Friday morning started with a lovely 6am alarm, a quick cup of coffee for breakfast before strapping our bags onto our backs (and fronts) and walking half an hour to the bus station for our bus to Kanchanaburi. Looking on Google maps we had decided to walk instead of bothering with a taxi at rush hour. Big mistake. HUGE! The majority of the roads had no pavements so we traipsed up the side of the roads with cars, motorcycles and tuk-tuks whizzing past. When we finally got away from the roads we were traversing the side of a canal on a rather ramshackle walkway. Anyway, 30 extremely sweaty minutes later we arrived looking awfully dishevelled and ready to get into the nice air conditioned bus.
It took us just about 3 hours to get to Kanchanaburi, arriving just before midday. Our hostel was just over half an hour walk away, so I hear you all say “they surely learned their lesson after the mornings antics, surely they got a taxi”. Well no, you’re wrong. Gluttons for punishment some would say. So bags strapped back on, off we traipsed down the side of the roads, this time in a balmy 35 degrees. We arrived at the Wee Hostel hoping we would be able to check in early and be able to grab a shower and change before continuing with our day however, carrying on the theme of the trip, this was not to be. The lovely young Thai girl at reception had very limited English so between hand gestures and a bit of help from google translate we were able to establish that she would look after our luggage until check in and an English speaking receptionist would be in in an hour or so.
We ventured across the road to Ave Thaifood & Beer for some lunch. We again encountered a bit of a language barrier (at this point we were feeling very inadequate and selfish as Brits for just assuming people would speak English) however some more hand gestures and pointing meant we were able to get 2 large bottles of water and a Pad Thai for Craig and Garlic Chicken for Katy. Thankfully, they weren't busy so after finishing our food, we were able to while away the next hour people watching until we could head back over to the hostel.
When we arrived back at the hostel we were greeted by the sweetest Thai lady who instructed us to take our shoes off at the door (made us feel right at home!) and gave us the tour of the place. We were back to being in a dorm room here but we both agreed it was probably the nicest dorm we’ve stayed in yet.
In 1942, Kanchanaburi, like the rest of Thailand, was under Japanese occupation and it became the site for the infamous 'Bridge over the River Kwai' that was built by forced labourers and Allied Prisoners of War (POW's). As those who know Craig and how much of a history buff he is we couldn’t be so close to this historic site and not visit. So after a quick turn around we headed back out and walked back along to where the bus had dropped us off earlier in the day to explore the War Museum. It was less of a museum, and more a random assortment of things thrown together however, you could climb to the top of the building and the views were pretty exceptional so for the 50 baht (£1.25) entry we really couldn’t complain too much! Next stop was the bridge that crosses the River Kwai. It is still a working railway bridge however you can walk over it, so long as you move out the way of oncoming trains obviously! It was also fascinating to see the two styles of iron spans, as the middle 2, arched spans had to be replaced after the allies bombed it in 1945.
After we had had enough of exploring we grabbed another coffee to revive us for the walk back along to the hostel, where we enjoyed a bit of lazing around before dinner at Bell’s Restaurant for some comfort food for a fairly poorly Craig. As seemed to be the norm in Kanchanaburi we again had to take our shoes off at the door so we added our flip flops to the pile and made our way in to have dinner barefoot. We then headed back to the hostel for an early night in hopes it would help Craig shake off his cold, however our dorm mates had other ideas and spent until around 3am coming in and out of the room.
The next morning, after listing all the reasons why we shouldn’t book dorm rooms and we don’t know why we keep doing it to ourselves (Disclaimer: we have more booked in a couple weeks, what did I say about being gluttons for punishment!?), we headed downstairs to have some breakfast (toast with a side of fresh watermelon, delicious!) and walked across the road to pick up our taxi to take us to Hellfire Pass for the day. Hellfire Pass is the name of a railway cutting on the former Burma-Thailand railway (now known as Death Railway) which was built with forced labour and allied POW's in the Second World War. The pass is known for it’s harsh conditions and heavy loss of life during its construction which was done, until laterally, exclusively by hammer and rod. Named as such due to the number of emaciated prisoners who could be seen labouring at night, in torchlight, which was said to resemble a scene from hell, specifically from Dante’s Inferno. Today it has been turned into a Memorial Museum which lays out the history of the site and railway with interviews from people who were there.
After exploring the museum we were able to descend to what had been the railway which has now been converted (after being lost to the jungle for years) to a walking route. The route took us through the imposing walls of rock and the accompanying audio guide provided the historical details and first-person accounts from survivors which really gave us a small insight into the conditions experienced by the workers. The route ended with a memorial to all of those who lost their lives constructing the railway (over 12,000 allied POW's) and is a very poignant tribute. (Rant time - sadly not everyone could see the significance and sadness attached to the area and instead posed with happy, smiley faces for selfies for their instagrams pages, something that always makes us incredibly uncomfortable. Why!? Why!? Why!?!?)
Leaving the museum we wandered up to the bus stop to take us into the town of Nam Tok where our intention was to get on the train which travels along what is left of the Death Railway back to Kanchanaburi. We managed to grossly miscalculate Thai time and how long it would take us to get there so, by the time the bus turned up, we were beginning to get a little concerned about making the train on time. Made even worse when halfway through the bus ride a Thai soldier boarded to carry out an immigration check which resulted in complete panic for us both as we didn’t have our passports! We had no idea what was about to happen to us but thankfully it was only for the locals (we assume this check happened as we were fairly close to the Myanmar border). We were thrown out of the bus at a local market as, apparently, they don’t go all the way to the train station which resulted in us having to find a taxi to get us the rest of the way. A “friendly” songthaew (flat bed truck with covered seats in the back) driver obviously clocked the worry on our faces and saw a chance to make a quick buck. He offered to drive us (for probably double the price it should have been) and with no other options we went with it and arrived at the train station with 5 minutes to spare. Typically, the train was actually delayed, by an hour so there had been no need to worry at all, we could even have walked it! We were rather delighted however as we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast so managed to grab a Cornetto each for lunch while we waited.
The train ride took just over 2 hours, crossing over the Wampo Viaduct which in some places is 8-9 metres high. This was also built by the POW's, in 17 days, and at 400m long, is quite an incredible achievement.
Arriving back into Kanchanaburi, we were both ready for some food so headed to One More Bar for a quick dinner before going back to the hostel to relax. An early night followed ready for another early alarm the next morning for a day of travelling. Next stop, Krabi!