Firstly sorry for the lateness of this update. I guess I could say I have been busy but 1) I wouldn’t insult your intelligence and 2) it isn’t true. So after leaving India we headed to Bangkok but instead of heading to our usual haunt of Khao San Road (basically the backpacker area of Bangkok and known to every traveler who has ever passed through the city) we headed to an area called Sukhumvit. This is another tourist area but because it is more expensive than Khao San Road it attracts a slightly more up market traveler and has some of the city’s best hotels as well as a range of budget and mid range options. As we arrived pretty late we didn’t really start exploring until the next day. Accommodation wise you certainly get more for your money and we had a very nice room in a quiet street for under GBP20 which included Wi-Fi and breakfast. It also has the advantage of being close to the very efficient metro line (which Khao San Road doesn’t) and so exploring the city was nice and easy but we must still have backpacker roots because we both agreed that it was good to experience another part of the city but Khao San Road was more our cup of tea and we would go back there next time we were in Bangkok.
So after four days in Bangkok we head to Kanchanaburi which you may not have heard of but if I was to say ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’ then I am sure most of you would know what I was talking about. Just in case, in a nutshell, the region is famous because during WWII the Japanese wanted to build a rail link between Thailand (which they occupied and Burma (which they also occupied) and they used thousands of POW’s (nearly all of whom were British, Australian and Dutch) plus hundreds of thousands of Asians (mainly Indian and Malay) to do the job. The railway had to pass through a region of incredibly tough jungle and mountains which the British, who some 20 years earlier in peace time, had wanted to do a similar thing but basically said the terrain was in-passable and it was an impossible task. As the Japanese had lost control of the South China Sea (and their main supply line to Burma) they placed an unparalleled urgency/importance on this project and wanted it completed within 13 months (which it was by the way).
They achieved this by imposing utter ruthlessness upon the POW’s. Conditions for them were unthinkably bad with a severe lack of food, hygiene and medical supplies being but a few of the hardships they had to endure. On top of this many of the POW’s had come from the infamous Changi Jail in Singapore where most had been since the fall of the island and life there was also horrendous and so by the time they arrived to work on the railway they were already in a very bad way. Many thousands died as a result and many of those that survived suffered terribly for a very long time afterwards.
So with the brief history lesson over (anyone wanting a more detailed one then please let me know or, alternatively, read the excellent ‘Naked Island’ by Russell Braddon, an incredible first-hand account of life both on the railway and inside Changi Jail), we arrived in what is a very beautiful part of Thailand and set about exploring the places of interest in the area. I must also add at this point that, thanks to the film nearly everybody (myself included) pronounces ‘Kwai’ incorrectly. It should be pronounced ‘square’ but without the ‘s’. There are two very good museums that are well worth a visit plus the Commonwealth war graves nearby. It is also possible to take a train ride over the bridge and visit ‘Hell Fire Pass’. This was one of the toughest places to have been sent and the Australian Government has turned the area into a memorial and outdoor museum where you can do a 4-5 km walk through the key places of interest using an audio guide which tells you about the things you are seeing along the way. It is very well done and when combined with a trip on the train makes for a very interesting day out.
I happened to be reading the above mentioned Russell Braddon book whilst we were there and I also have a personal interest in visiting the region because my great Uncle John was one of the POW’s so for me the trip was fascinating but I know Kirsty also enjoyed it and it is certainly a place we intend to head back to. I forgot to add that naturally Kirsty worked her usual hours and I spend my free time relaxing by the pool and reading my book. I should really have gone mountain biking as the region is ideal for that but it was so hot; we both went jogging one morning about 8am and soon gave up on that as well. Our place in Chiang Mai has a gym so hopefully we will get back in shape there!
One last entry about Kanchanaburi worth mentioning is that we were there for Loy Krathong which is a lovely festival that involves either sending big lanterns up into the air or floating candles in boats made from a banana leaf down the river (plus the odd firework which kids find far more entertaining that lanterns and boats) at night-time. It happens once a year and is apparently bigger and better in Bangkok and Chiang Mai but it passed a couple of hours and was great for people watching.
So after a week in Kanchanaburi we headed back to Bangkok (Khao San Road naturally) and said goodbye to each other as Kirsty had to head back to the UK for WTM (a big travel industry trade fair) where she will work very hard and get little sleep and I was making my way down to one of the many tropical islands that dot the south of the country for a spot of professional ‘sitting on my Khyber’ time. Needless to say I am not going to bore you with what Kirsty got up to and it is hard for me to bore you with what I got up to as well for the simple fact that it amounted to ‘sweet Fanny Adams’! OK I had to get to the beach and that took a bit of effort but once there, apart from the odd trip to 7-Eleven (5 minutes up the road) and a day trip to some of the other islands (which I booked as an excursion so that didn’t involve any effort either) I didn’t do too much.
The island is Ko Lanta and it is located on the west coast of Thailand below Phuket and yes, it is a tropical paradise, yes, the weather was hot and sunny and yes, I have gone a filthy brown colour. Well what do you want me to do, I can lie if you prefer and say the weather was crap (in fact it was for one day) and the beach terrible but you won’t believe me if you check out some of the attached pictures so why lie? How is the weather in England by the way!!! On the downside beer was more than the usual GBP1.00 for a big bottle and naturally I missed the ‘GLW’. They also played Bob Marley and Jack Johnson all day long, both of which I deplore.
The place I stayed in was really chilled and my hut was fine although a little rustic. There were lots of friendly people including Ang, the Thai guy that owned the place along with his Japanese wife called Carol. There was Jim the Swede who had been there for ages along with his wife Linda and their baby boy called Bob who everyone took turns entertaining and playing with. On top of this there was Frank the Dutchman, Antonia the Brit (who had the most posh Devon accent I had ever heard) and Heather from LA who met and later moved into a hut with two (count them) German firemen. Her evening antics were producing much complain and comment from other guests! And finally there was the obligatory Japanese guy that you always get on the beach. They only appear at sunset to take about 200 shots on their top of the range Cannon and then disappear until the following evening when they do exactly the same thing all over again. Nice enough lad though and always bowed and smiled on one of those rare occasions that I did bump into him.
Here is a challenge for all you readers. Have you ever met either a Scandinavian or a Dutch person that has not been really friendly and good company to be around? If you have I would like to hear from you??
Well after my week in ‘paradise’ I flew down to Kuala Lumpur, where I am in a room the size of a shoe box and surrounded by gits that don’t go to bed until the early hours of the morning but it is not for long and tomorrow I head back to Chiang Mai and meet up with Kirsty and settle into the ‘Chiang Mai routine’ yet again …