As eventful as our day yesterday of getting lost and being chased by stray dogs was we were all determined today that we would see the sights that we actually came here for, so we wasted no time hailing a taxi to Kanchanaburi’s centre, with our first stop being the war cemetery.
Much of Kanchanaburi’s history is focused on the bridge over the River Kwai and the construction of the Asian ‘Death Railway’ during World War II, wherein thousands of prisoners lost their lives due to the horrific working conditions and malnutrition that occurred during construction, with the cemetery commemorating these deaths. The most alarming thing about this cemetery was the abundance of British soldier graves, and in particular I found several from the Regiment of my home town of Suffolk, which were surreal discoveries to say the least. Unfortunately we forgot to look at the gravesite for Chinese soldiers that was located next to the Western area, and although we made it back there in the early evening by then the stray dogs had claimed it as their territory for the night. We thought it best to leave them to it.
Our taxi driver had pointed out to us the Death Railway Museum opposite the cemetery, so we headed there after we were done. I’m always a bit sceptical of visiting random museums when abroad, as whilst they’re often interesting in the middle of a holiday or trip they can sometimes become little more than a passing distraction. This was an exception, as the museum not only put the cemetery I’d just seen into context but was also harrowing enough in it’s portrayal of the events that it managed to leave a lasting impression on me. Much of it was curated and designed through eyewitness accounts and help from the families of those affected, so there were replicas of the Japanese train carriages used to transport workers (no photos were allowed, sadly) alongside descriptions of their horrid conditions and the health problems that they caused. More shocking were the lifesize replicas of workers stricken with malaria and cholera who had to trek miles to find the nearest hospital camps, often suffering brutality from Japanese soldiers along the way.
So yeh, this was not the cheeriest of starts to the day, but all three of us were completely speechless by the time we’d left the exhibit. We sat in the museum’s coffee shop which overlooked the cemetery in silence, and as I looked at the graves of workers who had been not much older than I am now it put a lot of my complaints about the weather and boiling hotel rooms into a much greater perspective. Sometimes I don’t think I know how lucky I really am.
We stopped for lunch before hailing another taxi, which managed to be even more dangerous than the ones we’d taken previously. This was mostly due to the driver being a crazy old man wearing a Slipknot T-Shirt who managed to hit the curb several times as he drove, but despite this we made it to the Bridge over the River Kwai in one piece. The Bridge is pretty amazing (not like that stupid fake bridge over the river we saw yesterday) and for some reason it didn’t strike me that it would be within a busy market area considering it’s a major tourist attraction. Because of this, the crossing lost it’s impact a bit since there were hundreds of tourists doing the same thing as us, but it still had an impressive view, as well as some great buskers that added to the experience.
Crossing to the other side of the bridge we came across a temple that for some reason most of the other tourists were avoiding. I have no idea why as it was pretty enough, but it was a good escape from the more commercial spectacle coming from the bridge’s starting point, so I wasn’t complaining.
Back on the non-temple side of the bridge another of the many, many street sellers came up to us and asked if we wanted a boat ride. His asking price of 800 baht for all of us was extortionate so I sat back as Jess and Kerry did some major haggling to get it down to 570. Kind of made my TukTuk bartering pale a bit in comparison.
Still, it was totally worth the effort from them to do so, as the boat was amazing. I was expecting some sort of leisurely cruise around the river so was surprised when we quickly made off at a speed intensity that made me worry that the not very sturdy boat was going to give up on us and explode in the middle of the river.
We were dropped off at a cave on the other side of the river and went exploring. It turns out Kerry is part of a cave restoration team so she was in her element, though I was more concerned with trying not to hit my head on the rocks hanging from the ceiling. Which I failed at. But as we wandered through increasingly narrower cave formations whilst bats flew around us in a scattered frenzy, I realised that I was really liking the way this day was going.
The speedboat journey back managed to up it’s game in the ‘bumpy and unsafe’ department, but once we got on land again we checked out the market before grabbing another taxi to the Jeath War Museum. This ended up being on the other side of town, and whilst the museum was interesting it mostly covered the same information on the Death Railway we’d already seen. We ran into the curator though, who was a monk, and talked to him for a bit about our experiences in Thailand which he seemed pretty impressed with, and being next to the river we got some glimpses of sealife. Well, fish at least.
Oh, and I saw two pigeons fight. I’m aware that’s a very stupid thing to point out, but it looked like something out of Jersey Shore if it involved pigeons and was also entertaining and watchable. Having just looked through these photos again I realised that the one below makes it look like they’re in the middle of some sort of dance routine, which just makes the whole thing even better.
We stumbled across another amazing shrine shortly afterwards, complete with a huge statue of a buddha and horse. I honestly can’t remember who it was dedicated to, but I was impressed by it nonetheless.
Walking back to the strip we were nearly attacked by yet another stray dog, so taking refuge in a pizzeria I felt pretty guilty eating in a Western-based restaurant for the first time since I’ve been here. But really, by this point we were too tired to look for anything else, and I think there’s only a certain amount of time you should really go without pizza anyway, regardless of where you are in the world.
Overall, this was a pretty great day – I felt like I saw a lot and the amount of threatening stray dogs dropped by at least 90%, which is a comforting statistic. Still, we hadn’t seen the more natural side of Kanchanaburi yet, so tomorrow we would be hitting the waterfalls.