4-7 Bangkok to Kanchanaburi (Bridge on river Kwai)

See trip index here and Southern Thailand index here. Additional pictures here

Overnight our feet recovered, but foolishly we set a plan for another walking and exploring day on foot.  We first headed towards the Phetchaburi area and Siam Square where Bangkok becomes a lot more modern and caters for a different type of tourist.  Starbucks and McDonalds (at near Euro rates) abound and modern packed and huge shopping malls – all packed with people and stands.  One was simply full computer shops like mini PC Worlds, but 100s of them all competing with everything possible available.

To be fair we enjoyed seeing the different parts of Bangkok, but the atmosphere here is more suited to of a holiday maker than a traveller as it merges Bangkok with other cities – though on a larger scale. That said, from what we’ve seen Bangkok rates very high in our top cities – and we look forward to another visit at the end of this trip.

From here we headed to the secret and hidden Chao Mae TupTim phallic shrine which was recommended to us by someone who doesn’t even know Mel – suffice to say Mel felt at home there.  (worth a pop in if you are near). After a chill in Lumphini park we headed towards Silom for drink and tea whilst waiting for the nightlife to start.  We avoided the main drag bars and found a hidden local eatery market where we had a huge choice and a very nice meal for 40 bhart (85p) each.   After our fill we wandered around Phat Pong night market where the go-go lady boy bars are, and for some reason we kept getting invited to watch girls play ping pong.  Not exactly sure why watching table tennis is so popular over here!  A few interesting sites to be had!

As we were enjoying Bangkok at night we walked back 4 miles to our emergency chocolate rations and a comfy bed.

Knowing we’d not seen all of Bangkok we decided to head off anyway to Kanchanaburi leaving the rest of Bangkok till we return in March.  There are plenty of tourist mini busses at around 250 bhat each, but as the main purpose of our visit is to see real Thailand, we opted for tuk-tuk to station and then the train (100 bhat each) which made for nice views of the countryside.  At the station we had a coffee and the owner/waitress lived just outside the city but was staying with friends as her home was destroyed and flooded and she had no idea when she could return.  So humbling as she was still so happy and making do.  The train passed through flooded areas with boats and 4x4s sharing the same “road”.  Very sad.  The train was a breeze to book at the Thorn Buri (Bangkok Noi) station – no queues and loads of room, with food at station and the odd seller making rounds on board.  Don’t get there early – no need!  Also, if your time is short consider a minibus as it did take us most of the day!

The area we are staying in Kanchanaburi is backpacker central – a few tacky bars “get wasted for peanuts” and the obligatory ladyboy bar (and yes lads, you would!).  That said, our accommodation is superb value for money.  A private wooden bungalow, en-suite, on the river Kwai with 2 story veranda for £13 a night.  Interestingly, the “Bridge over the River Kwai” is a mistake as the bridge never crossed the Kwai, it just passed next to it and crossed another river.  After the book and film when it became a tourist destination they renamed the river to Kwai so the tourists understood!

Unfortunately Mel caught a cold, probably from a flea ridden passenger on the plane, so a chilled early night was called for.

The famous bridge over the river Kwai is about a 1km walk from the guesthouse area, and you can walk across the railway bridge on a walkway screwed (mostly!) between the sleepers.  The town end is surrounded by tourist-tat stalls and a genuine market.  We were tipped to avoid the museums close to the bridge, and opted to visit the war graves cemetery and the Thai-Burma railway centre museum.  This we did, and found the museum very informative and of high quality, and the whole area was sad and moving.  This is a must-see for Kanchanaburi. 

A highlight for Mel was a couple of Leopard cubs, one 2 months old and one 7 months old that you could handle and stroke.  Yes they were on chains, but they were taken off if you wanted to hold them and feed them, and they were very very lively!  Just like giant kittens that enjoyed being played with.  The big one was rather strong, and Mel was very wary and came away unscathed!! (unlike a ladies clothing which got chased/eaten!)

Our walk between the bridge and the cemetery down the “local road” was rather interesting – loads of large “units” doing specialised work – body repair/mods; alternator/motor fixing etc – all clearly experts in a niche field.

If you ever come to Kanchanaburi try and coincide with the Kwai Bridge Festival.  We were lucky enough to stumble on it, and for a week it has a huge night market, fun fair, music, and a sound and light show on the Kwai bridge telling the story of the bridge.  The show was packed mainly with Thais,  and whilst the show was in Thai it was easy enough to understand what went on.  It may seem like glorifying an horrific story, but if you look at it another way, in that it is teaching new people about the story of the railway then the memories of those involved will be kept alive.

The following day we took a moped-converted tuk-tuk to the bus station and got a bus to Erawan park and the magnificent 7 layer waterfall.  The bus station was fine, and buying a ticket was as easy as just getting on and waiting till the driver stops for fuel and paying him!  No touts at all, and we were “spotted” as being a tourist (how?!) and were clearly told which bus (easy anyway), how much and what time.  No hassle.  Our only tip is to work out which side the sun is going to shine on and then sit on the other.  Oh – and don’t worry about the mechanical condition – our bus on the way back needed constant 180’ turns of the steering wheel just to keep it going in a straight line!

The waterfalls are very impressive – you need a bare minimum of 3 hours, ideally 4 to walk up all 7 layers.  You can swim in most of them and little (and not so little) fish come and nibble your body – apparently pruning you.  Good fun and a good walk – wear good waterproof sandals.  Each layer is different, and level 4 has a natural rock you can slide off.  I’d suggest not taking any food or crisps etc as the monkeys are very aggressive – one tried to rip open our backpack just to get at an old wrapper.  Pretty much had a punch up with the fella.

See next installment here

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