The train trip itself was good but we had believed we were going to be on it all the way to the famous bridge and cross it. This didn’t happen. All tours got off two stops later and boarded their buses and headed back to Kanchanaburi to see the bridge from there. I was a little disappointed as I really wanted to go over the bridge on the train, as manufactured as it may seem. If you do go to Kanchanaburi and have a few days I would highly recommend NOT doing a tour. You wont get to see everything on the one day but you will get to see it without rushing. It would have been amazing to spend the day at the waterfall going from tier to tier and having lunch along the way. If you like the place to be a bit peaceful then Saturdays and Sundays should be avoided. It is Thai time on the weekends and this is their park and they like to enjoy it and rightly so. Its just a little crowded. Local buses go and return from there all day long and its €2 to enter the national park. As for Hellfire Pass, if you really wanted to enjoy it, the 40mins we were given isn’t half enough. Borrow the audio equipment from the desk and follow it through each step. It takes nearly 2hrs and is and amazing in-sight into the lives of the soldiers. There is also a dvd to watch, museum to see and a cinema with clips from the times of the war.

Next up is Ayuthaya and some historical ruins. The food by the way has continued to be excellent. I’ve checked off nearly all curies now, but I did come across one called a Jungle curry, that I found while looking through a menu. Michelle is better at trying new things and always gets a nicer dinner than me. I have an awful problem that my dinner is my dinner and that if I don’t like it I could end up starving. Sad….. I know. Maybe it’s a psychological thing.

In a bit. DH

Song of the blog: Have a Nice Day - Stereophonics

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11th October 2009

Darls the tan cumin along nicely.....Luking very good! :)
12th October 2009

Plan to be there too
Good blog. I would be in Bangkok later in November. How would you advise reaching The Bridge. Can I be back the same day? Anything else that I can do on the way?
12th October 2009

Do you mean the Kwai River Bridge, Prakash? That is easy to reach. From anyplace in the the town of Kanchanaburi take a rikshaw. Bicycle and motor ones are readily available.

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