Kanchanaburi - Very Moving

Trip Start Aug 16, 2003
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Trip End Apr 21, 2004


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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Our journey from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi began amusingly, when we were accosted by a diminutive but animated Thai taxi driver. He walked us to his cab (which was illegally parked) and ushered us quickly inside as an airport security guard chased him off. He had a younger female partner with him and he explained that they shared the driving -it was her turn this time. I noticed that the car was fitted with a large gas cylinder in the boot to provide fuel, which I am also pretty convinced was not entirely within the realms of the law.

Anyway, we asked him to take us to the southern bus terminal, and the inevitable conversation about where we were headed followed. We told him, and he proceded to re-enact what seemed to be the entire episode of the Allies bombing the Bridge On The River Kwai (taking on roles from both sides!), all from the front passenger seat! He continued to talk to us about Kanchanaburi and where we could stay, what else to do etc and we were impressed with his English. We then told him that we were soon to be off to Australia, which excited him even more. He mentioned Sydney and Melbourne, saying "...many,many angaloos!". We hadn't a clue what he was talking about until he commenced with his acting again. It suddenly dawned on us that he was referring to kangaroos!

Once at our destination, we hired a rickshaw to take us to a riverside 'rafthouse'. The room was pretty spartan, with a cold water shower (stored in a tank overhead) and the toilet being flushed using a bucket, straight down into the Kwai, but was fairly central and (once again) rustic!

We headed out towards 'The Bridge', and stopped off to look around the nearby WWII museum. This was a bit of a hotpotch of WWII items and not very informative, so we made our way to the bridge itself. According to all the information available, the film made in the fifties did not truly reflect the events surrounding the bridge's construction, but having seen it, it did give an insight into the conditions the allied POWs were forced to endure here.

We walked right across the bridge, feeling a deep sense of emotion for all that had happened here just over fifty years ago. Nowadays, the bridge is in operation and links Thailand to Burma via a rail network, and there are numerous stalls and vendors selling souvenirs to (mainly Japanese) tourists. It does detract somewhat from what was essentially a concentration camp, whereby emaciated and diseased men were starved and tortured into working relentlessly on a construction that would serve their enemy. Thinking about all of this happening at the site on which we were standing was very poignant indeed.

Our last meal in Thailand was spent at a floating restaurant on the banks of the Kwai, in the shadow of the bridge - it seemed appropriate that we should eat there and take stock of what we had seen.

The morning of our last day was spent at the JEATH Museum - exhibiting first-hand accounts and drawings by surviving POWs that were held at Kanchanaburi and therefore worked on the infamous 'Death Railway'. The museum was not large, but we spent almost two hours looking around it, compelled but horrified to read the true stories of life, and death, working on the construction of the railway. Knowing that so many people suffered so much and the terrifying hardships that they encountered was extremely moving and evocative. It was hard not to be overwhelmed by the emotions that were stirred. This place was well worth visiting, as it put many things into perspective.

Before we left Kanchanaburi, we walked to the Allied cemetary, where nearly 7000 POW graves are kept. It sounds slightly morbid, as we had no actual connection with any of the POWs buried here, but it was something we had to do. We obviously could not look at every single gravestone, but we found ourselves reading every epitaph we walked past. Some were wistful, some were quite religious, and others were extremely emotional. I found it hard to accept that so many men had lost their lives here - men who were younger, braver and stronger in spirit than myself, and all with loving families.

This part of our trip has had a deeply moving effect on us both, and even whilst writing this, those emotions have risen again.

Dan and Andrea
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