Note to self, don’t order Biryani on a plane, the rice falls everywhere!
Two weeks in Thailand, what a great time. I spent a couple of low key days in Bangkok, acclimating, or as the Brits say, acclimatizing, in the narrow alleys, outside my hotel. Then it was time to go up country to Sangkhlaburi, near the Myanmar border, where my German friends were working at an orphanage/hospital. How amazing to see them again, we had met in Koh Samet back in October and we were able to pick up from where we left off. Amalie, still two years old, can now hold a conversation in English, Italian and of course, German. Paolina, one year old, walks, runs, falls over, and has a wonderful beaming smile on her face, mostly! Mom and Dad, Juli and Luca were well, but tired I think, they have a grueling schedule. But respect where respect is due, six months in the jungle covered mountains with two little ones is no mean feat. I will be interested to hear how they re enter into Germany in early March.
They, of course, had to work during the day so I had plenty of time to myself, drinking green tea and blissing out on the views. Sangkhlaburi is a fantastically pretty place, set beside a reservoir, a huge wooden bridge crossing it. Temples dot the ridges and faint sounds of gongs, bells and chanting drift across the water constantly. Famously there are only four roads, which makes getting lost well nigh impossible, and there really is not much to do at all. Visit the temples, sure, wander about, visit the market,see what there is to see but then you’ve done it all, so sitting on a cliff top or in a perched cafe and taking in the view is what’s done. I loved every minute and felt a bit reluctant to leave, but the Fam’ were off to Cambodia for a visa run (renew visas) so away I went, a day before them, to do some sight seeing.
I caught the bus through the mountains and down to the plain, about a five hour ride. Lots to see out of the window, tangled jungle, bird life, soaring peaks, hair raising corners, seat belts worn, and peculiarly, well manicured verges. Covered in garbage, but remarkably well mown and maintained for miles and miles, I have no explanation for that. Breakfast was provided, a sweet roll and water, better than nothing I suppose, pit stops every couple of hours and then we were down. Down to the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi. They’ve got a Bridge there.
Dumped unceremoniously at the bus station, I was the only one who got off, there was the inevitable question, how do I get to my hotel. Bicycle tuk tuks looked a bit doubtful, as did riding on the back of a motor bike, but I eventually realized that a pick up truck was the favored mode of transport in town and off I went, clinging on in the back. Pleasantly situated along the river bank the hotel was definitely past its sell by date, but again, it’s only one night. After locking myself out of my room and then fixing the overflowing loo I set out on the path marked ‘To the Bridge’. Nice walk along the river, camera out, taking photos, me in full tourist mode I ambled along following the signs. Wouldn’t you believe it, the signs stopped, the path ran out and I was confronted by a large wall. Why does that happen? Undeterred I followed the wall, away from the river, and found myself in a field where there was some sort of Corporate Team Building event going on, not sure who was more startled, me or them, there were hundreds of them, and only me. Extricated myself from that and found another sign ‘To the Bridge’ with warnings not to venture down the path after dark. Up an embankment, followed the railway line, and there I was, on The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Maybe some younger viewers haven’t seen the movie but if I remember rightly it was one of the first of David Lean’s movies and well worth checking out for his direction and the terrific cast. Quite what went on here during World War Two I cannot imagine, the bridge was built by Allied POWs and much inhumanity was inflicted upon them. Just the sight of the single track railway gave me the chills and to stand on the bridge was extremely emotive.
There were abundant tourists, mostly Thai, walking across, some Europeans but not many. Nobody whistling Colonel Bogey. Lots of picture taking but it was so narrow I couldn’t find a decent angle tho the view from the river bank was impressive. On a lighter note, a train came. Yes, the bridge is still in full time use as a railway bridge across the river. Anyway, the train approached, hooter hooting, lights glaring, at a walking pace and mass panic ensued, screaming, running, falling over as people made their way to the many refuges or balconies set out on the edges of the bridge every twenty feet or so. Why the panic? just another mystery. I sat on the bank and pondered, pondered that both my Father and Step Father were in this Theatre of WW2 and all that implied. Well, Gentlemen, I came here on my own little pilgrimage and said a wee prayer for the both of you.
On then to Bangkok. I joined the fam’ on their bus as it passed through town and we had a happy ride together all the way to Bangkok. A couple of minor disasters on arrival. One, we couldn’t find a taxi that knew where their hotel was located. There was about forty five minutes of failed taxi hailing with Juli getting a little anxious , and then Two, we got to the hotel, the door was locked and the reception had gone on a break and wouldn’t be back for an hour. In many cultures this would have led to a massive melt down and sense of humor failure, but hey not these guys. Dragging cases, bags, packs and babies we headed for the nearest restaurant and passed the requisite hour. We said sad goodbyes and I was off into the darkened streets to find a taxi, only just slightly scary. The hotel staff were delighted to see me…again, and gave me an upgraded room. The bar down the street saw me arrive and produced my beer without me having to ask. Sometimes it’s the little things.
Oh, did I mention the first MISTAKE? No. My ATM card wouldn’t work despite me telling the bank that I would be here and obviously I had to call them. I went through the usual rigmarole of being on hold, the line cutting out, all those security questions and then the guy said, ‘but it’s expired’. Oh no! Imagine my chagrin. Big oops there! Julia was kind enough to FedEx the replacement and it was waiting for me at reception when I checked in. Phew. In other news I bought a tailor made suit. It wasn’t too painful, the gent in the shop was very patient helping me choose the color, dark blue, the style, classic, a vest (waistcoat) , yes, shirts, yes two, bright white, a tie, dark blue again, shipped, yes please and I came away after three fittings for a very reasonable price, well actually ridiculously cheap. Sister Sally says I will look very sartorial at THE wedding in July. Hope so.
Here I am then at 30,000 feet again over the South China Sea on my way to Kota Kinabalu. Really you say, and where exactly might that be. Well, it’s on the North coast of Borneo and I have no idea what to expect.
I will keep you posted.
Arrived Kota Kinabalu but bag still in Kuala Lumpur. Can’t publish photos until chord catches up. Sorry. Will try to upload tomorrow.
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How did the English teaching go? Has it been omitted for the disaster it was or were you relieved of duties before starting? Great blog as always!
Actually I am not sure what happened to the teaching!
I was quite gung ho when I arrived but it didn’t pan out for whatever reason.
I did sit in on an English class and it was quite delightful. I had many a hello and good morning.
Yes agree great blog. Did you hear Alex Guiness’s voice while you were on The Bridge? Hug an Orangutan for me in Borneo. Look forward to the photos and next episode.x
Yes I did Victoria, but only saying ‘Feel the Force Tim’
Orangs tomorrow morning at a rehab center here in town, then a six hour bus ride to see them in natural habitat, maybe.
Will there be wifi tho’?
So glad you didn’t venture down the path by the bridge after dark. Sounded
quite an eventful trip. Glad you got to The Bridge. Another WW2 horror story.
May I say that most trips in these parts are eventful!
There is always something that springs up out of nowhere unexpectedly.
Fun though to work through them.
Yes, agree, but didn’t want to go into all the details on the blog.
People can read up on the horror themselves.
Tim, your blogs just get better and better. Beautifully atmospheric account of the ‘sitting around’ in Sangkhlaburi and a poignant piece about the Bridge. Hope future cock-ups – if any – are minor and as delightfully deflected as the hotel lock-out in Bangkok!
Sangkhlaburi was, in addition to being hard to spell, very atmospheric.
As i think I said I could have stayed there much much longer, but, on we go.