Visit to the River Kwai, Thailand
Saturday 31st December 2005
Bangkok to the River Kwai
I had an even earlier start this morning. I woke at 5am and showered. I was not fully dressed when my breakfast arrived in my room at 5:20am. The dining room only opens at 6am for breakfast. I had to be up early because my bus arrived at 6:15am. Several of us from the hotel were driven to a bus station and we then transferred to a large comfortable coach.
Great Tour Guide
The tour started at 7am. Our leaderâ€™s name was Chai Wat. He spoke for the next two hours as we headed north-west towards Myanmar (Burma). He spoke of the history of Thailand and especially the Death Railway. He is a walking encyclopaedia.Tomorrow is his 77th birthday. He was only a young lad when he witnessed terrible atrocities at the time of the railway construction. He related several terrible incidents that he has personally witnessed. We visited the official War Cemetery and this was a moving experience. This memorial was immaculately maintained with extensive, spacious lawn throughout. Each gravesite had a very clear plaque. Roses and other beautiful flowers were growing between each grave. The vast majority of soldiers buried here were Australian.
The Bridge over the River Kwai
A short time later we arrived at the bridge over the River Kwai. We were able to take a train trip over the bridge. It was not as I expected. The area adjacent was very commercialised with a large market place next to the bridge. We were given a half hour for shopping. I bought a very cheap T-shirt with a picture of a train going over the bridge. It cost me 100 baht (about $3.30).
Exhilarating Boat Ride on the River Kwai
Next we had an exhilarating long-boat ride on the river. These speed boats must do about 60-70 kph. After disembarking we had a tour of the JEATH War Museum. The name JEATH represents the five nations involved in the construction of the Death Railway; the first letters of Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland.
The museum was sadly run-down and in desperate need of restoration. It was also depressing to see the graphic paintings done by a prisoner at the time. He has realistically depicted the hardships they all went through. There were also many photographs and newspaper cuttings from the time and since. Interestingly, Weary Dunlop features prominently throughout. Our tour guide knew him personally. In fact, Weary would personally ask for Chai Wat to be the guide whenever he brought survivors back to visit.
Back in the bus we headed off into the mountains near the Burmese border. Along the way we stopped briefly at a road-side stop to see some wild monkeys. They come here to be fed by passing tourists. Apparently they can turn quite nasty and aggressive, so we were warned not to approach too close to them. This road side stop was complete with several stalls selling fruit (for the monkeys) and things like drinks, chips and so on for the tourists.
Traditional Thai Lunch
Lunch was in a traditional country Thai restaurant in a small village. The food was excellent but I ate still more rice. Over lunch I sat with a couple from Adelaide. They have a unit in Adelaide but spend most weekends on their houseboat which is moored at the River Glen Marina in Murray Bridge. It is a small world.
After a very relaxing lunch we visited a nearby railway viaduct section of the rail line making up part of the Death Railway. The weather today was mild, about 28 degrees and a little humid. I simply could not imagine working there on the railway construction at the height of summer when it would get to 40 degrees with 95% humidity and no water to drink throughout the day and limited food in the evening. How did anyone survive those conditions? Then add on top of that their poor physical state from malnutrition, illness and injury. The human body and spirit has an amazing capacity to survive against unbelievable odds.
At this point we were merely 20km from the Burmese border. We couldnâ€™t go any further as there have been recent security problems. There has been an on-going border dispute between Thailand and Myanmar for many years. There has also been some terrorist activity in that region in recent months.
A problem with Eucalypt Trees
We returned the way we came along the main highway and freeway back to Bangkok. It took us just over three hours which included a short stop for a toilet break. The country through which we travelled included vast acreages of sugar cane plantations. Many pineapples and other fruits are grown in this area. An interesting minor fact is that eucalypts are quickly becoming a pest species in this area. Many were planted some years ago for paper production but they have escaped the plantation areas.
New Year’s Eve Celebrations
I went to bed at 9pm after such a long day of eleven hours on the tour. I also have to be up early for the drive to the airport to fly to Kathmandu. I watched the New Yearâ€™s Eve fireworks from Sydney on television before going to sleep. I was briefly woken by a few fireworks at midnight. These were widespread throughout Bangkok and not focussed in one spot like in Sydney. They last all of two minutes and I was soon back asleep.
Kathmandu, here I come.