Tuesday, 13 March 2007

The Bridge over the River Kwai

This is something that Chris and I have wanted to do since we arrived in Thailand so when Sadie said that she fancied visiting the Bridge on the River Kwai I jumped online and booked a private tour.

I booked through a website called Hellfire Pass which claimed to be the official memorial website and our itinerary was supposed to be as follows; 7am Depart Bangkok for Kanchanaburi, 9am visit the infamous Bridge and view the war cemetery, 11am Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum (This is a museum dedicated to the allied prisoners who worked around the clock to complete excavation of the 17 meter deep and 110 meter long mountain for the train line. The mixture of hammering noises and the light from the fires and oil fired bamboo torches, needed to make work at night possible, created such an eerie illumination that it looked like the ‘Fires from Hell’ which is why the locals called it ‘Hellfire Pass’ - See photo), 1pm Lunch at Nam Tok Station (The last Existing train station of the Thailand-Burma railway in Thailand), 12pm Tiger Temple (Where you can walk among the Tigers and Monks), 4pm Take a train ride along the ‘Death Railway’ passing over the wooden viaduct built along the mountain. 5.45pm Depart for Bangkok. Despite the tour being advertised as a one day tour we discovered when we got there that there was no way that it was possible to do all that in one day…..I also got the feeling that it was not the first time that the guide had been left with really unhappy tourists. (Not good at the best of times but a really stupid thing to do when you are dealing with people that actually live here and you could get a lot of repeat business - next time I will hire a van and a driver and do the trip myself). Anyway, we got to see some of the stuff we wanted and had a great time despite the upset at the beginning.

We had a lovely little driver who had no teeth and who could only speak one word in English…..toilet. We discovered this when he pulled into a service station on the way to Kanchanaburi, opened the door to the van and announced ‘Toilet’ whilst grinning (He was very proud of his one English word). We dutifully trooped in and found ourselves facing one of those toilets with the footprints that you need to hover over…..all I could think about was ‘Thank God I’m not wearing wellies!!’ (Those of you who have ever had a conversation with my Dad, or indeed those of you that attended our wedding, will know what I am talking about). At least it was clean which was more than could be said for toilets that were advertised as ‘Clean Toilets’….now they could have been done if Thailand had a trades description act!! Sorry….digressing again…..where was I…..ah yes – We arrived in Kanchanaburi and met up with our guide who then took us to the main POW (Prisoner Of War) Cemetery. There are 6,982 POWs buried there (mostly British, Australian, Dutch and Canadian) the majority of which were younger than me – I didn’t expect it to upset me as much as it did. I had a huge lump in my throat which, despite my efforts, spilled over….I tried to pretend I had something in my eye but no-one believed me!! (Chris was struggling as well and I found out later that both Sadie and Margaret spilled over and that Sadie had also tried the ‘something in my eye’ excuse).

From there we went and had some lunch and then went to visit the old ‘Wang Pho South’ POW Camp. This is the site of the original Wampo Viaduct which was built round a cliff face, round a bend in the river and is about 1/3 of a mile long. It is absolutely phenomenal - The original Wampo wooden Viaduct is till in tact (You go over it when on the train) and, when you actually visit the camp, you can walk along it and go into a cave which was used as the POW hospital. To be honest I really didn’t know how to feel…..it was the oddest sensation – you are standing there looking at something incredibly beautiful, a feat of engineering, knowing that so many lives were lost to build it. You can read more about the personal stories of the men who built this viaduct at (War Stories)

Then we went to visit the Tiger temple I think after all the emotion we all needed some light relief!! The Tiger temple came about when local villagers found an orphaned tiger cub and the Monk, Abbot-Pra Acharn Phusit, took pity on the poor cub and saved it from certain death. Since then it has become home to numerous tigers as well as a myriad of other animals. It was amazing – we watched two cubs frolicking in a cage with their mum….they were chasing each other and trying to bite each others tails with Mum giving them an occasional friendly bat as they ran past. Then we walked down to ‘Tiger Canyon’ and had our photo’s taken with the big cats……sorry but I have to get this out of my system…..’OH MY GOD I TOUCHED A TIGER!!!’ there…..I feel better now!! I thought it was brilliant and would love to go back – they are so beautiful up close.

After the tigers we headed to Nam Tok Station where we boarded the train and set off on our journey upon the Death Railway. It was absolutely breathtaking…..I’m going to let the photo’s speak for themselves.

Then we headed to the actual Bridge over the River Kwai. It was really busy and there were a surprising amount of Japanese Tourists at all the places we visited now that I come to think of it. We all walked onto the bridge and looked out down the river then Sadie and Margaret headed back and Chris and I walked right along to the other side – It felt quite monumental!!

We didn’t get to visit Hellfire Pass but I think in the grand scheme of things that was probably not such a bad thing…..I think I would have bawled my eyes out (and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been the only one). We will go back and visit it at some point but I think we were all worn out on the journey back to Bangkok.

Sadie and Margaret left the next day – can’t believe that their holiday has come to an end already!!


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