Bridge on the river Kwai and more around Kanchanaburi
In Bangkok we are joined by our friends Mary and John, who will travel with us in Thailand. As the experienced travellers, we take them by the hand and lead them via express boat to the Lopburi train station, while discussing the public transport in Bangkok. We can impress them since we've done this part of the trip before. But when we are put into a songthaew (a truck adjusted for transporting people), we are as puzzled as our friends. The songthaew brings us to what appears to be the actual train station. Once there, the train hasn't arrived yet. Departure time has past, and this is not what we are used to in Thailand. Apparently, this railway (part of the death railway that once went as far as Birma) is more like Southeast Asia than the rest of Thailands railway tracks. But, an hour later we are seated and well underway.
After a quiet ride, the train is nearing Kanchanaburi. A guy from C&C guesthouse passes by to show some leaflets, and since this was the guesthouse we chose from our guidebook, we decide to follow him. Kanchanaburi appears to be a lot bigger than we expected, Instead of the small village along the river, we see wide, large, paved roads. Luckily, the guesthouse does meet our expectations. Quiet huts along the river Kwai, with friendly staff. After having lunch they immediately offer us a boat ride to lead us along some of the places of interest here.
Nice and easy we take our seats in the boat. But as soon as the engine starts, the peace and quiet is over. The huge bar with rotor is put into the water, and with a roaring engine we're off. Just as we think wow, that's fast, we accelerate until our cheeks and ears almost snap. We can hardly look at the environment, although we do see a number of floating discos and karaoke bars. A while later we have our first stop.
Remnants of a railwayThat first stop is at a cave, where we are led to by two children. Underway and in the cave there are a lot of Buddha's, but these are not very spectacular. So we move on to a cemetery of prisoners of war who died in the second world war, while building the death railway to Birma. Besides the many British graves, there are a lot of Dutch graves here too, which surprises us. Sure, we knew Dutch prisoners worked on the railway, but considering the little attention that gets in Holland, it couldn't have been a large number. Well, we were wrong.
After the cemetery, we visit the Jeath museum (Jeath stands for Japan, England, Australia, Thailand, Holland), where we are informed about what happened here. We are very impressed, and learn that no less than 13000 Dutch prisoners died here. As a comparison, 19000 British, and 5000 Australian prisoners died. The museum, by the way, isn't much. Just a number of newspaper cut-outs, and paintings. The museum is also a bit controversial, one of the articles wonders what happens with all the admission fees (around 100.000 Euro per year). It is obviously not spent on maintenance and improvements of the museum.
After the museum we visit the famous bridge over the river Kwai. It is not the same one as in the movie, though. And the museum made it clear that the circumstances under which it was built were much worse than what is shown in the Oscar winning movie. It is impressive to walk here, but we are a bit amazed about the large number of Japanese that walk here, almost proud of what they accomplished here.
Two-day-one-nightC&C Guesthouse also organizes trekkings in the surroundings of Kanchanaburi. We decide to book a two-day-one-night trekking. The next morning we are put into a songtheaw, and head for our first stop. It doesn't take long before we realise the schedule we read in the leaflet is a flexible one, and we will be cross between the different sights in the surroundings of Kanchanaburi.
Waterfalls, elephants, cavesWe start with visiting Erawan waterfalls. There are seven plateaus here to watch the falls. We want to see all seven, and do some swimming too, so we have to walk and climb fast, to be back in time. But it was definitely worth it, Erawan falls are great and we regret having to leave after three hours.
When we get back in the truck, it speeds to the next stop. It's an elephant farm, where we will take a ride on the elephants. The ride itself wasn't spectacular. But there was one cute baby elephant who followed its mother. And when we descended from the elephants, the baby elephant chased John around for a cookie. We had great fun, although John was actually a bit scared.
We walked on to the next stop: Sai Yok Noi waterfalls. These were beautiful as well, although it rained a bit when we were there. So we watch the falls while having a drink, giving us a bit of rest before we were picked up again, to bring us to the next stop, the tiger caves. Although the name suggests something spectacular, these were just caves, nothing special.
Tiger pettingFrom the Tiger cave we move to the Tiger temple. The monks in this temple raised young tigers, who were orphaned because of poachers. They are used to having humans around, and it is actually a tourist attraction to come here and pet them. A little nervous we walk through a small canyon, and there we see the tigers. Two of them, with a few monks as their guards. We are instructed to approach the tigers from behind, one tourist at a time. The other tourists can then take a picture from a small distance in front of the tiger.
Sabine goes first, to get it over and done with. But when she returns, the tiger gets a little restless, stands up, and wants some more attention. The monks prevent him to look at the group of tourists, but he stays restless. So they move him out of sight, and get the other tiger to be petted. One by one, we pet this tiger, and return to the group, most of us still a bit shaky. Pretty impressive, such a large cat from up close.
At the temple (not a temple building around, though) are a number of other cages with animals, too. More tigers and a leopard, who were brought here at an older age, and are therefore too dangerous to play outside. And there are a few chained gibbons. These can be petted as well, and appear to be really cute. When you stop petting them, they grab your hand to put it back on their heads, continue petting please!! Cute, but we think they should be up in the trees, instead of being chained.
Still impressed by the animals we jump back in the truck to be brought to our camp for the night. We arrive in a beautiful location in the jungle, close to a lake. We can choose between a floating hut on the lake, or one up in the trees. We choose the tree hut, and install ourselves quickly in order to take a dive in the lake before it gets dark. We have some fun in the water, until our meal is prepared and we are called to have dinner. We enjoy our meal, and gather around a camp fire afterwards.
Hellfire passThe next morning we wake up and take a dive in the lake again, before we have breakfast. Unfortunately, then it starts raining, so we have to put on our ponchos, for a raft over the lake. It is still a nice, quiet raft tour over the lake, only to be put in the truck on the other side of the lake. And we are off to the hellfire pass. This is also a part of the death railway, where the prisoners of war needed to make a pass through a granite mountain, using pick-axes and dynamite.
We visit the passage, where a few sleepers are still laying around, and some memorial stones put. The Australian government financed a museum here, in which we can relive the past. It is incredible that there is no attention in Holland for what happened here to so many Dutch men. Now we truly understand the commotion from former Dutch prisoners of war.
We hop back in the truck, on to the hot springs. But these are not really hot. With a hose some warm water is put in a few small pools, and that's it. But when we try to enjoy it anyway, we are informed that we have to leave in 10 minutes. So after a quick water hose fight, we get dressed again and get back in the truck. But since it is stuck in the mud, we have to get out to push and pull.
The truck brings us to the railway station from where we can take the last part of the death railway. The rest of the railway to Birma is taken down directly after the war, so it's a dead end track. Before the train leaves though, we get lunch. We have to quickly finish it in order to be at the train in time. At the next train station, we have to change trains, and are put in a train stacked with tourists, to pass a scenic bridge. After passing that, most of the tourists get out, and we continue with an almost empty train to Kanchanaburi.
Back at the famous bridge over the river Kwai, a raft trip over the river will have to bring us back to the guesthouse. But we have to wait one and a half hours for that. No problem, we spend that time on a terrace. When our guide arrives for the raft trip, he appears to be drunk, and so is his female companion. And so we are floating on the river with 2 drunken guides and 6 irritated tourists.
The surroundings around Kanchanaburi have some great attractions, and are definitely worth a visit. The tours to those, though, are a bit to stacked full, and thus hasty. It is much better if some of the stops are removed, to make the tour more enjoyable. Nevertheless, we are impressed by the remnants of the death railway, and the beautiful waterfalls in the jungle.Follow our World Journey!! Next Stop: Ayutthaya Historical Park
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