24/4/15 - 29/4/15 38 °C
I spent a couple more days in Bangkok, enjoying the city a little more this time, mainly due to finding some great places to eat and drink.
Did a little sight seeing including the National Museum and the Siriraj Hospital Museum which was somewhat strange to say the least. I normally wouldn't go to a place like this but as I was passing right by it I thought it would fill some time. I believe the term "Siamese twins" originated in Thailand as it had the first recorded caseof conjoined twins. It's certainly had a few more since then if the exhibits on display in glass bottles are anything to go by. Together with two - headed babies and other examples of how badly wrong reproduction can go it made rather a macabre spectacle. But perhaps even more disconcerting were the dozen or so examples of human skeletons, each with a named photograph of their former owners beside them. It certainly was a stark reminder of the transitory nature of life.
On Monday morning (27 April) I was up early to catch the 7.50 train to Kanchanaburi. Much of the route is on the infamous Burma - Thailand railway built by the Japanese in 1942-43 using the labour of British, Australian and Dutch prisoners of war together with thousands of conscripted labourers from neighbouring countries. The train itself is third class with wooden seats and no comforts. It rattles and bounces along at a fairly sedate pace taking three hours to cover the 80 odd miles to Kanchanaburi. Vendors of cold drinks, fruit and various snacks continuously pass up and down the train hawking their wares.
Kanchanaburi is the site of the real Bridge on the River Kwai upon which the book and the David Lean film are based. However, there are few similarities between a largely fictionalised book and film and the actual events of the time. Firstly, there were two bridges built during the war; a wooden one which is no longer there and a steel one which still stands despite two sections of it having been replaced after they were destroyed by American bombing. Secondly, the bridge does not cross the River Kwai but the River Mae Khlung which is nearby. After the film's release thousands of tourists started to arrive expecting to see the Bridge on the River Kwai, only there wasn't one. The solution - rename the river the bridge is actually on! This seems to have made everyone happy.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The train passing over the wooden trestle viaduct near Wang Pho
Kanchanaburi also contains a small but impressive museum which tells the story of the Death Railway as it became known and a cemetery which holds the graves of almost 7,000 British, Australian and Dutch victims of the railway. It has been estimated that at least 100,000 men died during it's construction, the large majority of whom were conscripted Asians. Interestingly, although all the allied prisoners who died lie in beautifully tended cemeteries there is not a single named grave of any of the 90,000 Asians who suffered and died beside them.
My accommodation in Kanchanaburi was aboard a raft moored to the river bank upon which was a bamboo hut. It contained no more than a mattress on the floor, but it was home! I was awoken at six in the morning by music and chanting from a Buddhist temple downstream being blasted out over a loudspeaker while the peace and quiet of the evenings was occasionally shattered as large rafts full of party goers, sometimes performing karaoke, floated past my door. Painfully awful singing, but very funny. It seems that the Thais love to party and don't much care who hears them.
My raft house on the River Kwai
Sunset over the Bridge on the RIver Kwai from my raft