We pictured Kanchanaburi to be a small village along a river in the middle of some jungle, but it was actually quite a large city since it is the capital of its province. Although it’s a big city, it does have close and convenient access to national parks and waterfalls, but we were here mostly to visit the bridge on the river kwai and a tiger temple.
The bridge on the river kwai, made famous by the movie, was basically the start of what became known as “The Death Railway.” The Japanese occupied Thailand and much of South East Asia during WWII, and decided that it was necessary to build a railway into Burma in order to occupy Burma, and cut off important supply routes to China. The railway was constructed by tens of thousands of POWs, many of which died from disease, malnutrition, fatigue, and the commanding Japanese themselves.
We stepped off the bus and were immediately greeted by the usual touts. This time we decided to listen to one of them; perhaps because we are at the end of our trip and don’t really care to hunt for a better bargain. The woman led us to a driver that was going to take us to the guest house for 80 baht each. When we started to walk away, he eventually lowered his price to 40 baht total. He took us to what turned out to be a really nice guest house called “Jolly Frog.” It looked like this place would be quite popular in the busy season since it had nice rooms, a nice courtyard with hammocks, and a massive restaurant with reasonable prices. After checking into our room, we decided to go for a walk towards the bridge.
Literally 15 minutes into the walk, we made a detour to an air conditioned internet cafe. The heat was unbearable. This was the first time in our trip that we had to stop walking, even in the shade, and get out of the heat. We stayed in the cafe surfing the web for at least two hours until it was around 3pm and the temperature had started to cool down. At this point, we were able to finish the walk, which turned out to only be a few minutes more to the bridge. Along the way, we noticed that a woman lost her hat as she drove by on her friend’s motorbike. An old man driving the opposite way slowed down and picked up the hat. Both of us were thinking that it was nice to see such generosity by the old man. However, instead of turning around and giving the hat back, he simply dove away slowly as if he would stop if someone complained. No one complained and he simply puttered down the road after stealing the hat. We still joke about the “nice old man.”
The bridge itself was surrounded by city, but spanned along a picturesque section of the river. People were free to walk across the bridge “at their own risk,” and there were some small safety platforms in the event that a train did need to pass over the bridge. Looking down the bridge, the tracks seemed to curve into the country side where some of the jungle still remained. After a few photos, it started to rain gently and we quickly walked back to our guest house.
The second day in Kanchanaburi, we decided to visit the Railway Museum in the morning. Of the several museums in the city, this one was recommended to be the best, and it did an excellent job of explaining the history behind both the war and the bridge. It would have been best to visit this exhibit first and then visit the bridge. We actually managed to spend at least 2 hours absorbing all the history and then caught a quick lunch. For the afternoon, we had booked a tour to the tiger temple.
The tiger temple is located just outside the city, but to visit the temple we had to book transport since no public buses reach the temple itself. The story is told that the temple was established when a monk took in a orphaned tiger cub and soon the temple was turned into a refugee camp for wild animals. Both of us imagined the temple to be a fairly exotic looking wat with wild animals scattered throughout the grounds. Unfortunately, we arrived with about a hundred other tourists, and the entire place was a circus. We were more or less herded into a fake quarry complete with a tacky waterfall where a line was formed to see the tigers. A handful of tigers where scattered throughout the area, some laying under planted trees, some on rocks, and all chained to the ground. In this area, there was only one monk supervising and about 30 employees helping the tourists to the tigers. We had to wait our turn and then proceed one at a time as one of the employees took our individual photos. We were not allowed to take the photo ourselves and instead had to give the camera to the employee. In addition to that, we couldn’t take a photo with the two of us “for our own safety.” Curiously enough, if we paid an extra 30 US dollars, we could take the “special” photo with the two of us together and a tiger in our lap. The tigers were either really sleepy or heavily sedated since they barely moved at all. After the photo, we were escorted back to the waiting area which was roped off. Adam was yelled at by a power hungry American teenager volunteer who told him to step behind the red roped off area. Since he was two steps to the right of the rope (to have a better angle for photos), Adam said he was in fact behind, but next to the designated area. The volunteer promptly explained to him that if the tiger was to escape from his chains, it would be a vicious and highly dangerous situation, and that he had better be behind the rope. Adam simply replied that if that situation did occur, he doubted that a red rope would save him from such a vicious tiger. The volunteer didn’t bother Adam anymore. There was one tiger who had some spunk in him, perhaps because the drugs were wearing off, but the volunteers kept squirting him in the face with water as one would do with a misbehaving house cat. The entire temple was an overpriced tourist trap that we wouldn’t recommend to anyone. After that, we headed back to our guest house, spent the evening reading our books, and took the bus the following morning back to Bangkok.
Our time in Bangkok was fairly nice since we had nothing to worry about. On one day, we ventured back to Chatchuchak market to buy a few more souvenirs. On the next, we went to see the latest Indiana Jones movie. We basically lounged around the city for three full days before catching a plane to Singapore.
Currently, we are in Singapore for the night, and will be catching a plane for Hong Kong tomorrow. We have three days each in Hong Kong and San Francisco before finally going back to Ottawa. We are going to try to make the most of each day in the upcoming cities and it is doubtful if we will have time to write again before we are home.