The River Kwai, April 2015. I’ll never forget my first night in the Thai town of Kanchanaburi. Arriving late afternoon in a minivan from Ayutthaya, I checked into V.N. Guesthouse where a floating raft room awaited me, right on The River Kwai. Unspeakably hungry, I dumped my rucksack, took a quick shower and headed up to V.N.’s stunning little restaurant, a wooden terrace overlooking the river. Dropping onto a large straw mat of cushions and pillows, I ordered dinner (a rich tomatoey noodle soup), cracked open a beer and turned on my MacBook. The sun beginning its slow decline, I sat breathing it all in before watching a download of the Academy Award winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. A really special night.
Death Railway Bridge, April 2015. Kanchanaburi’s real bridge, (not the one featured in the movie!) was constructed by the Japanese in World War two as part of their ambitious two hundred and fifteen mile rail track connecting Thailand to Burma. A key component in their plan to attack India, an incredible sixty thousand Asian slaves and prisoners of war were employed for the hard graft. Working in awful conditions, it’s believed around half the workforce had died by the time the bridge was completed twelve months later.
Death Railway Bridge, April 2015. Today you can take a train over the bridge as part of the Death Railway Tour, or simply walk across as I did during my stay. Ironically, with its history of brutality and great suffering, the surrounding area is picture perfect, with lush greenery, rolling mountains and a huge, colourful Chinese temple on the far side. It can be very touristy, but with a bit of patience the crowds will eventually thin out and you’ll have the bridge pretty much to yourself, free from the distractions of ice creams and selfie sticks.
Allied War Cemetery, April 2015. A sobering 6,982 prisoners of war were laid to rest here at this impeccably kept cemetery in the centre of town. Comprised mostly of British, Australian and Dutch graves, there are a number of somber memorials and a visitor’s book at the entrance. The garden is really beautiful, with well-tended plants, trimmed hedges and a number of fabulous trees scattered around. To get a better sense of the cemetery’s importance, check out the excellent Death Railway Museum just across the road.
Erawan National Park, April 2015. As fascinating as Kanchanaburi’s sights were, after a few days I was glad for an opportunity to leave the grim tales of death and starvation behind for a daytrip to Erawan National Park. Famous for its impressive seven-tiered waterfalls, I took the ninety-minute bus with an American traveller I’d first met in Bangkok; then again when we bumped into each other at V.N. Guesthouse. The waterfalls were pretty amazing, accessed via a two-kilometer hike up a winding jungle trail. Working our way up the first three tiers was a piece of cake, but from there the path became sketchy, steeper and slippery. Tier four’s natural rockslide was a real highlight, while this photo was taken at the 6th tier, a mini waterfall with a still, shallow pool that gave the area an almost eerie feel.