Archive for Kanchanaburi

28 Feb 2015

War And Peace

4 Comments Kanchanaburi, Thailand



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.





25 Feb 2015

Sagacious Sapa Saunterer (and other small stories)

4 Comments Ha Long Bay, Hanoi, Kanchanaburi, Sapa, Thailand, Vietnam

Greetings from Thailand. A lovely ladyboy sold me a ticket on the bus to Kanchanaburi. It was only when she barked “110 Baht” that I realised. The taxi from the airport to the bus station took longer than the actual flight from Hanoi to Bangkok.

So here I am on the bus … all the curtains are closed to keep out the mid-afternoon sun and heat, so there is nothing to look at. I thought I may as well pop up a blog post about the last week or so in Vietnam.


Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Typical Hanoi Streetscape

Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre

Hard at work - Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Smiling not allowed

In the grounds of the Presidential Palace

Kiddie chairs everywhere


On Hanoi. Hanoi is lovely with its beautiful lakes, pretty gardens and wonderful French architecture. It is not as manic as Ho Chi Minh, but crossing the road is still an exercise requiring concentration and nerves of steel. It was Tet (the Vietnamese Chinese New Year) and lots of things were closed, however being a big city, meant plenty of things were still open. I like Vietnamese food. It is clean and tasty and not overly complicated. I have even acquired a taste for Vietnamese coffee made with sweetened condensed milk. It grows on you. And street restaurants are the best, sitting on tiny plastic kiddies stools and sipping back hot bowls of Pho. Yum! The simple things in life.

Ha Long bay is the most incredible seascape. I know EVERYONE goes there and at night when you are sitting up on deck with the hundreds of stunning Ha Long islands jutting up from nowhere, climbing skywards, and all around you are boatloads of people doing the exact same thing, it shouldn’t feel as otherworldly as it does; but it does. A surreal sensation swept over me. I felt almost spiritual. Paul felt like a beer.

Ha Long Bay


Ha Long Islands

Cat Ba craziness

Cat Ba bungalows are nothing special — it’s the location that is magic. They are basic huts on platforms, wedged on a sand beach before the mountain shoots up vertical and inaccessible. It is New Year’s Eve (my second for the year) and at midnight they plan to let off three tiny fireworks. We are sitting around a campfire on the beach after an afternoon of kayaking around the island. Midnight seems hours away and it is. When it arrives we are fast asleep and the three small fireworks are over almost as soon as they began. We barely stir.

Of the whole Ha Long/Cat Ba experience, cruising back to the mainland during a thick fog was possibly the best moment. Visibility was almost zero. The sea was like a sheet of glass and if not for gentle throb of the diesel engines, there was almost total silence — one minute an island appears, the next it is gone, disappearing in the thick fog.

Sapa — I had never heard of Sapa until I started doing research for this trip. And what a surprise! An overnight clack-clack sleeper train. Aren’t they the best? And then a 35km bus journey up a treacherous looking mountain in a mini-bus. We arrived at the Summit hotel and they fed us breakfast, allowed us to unpack our bags and pack just our barest essentials. We are off trekking.

Our guide, Sam, from the local Mong tribe assured us it was an easy trek, but I suspected she was lying. I have an innate ability to spot these things. About an hour into the trek when we are slipping on muddy footholds, crossing the narrow steep mud walls of rice paddies, and stopping for pigs, cows, oxen, wild dogs and ducks, it dawned on me, I was right. Every time we ask Sam how long it will take she adds another half hour to the time. She had a nice smile. I really wanted to believe her.

Five hours later when we arrived at the Homestay, which is more of a refuge than a Homestay: we share a room, fifteen of us lying side by side, each bed a hard mattress on the floor inches from the next. Most of us are dirty and tired, too lazy to shower in the so-so shower. But it was worth it. The Sapa landscape: the rice paddies, the mountains; the tribal villages; and even the village folk who have tagged along, smiled at us along the way and helped us when the trek got tough, then implored us to buy their handmade wares; they were all wonderful.

The next day we do it all again.

As I sit on the bus, Paul tells me it hurts to even think about his legs. Oh the moaning, will it ever stop?



At the end of a long day nothing beats a piggy-back ride