Queen Sirikit’s Birthday Weekend – Friday

As most of you can imagine, all my wonderful plans failed epicly.

Horst arrived late and the minute we got in a taxi I realised I had forgotten my book full of the details and bus times. I had to try and remember the name of the bus station, and the taxi driver somehow found it impossible to understand me. How wrong can I go with ‘Sai Dai Taling Chan’? Anyway he stopped repeatedly to try and find a tuk-tuk driver who spoke some English –  In the stress of the moment I said I wanted to go to the train station instead of the bus station, which we only realised when he pulled up beside some train tracks. At which point I was laying eggs and Horst was cracking up with laughter at my stress! We stumbled out at the train station, and though I had read that the train was horribly basic and took over 3 hours to get there, Horst suggested that we might as well take a look. Turns out it’s so basic it only has 2 trains a day to Kanchanaburi unlike the bus which runs every 30mins. My optimistic personal travel companion raised my spirits and we set off afresh with the name of the bus station written down for us in Thai by a woman at the train station. On arrival we bought our tickets, and went off in search of a meal to pass the time till our 10.30 bus. An hour later we returned to our bus stop (No.10) only to find out that the bus there was the 09.30am bus – it seems they have a tendency to run late! Horst, being a bit of a charmer, managed to persuade the bus driver on the 09.40 bus to take us on.

That could have been a fatal mistake.

On the road to Kanchanaburi the bus tried to swerve to avoid a pile up but still hit another car. There was that never ending second that you see in all those action/car chase films when I was 100% sure the bus was going to topple over, it teetered on the edge of it’s wheels for what seemed like forever. All sorts of thoughts flashed through my mind – would I survive the crash? I was sitting next to the window on the side of the bus that would hit the ground if it fell. It was then that Horst reached over to cover my body as much as possible in a desperate attempt to protect me should we fall, perhaps one of the most touching things anyone has ever done for me…. If you are reading this Horst, I am very grateful!

Our little dance with danger earned us a couple of friends. We were evacuated from our bus (dented with oil spilling from the back) to another bus which obviously was full so we all had to stand for a few hours in the aisle, getting very close and personal with anyone attempting to get off the bus! Anyway the couple next to us were speaking in English, not just any English but with the delightful tones of a Malaysian accent. I couldn’t stop myself, I had to ask. So shocked that I had guessed their origins, we quickly became friends and when I told them my best friend was from Klang – it turned out that so was Matt! May had just moved to Bangkok with P&G and Matt was over in Thailand helping her settle in…

Anyway when we finally arrived in Kanchanaburi and realised we were too late for the tigers we decided to join up with them for the day. Together we walked along the bridge, the boys being boys and taking repeated photos of themselves standing on the tracks till the last minute with a train heading their way. Or doing those typical Asian poses, jumping in the air in contorted positions, trying to get as high as possible. The view from the bridge was breathtaking – the brown river snaked through the valley lazily, flanked on either side by green conical mounds carpeted in jungle vegetation that is so characteristic of SE Asia. A restaurant, made entirely of faded wood, floated on the river by the bridge, and I could imagine sitting there, passing my time like one of the old colonialists. Maybe smoking a cigar and reading a book, or just watching the world flow by, down the river in a slowly chugging steam boat. The bridge itself is pretty unforgettable in style, though all reconstructed as it was bombed. Made famous by the fictional novel, The Bridge over the River Kwai, but truth be told the river was actually called the Mekong. When tourists flocked to Kanchanaburi asking to see the river Kwai, the Thai government decided to change it’s name from Mekong to Kwai. I wonder if enough people turned up in London asking for … say it’s original name, the river Temese, that Cameron would change it back from Thames? Curious…

Walking up and down the bridge we stumbled upon a Samurai shrine guarded by what looked like a demon dog (it had red eyes) – potentially a remainder from the Japanese occupation. I mean as far as I know the Thai’s don’t worship the Samurai? After the bridge we hit the War Museum eerily housed in huts made of bamboo shards (didn’t the Japanese have some torture technique involving bamboo shoots?) The museum wasn’t very well kept, the font so tiny on all the information boards that it was almost painful to read. However, the feeling of horror and terror that was suffered by the POW’s building the death railway was effectively conveyed with life size figures placed in various scenes, all skin and bones, and dying. The artifacts weren’t all locked up either, which is how we ended up getting photos of us carrying bombs (I rather hope they were detonated, but given that they were whole, perhaps not?) We could probably even have walked off with it! Security in these places is still very lax. However I had no desire for a bomb, though I had to keep an eye on Horst’s hands! Nah i’m just kidding. At this point we had realised that our aim to go and stroke tigers would not happen that day so the only option was to stay the night. As a non-spontaneous person, I had a split second of panic, realising that we had no toothbrushes, no change of clothes and then I thought, screw that. I threw off the shackles and embraced freedom. It’s rather gone to my head. I almost feel like just disappearing off for weeks at a time now with no plan and no map – just me and the open road. Actually scrap that, i’m sure Beth would like to join (don’t think I didn’t see the longing that was manifest in your painting of the world!) So, me, Beth, the open road and any friendly travelers. I’ve lost the thread of my tale though… Ah yes, the museum! As we walked through, Holst started singing the German national anthem, don’t get me wrong, it was the past and I have no problem with Germans. It was just a bit distasteful. I think singing any national anthem in a war museum is wrong. In so many cases it is nationalism that leads to wars…

When we walked out, we found some street food and to our surprise we also found two jaguars asleep and chained to a table. They were there to advertise the local zoo but we were allowed to stroke them all over, they were so soft. But you could tell right away that they were sedated, I know big cats sleep a LOT, but one had it’s tongue lolling out and it’s eyes rolling back into it’s head. I just felt sorry for them. That might have been the start of my decision not to see the tigers after all…

After lunch, we parted ways with Matt and May who were heading back to Bangkok and set about finding a place to stay the night. A leaflet that had been given to us on the bus advertised the Rainbow Lodge which had a twin room for 150 Baht a night (around £3) so we called up (on my amazing Thai mobile) and found that they had just one room left! The owner was a woman called Sugar… i’m serious! And she picked us up in her car and took us to the little beach huts she was letting out. Small and basic but and functional and kinda cute in the rainbow colours. She also apparently had a bar in the centre which we did end up spending time in, but i’ll get to that later. After passing out for 3 or 4 hours (echamos una buena siesta!) we made our way onto the main road, dotted with little beach like huts. I definitely felt like I was on holiday, but it was clearly geared for tourists. We stumbled upon a bar called ‘get drunk for 10 Baht’ where every drink was 10 Baht, which is about 20p! We decided it was the right place to plonk ourselves down for the evening.

Happy to branch out from each others company, Horst and I joined different groups, he with some French women and me with a big group of Americans (and 1 Irishman). I have to say I felt a little homesick hearing his accent, it reminded me of my dear Louise, the White Horse in London, oh and Rich of course (it still feels weird being in Thailand without anyone from training or more than weird, it just feels wrong!) Almost everyone there was living in Bangkok permanently teaching at a school – they had all escaped for the long weekend (not a puente sadly) up into the mountains. But so many people from different places and different walks of life – it was like a feeding frenzy for the curious. There was a guy called Angel from Ecuador with ginger hair… I have to say that entranced me for quite a bit of the night – have you ever seen a ginger Ecuadorian?! There was once an Irishman from Armagh… oh wait! I promised no poetry… well all I can say is that he quoted a whole load of poetry all night and talked a lot about horses. Don’t you just love the Irish? They have their priorities right. I stereotyped an American guy called James with dreadlocks, suggesting he go to Tarifa when he said he wanted to live in Spain. I was suggesting it for the kitesurfing/surfing, but turned out he’d never surfed in his life, rock climbing was his thing. Oops. I hurriedly changed Tarifa to the Picos de Europa. Along with a big group of VERY drunk American girls in different stages of undress (more because their clothes had fallen off than they had taken them off, but don’t worry they were wearing bikinis!) was a girl called Sara (like me), 22 (also like me) who was staying in Bangkok for 5 weeks doing an internship – so NOT a traveler (JUST like me!) It was nice to find someone that i’ll be able to meet up again with!

After a long night of drinks which made me progressively sleepier and sleepier and interesting discussion, we headed back at 3am, with plans to be up at 10 to join our new group of friends at the Erawan warterfall all morning. We would then see the tigers in the afternoon.

Well that was the plan…

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