bangkok

landed in bangkok for the first time last week and i must say it wasn’t too bad.  for a singaporean who is used to good food, a hot climate, great malls and generally clean toilets – bangkok surprised me and exceeded my expectations. the food was always delicious and affordable, the weather shockingly hot, the shopping malls were nice, public transportation and toilets were surprisingly good and the chatuchak weekend market charmed me to bits.

what was most memorable for me was our trip to kanchanaburi – first the hotel staff gave us travel information that was different from what my friend has found on the internet. thinking that the locals should know travel information better than the internet, we took their advice and ended up missing both trains that were departing for kanchanaburi on sunday. determined to make it there, we took the public van and reached kanchanaburi bus station in 3 hours. we took a tuk tuk to the train station to continue the journey to our hotel in namtuk but the next train was scheduled at 4.30pm. not wanting to spend the next 5 hours at the deserted station or pay 800 baht for the cab ride, we took the tuk tuk back to the bus station for a 2 hour bus ride to saiyok. no one seems to know what time the bus was coming so we waited like everyone else for an hour or so before the bus arrived. it has been a while since i sat in a bus without air con but the experience was well worth it.

we were totally zapped by the time we reached the boutique raft resort along river kwai noi. it helped that the resort looked quite nice – at least the tiring journey wasn’t for nothing!

we had the biggest floating room – the picture below is the normal room on my left.

and this is what was on my right:

and this is me standing near the edge of our deck. it was nice having dinner by the river in the comfort of our room.

it was even nicer to lie in a hammock and read. i am now absolutely in love with hammocks. there were hammocks at both ends of the deck.

decided to walk the hanging bridge near our room. at the other side of the river is a small village.

you need to walk the bridge with your eyes wide open or else you just might fall into river kwai noi as there were many gaps along the bridge. these 2 fellas jumped off the bridge and swam back to their room again and again. it looked really fun but we had no courage to attempt it ourselves. ha-ha.

watched 3 DVDs in our rooms and ended the night early after a long day. the next morning, we headed to hellfire pass museum (the death railway connecting thailand and burma). i was especially moved by some of the stuff i saw in the museum and felt tears welling up in my eyes as i exit the museum. i could also feel sadness washing over me as i stood at the reflection deck and this was all before i started the walk at hellfire pass. saw some ducks on my way to hellfire pass and that put a smile on my face.

the museum was built on top of the hellfire pass so we had to walk down a long flight of stairs to reach the tracks. the place was filled with bamboos.  according to the audio set provided by the museum, this place was once filled with teak but they have all been lumbered down to build the tracks during the second world war.

listening to the audio while walking the trial was especially intimate and moving. the audio set contains recording by ex prisoners of wars who gave a recount of their hard times spent here building the tracks – it was quite incredible to stand where they once stood (but in less trying conditions) and to see what they saw some 70 years ago.

this was where one of the POW would come when he needed a breather. the quietness and the lush greenery comforted him and made him think of the “bigger good that was out there and the little evils they were stuck there doing”. right behind the mountains is burma. i stood there for a while, especially moved by it’s stillness and nature’s beauty. we didn’t finish the trail because we had a train to catch. it would have been nice to continue walking to hintok station and witness the site of “pack of cards” bridge.

the walk back was especially tough because the stairs never seemed to end but i kept telling myself this was nothing compared to what they had to go through. i re-played a poem that was available on the audio set numerous times while walking back. it is titled “mate” and was written by ex POW – it was especially emotional to listen to it towards the end of the journey and to watch the back of my friend as she trudged ahead of me.

I’ve traveled down some dusty roads,
Both crooked tracks and straight,
And I have learnt life’s noblest creed
Summed up in one word, “Mate”.

I’m thinkin’ back across the years,
A thing I do of late
And these words stick between me ears
“You gotta have a mate.”

Someone who’ll take you as you are
Regardless of your state
And stand as firm as Ayers Rock
Because he is your mate.

Me mind goes back to ’43
To slavery and hate
When man’s one chance to stay alive
Depended on his mate.

With bamboo for a billy-can
And bamboo for a plate,
A bamboo paradise for bugs
Was bed for me and mate.

You’d slip and slither through the mud
And curse your rotten fate
But then you’d hear a quiet word
“Don’t drop your bundle, mate.”

And though it’s all so long ago
This truth I have to state,
A man don’t know what lonely means
’til he has lost his mate.

If there’s a life that follers this,
If there’s a Golden Gate,
The welcome that I wanna hear
Is just “Goodonya mate”.

And so to all who ask us why
We keep these special dates,
Like ANZAC Day, I tell ’em “Why?!
We’re thinkin’ of our mates.”

And when I’ve left the driver’s seat
And ‘anded in me plates
I’ll tell Ol’ Peter at the door
“I’ve come to join me mates.

many times during the walk, i felt a tingling sensation that is a little hard to explained. from time to time, tears well up and you are filled with a heaviness you can’t shake off. so it was especially nice for me to reach the end of the long flight of steps and see this beautiful flame of the forest. it felt like seeing rainbows after the rain.

to fully experience and remember history, we took the 3rd class train back from namtuk station. even though the train was really old and had no air con, i must say it was one of the best and most meaningful rides of my life.

just knowing that you were traveling on a track that was built 70 years ago in such trying and harsh conditions made me feel so small and appreciate of everything that i have now. the scenery was lovely and it was also lovely to watch the thais go about their daily lives.

approaching one of the more well known railway site of the thailand-burma railway by the river kwai.

we spent about 6 hours on the train. by the time we reached bangkok, our bodies were all sticky from the sweat and the dust and my body was aching from the long ride but we were both happy and satisfied with the experience. it’s just something you have to experience at least once in your life!

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