This last week, I’ve had the fun of showing my visiting friend some of my favorite sites accumulated over the last eight months, many that I’ve written about here. It is now “high season” so our touristy visits were crowded, with many new Russian accents, as I’ve learned Thailand is a popular destination for them them during their winter months.
As a group, we headed back to Kanchanaburi. The Tiger Temple was a priority for two of our friends and we decided to make it an overnight trip to visit the waterfalls in the area too.
Our early morning put us in a car headed to the memorial for the Death Railway. We’d stopped there on our last trip and it had not left much of an impression on me. I’d taken pictures of names and quotes on some gravestones but we’d headed out after a few and were on to tigers. This time, my history buff friends opted to tour the nearby museum.
The Thailand–Burma Railway Museum does an excellent job teaching about the railway in an interactive fashion. Displays recreate the tiny railroad car that took the POWs out to work sites, packed tight with too many people for the long trip. Likewise, a room was dedicated to the make-shift hospitals, complete with model of an emaciated prisoner receiving a treatment. The room felt stuffy and made me a bit claustrophobic, giving the room more weight. I wanted to hurry out of there, even as the room celebrated the medical staff who did so much with so little. They were very creative in repurposing the objects they had to provide treatments for the workers.
It was hard to go through the museum as it provided so many examples, through visual displays and memories from those there about the horrible conditions. Signs that provided statistics of all the lives lost also drove home this fact. To a lesser degree, I felt like I was back at the Killing Fields, learning about so many lives taken or compromised to the extreme. The details learned, left me angry to think of so many lives lost and the despicable conditions for both the POWs and Asian laborers. Over 102,000 people died for this railway.
They allowed no cameras in the museum so I think this allowed me to disengage a bit. Once again, I had not wanted to go and my notebook remained in my bag for most of my visit, which I regret now. I finally took it out to capture this quote for the museum had pulled me in and all the lives lost weighed heavily on me:
No man gave his life in vain. Their bodies may lie in a far off field but their spirit live today, perhaps in new bodies, to inspire and help those youthful ones amongst us now. – Leo Rawlings, “And the dawn came up like thunder”
I felt a bundle of emotion leaving the museum, feeling an unfocused call to action. I’ve seen so much beauty in SE Asia but also so many reminders of the pain and violence humans inflict on one another. I am still working through this conflict.
With each step away from the museum, the pressure in my head cleared a bit and eventually, we were on our way to the Tiger Temple, having to coerce our group back into the car, the menfolk gabbing away about war and history.
I’ll skip saying much about the Tiger Temple this round since I didn’t do any new “experiences”. I did tour through the “Canyon” and get my picture with many a sleeping tiger, for it seemed I timed all of my interactions with nap time. I’d prepared myself that this time I would be brave with the tigers and pet bellies too…but they were all asleep and I decided it better to let them be. I did enjoy taking photos of all of the rest of the animals on site, but it wasn’t until the next day that James explained changing the auto-focus so pictures were hit or miss.
We spent the night in an awesome hotel resort on the river and set out the next day for the “Bridge over the River Kwai”. This was my second visit to the bridge and it had a bit more gravity. The violin player performing “Colonel Bogey March”, was no longer as upbeat to hear for it’d been on repeat in the museum. I now associated that song with all of the loss of life.
This time, we saw a train going over the bridge, which struck me as a weird touristy thing to do, but I also snapped away as it passed. A second train stopped and I was able to take pictures of a smiling monk, after he confirmed it was ok, and slipped into tourist mode with the trains on site.
The weekend ended with a visit to the Erawan National Park, to check out the waterfalls. It is a beautiful park but very crowded. I had not thought to ask which waterfalls we’d be going to so my created expectations were of a remote waterfalls. I nailed the remoteness with the distance to access the park but sadly this wasn’t a barrier to tons of other tourists. The Erawan waterfalls are a huge tourist draw and there is a parking lot easily the size of one to two American football fields filled with tour buses. So we had lots of friends around that day.
The waterfalls are defined at seven levels, the upper levels being more challenging to access. We’d made it to the waterfalls rather late in the day so didn’t have enough time to make it to all 7 levels, and settled for 5 out of 7. The falls were pretty but a bit too many people to make them peaceful and a ton too many stairs to make them relaxing. Worth checking out if you are in the area though.
With no dips in the cool waters, we headed back to sit in traffic once we reached Bangkok. We’d driven into an area with protestors breaking from a rally. We were safe but roads were closed and it took awhile to navigate away from those masses. We finally got back home, brain expanded and more animals petted, including leopards, because Thailand!