We spent the first two nights in Thailand at the best riverside guesthouse in Kanchanaburi. We know this because the sign says: Best Riverside Guesthouse, so it has to be true. At 480 baht (about AUD$19/night including breakfast) it is not bad — warm water, a flushing toilet and aircon would have been a bonus. There is a toilet in the room, but I have no idea how it works. There is no flush button. By magic, I guess. There is a small bucket nearby. The room is clean, very clean. The Best Riverside Guesthouse is a floating guesthouse on the River Kwai; every time a boat passes, the room sways back and forth. It is lulling, soporific even. The outside walls are a lurid green adventure playground for all the local lizards. There is a small terrace over the river.
About four kilometres up the road is the River Kwai Bridge, the reason for our visit.
After recently seeing the excellent and harrowing film,The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth, and having that whistling song from the older 50s film The Bridge On The River Kwai stuck in my head from the moment we decided to come, we hit the road on foot.
The air was fragrant with Frangipani, however after four kilometres of trudging in 38 degree heat and high humidity, all the while feeling like being trapped in a sauna, all we could smell was our own sweat.
We arrived at the railway bridge drenched and walked across. It is a beautiful spot — serene. Even the chintzy melodic Thai music blaring from the local temple loudspeaker added to the calm. What happened before is impossible to fathom: the Australian, English, Dutch and other prisoners of war who suffered and died here in the worst possible conditions in Japanese WWII POW camps, slaving on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway.
On the way back we stopped at the JEATH war museum. It is in an odd building and the collection is poorly curated. On the ground floor there is a slapdash collection of instruments of war: bombs, guns, vehicles, etcetera, and terrible photographs, while upstairs there is a large life sized wall mural of all the pretty Miss Thailand winners up to the Thai year 2535 (1992). This juxtaposition is bizarre but somehow befitting — the beauty and the horror.
Then we visited the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, which is also beautiful and lovingly tended as cemeteries go, with different species of flowering plants between each of the headstones — approximately 7,000 POWs died in this region.
Afterwards, whether from heatstroke or an overwhelming sense of despondency, we collapsed in a cool (of the temperature kind) coffee shop and had a tall iced coffee. A puddle of sweat formed on the floor at Paul’s feet. I could practically swim in it.
For our last night before we return to Perth, we have moved to a place that is not as clean as the Best Riverside Guesthouse, but it has a blue over-chlorinated pool to plunge into every 10 minutes, air-conditioning and the real clincher, a flushing toilet.