Thailand – Country No.4 – Kanchanaburi

We rise early and have to make our way to the SeaLife centre in Bangkok. It’s a straight forward enough journey as the train stops right there, our major issue is not being able to fit onto the train. Fortunately, we gave ourselves an hour to do the twenty minute journey and made it with a minute to spare. Unlike everyone else. We ended up waiting around for about half an hour before setting off. Our tour guide was exceptional, ninety percent of the group were Chinese and he spoke as fluently to them in Mandarin as he did to the two of us in English. He also had some great information to bestow, the first of which was as follows.

A man from Myanmar, a factory worker by trade, was riding along and noticed a strange tree. He noticed the tree had a bulge, like it was pregnant and his beliefs told him that it was occupied by a spirit. He prayed to the tree and spread baby powder on the ‘baby bump’. He moved the powder around with his hands until he saw numbers appear. Once he had 6 he headed to town and put the numbers on the lottery. He won 30M baht and returned to Myanmar a rich man. He then bought his own factory and became his own boss. The locals now pray to the tree and promise to buy it things if they win money. Usually Thai clothing. We stopped across the road from this very tree o find it surrounded by people and items of clothing hanging from the branches. I guess some people must indeed receive the blessing of it’s luck.

Locals praying to the tree
We continued on to Kanchanaburi and we stopped for a buffet lunch at a restaurant that overlooks the river Kwai (or Kwae). The river is beautiful. We are away from Bangkok for the first time since arriving in Thailand making this our first glimpse of the countryside. It reminds me of Vietnam. The scene is as picturesque as it peaceful and, as always, it’s hard to imagine anything bad ever happened here.

We’ve driven almost three hours to reach the ‘death railway’. It’s a great place for photos as the tracks run on a bridge alongside the mountain, overlooking the river. Our guide tells us that the Japanese built this railway in order to supply their army. Much of the railway was built by paid labour but as the work got further from their homes and increasingly dangerous, the workers quit and prisonersof war were used instead. Our guide acted out much of this scenario for us without making light of the tragic story, it was impressive. There is a cave there with the remnants of the toils involved in the building of the railway.

Views around the bridge
We learnt that the Japanese came to Thailand during world war two. The Thai people had no quarrel with Japan and did not understand why the Japanese had shown up guns blazing.
A deal was struck and the Japanese only wanted land in the west to build a railway to Myanmar so as long as they did not bother the locals they could stay and pay Thai people as labourers. When they got to far from home and the work became dangerous, the Thai workers quit and prisoners of war were sent there to build the railway instead.
We learnt about a merchant named Boonpong Sirivejjabhandu, who became trusted by the Japanese and gave the prisoners extra food and medication whenever he could. He eventually snuck in a radio so that the prisoners could relay the positions of the camps to the British army who then performed air raids.
The bridge was also bombed in the raids, leaving the middle section destroyed when both ends survived. The Thai people saw the importance of the bridge and rebuilt it though they used a different design for the rebuilt section.
Difference in design
There is also a town nearby and a street there where Boonpong lived has been decreed that it is not to be changed from how it was during the war. This means that there is a gun shop still open for business even though they have officially been made illegal.
On this excursion we ride on the train alongside the river for about 20 mins, then drove to the bridge. From there we got on a giant raft pulled by a tug. We floated through a river village. A place for people who can’t afford land.
River Village
We drive back to the city later than planned. It’s been an informative day and a great excursion to another place with a tragic story behind it. It was good to hear a story about a man who risked everything to keep that tragedy from becoming total.
It’s been a good day, but a long one.

To read our amazing day back in Bangkok click here

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