Born Free had a point. The beds of Skyline are no better than Born Free, but they have a hot shower, for which I can forgive this oversight. Have to be up at 6:30 so I can be washed and ready for pick up at 7:00 from Born Free – although naturally because I’m on time, the minibus doesn’t appear until 7:30.
The collection point is in the heavy market area of Kohsan Street, and everyone gets a collection of stickers on their shirts noting where they’re going and who their with before hopping onto the correct minibus once again. I end up in the front seat next to a Japanese girl, who I spend most of the morning talking with. Her English was better than the family I had spent time with in Chiang Mai, so was able to talk about visiting Japan the year before and where she was travelling too.
The Floating Market is a good hour and half outside of Bangkok, and is held from 5 in the morning till noon. Has to end then so that the sellers can row themselves and their wares back to their farms. Its a good example of what Thailand was like before the road and car became standard – many places, especially outside of the big cities are still reliant on the canal systems at the main mode of transport.
When we got to the market, we had the option of walking along it, or hiring a boat for 40 minutes who would take us along and stop whenever we wanted to buy things. Everyone thought this was the best option considering its a floating market, and grabbed a boat.
This place reminds me of Chumpton, but on a much smaller scale and less ‘tat’. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of stalls are aimed at tourists, but the quality of the goods looks superior. I became besotted with a dragon puppet that I saw on just a few of the market stands, but between my previous market insanity, and the knowledge that it would NEVER survive in my bag along with the price meant I had to be a sane girl and leave it behind. Swear though, if I ever come to Bangkok on holiday I am grabbing a few dozen of them to decorate my room with…
My Japanese friend had a little more luck. She wanted to buy something but wasn’t sure what – and became interested in some hats people were advertising. They were multi-purpose, starting out as fans, and could be spread out in a circle and turned into a hat. Actually looked really cool. Near the end of our boat trip, we passed a hat boat sporting them and she enquired about the price.
I nearly fell out of the boat. 1500 baht. That’s insane. The woman insisted they were handmade and well done, which I understand, but I wouldn’t pay that on a brand name hat. To be honest, although they looked cool, they didn’t look particularly sturdy. Be surprised if it survived the entire holiday. So the haggling began, and through some sharp words and my running commentary, she managed to get the price down to 600 baht.
We still had some free time after that, so we went wandering on foot. I immediately grab some chicken satays that are being sold just round the corner since I missed breakfast, and convince my new friend to try a coconut (I can’t stand them as drinks, but you should really try one at least once). She actually enjoys it, so that’s something.
Our tour also includes a motorboat ride through the canals of the village, although my friend hadn’t paid for that, and we were separated at that point – no clue if I’d see her again and wishing I’d thought to exchange information. Thankfully, we did meet up afterwards – she’d decided to pay for the boat anyway, and I gave her my contact details before we headed to our different afternoon activities. The motorboat itself was pretty low key, just driving through canals with houses on each side, before we headed out closer to the fields and the country. The water is very calm, and full of plants, so you have to keep an eye on the motor to make sure it doesn’t get clogged up.
Said goodbye to our group, and all of us heading to the river Kwai got on our new bus, only stopping for lunch an hour later before heading towards the river. The first point of call though is the JEATH Museum (named for the countries involved in the war and Thailand: Japan, England, Australia, The Netherlands and Holland) which is optional to enter but a stones throw from the river. I have a longer time here than most since I’m not doing the Tiger Temple, so decide to go in, and gain a new friend who is in the same boat, who for ease I’ll call B.
Since we have time, we decide to go in and properly enjoy the museum, which clearly doesn’t get a lot of funding. The exhibits in the main hall are pretty good, but nearly all the displays are dusty, and its not fantastically signposted either – very easy to miss things. They have also printed out some Wikipedia pages for information in certain sections rather than write their own.
The JEATH War Museum is dedicated to recording the atrocities performed on the Thai people and the Prisoners of War by the Japanese during WWII when building the bridge of the River Kwai. During this time, thousands of Thai were starved tortured and worked – sometimes to death – along with thousands of British, American, Australian and European soldiers who surrendered in Singapore. The bridge and accompanying railway line was Japans best form of transport between Thailand and Burma, and was hopefully going to help them take India too – it was used as soldier and goods transportation since the allies had made sea travel almost impossible.
My favourite part was a wall that had prisoner and officer interviews written out, explaining what it was like, or why the Japanese had not considered this wrong at the time. Sadly, I think the museum really needs a boost of cash, because despite the war crimes that happened here, its not as humbling as say, the Hiroshima or Camodia museums.
This Museum also has displays on Thai history, jewellery, ‘Miss Thailand’, stamps and a few other exhibits. However most of these are in even worse shape than the main one. A weapons room is filled with dust in the glass case, while the stamps exhibit is hidden on a wall thats very easy to pass, and filled with cobwebs. Pretty clear most of these exhibits are starting to decay from lack of care, which is pretty sad considering they probably have great historical value.
We’re there for almost an hour before we decide to head out and finally see the bridge. This is not the original – the very first bridge was made of wood and bombed down, and the second was again bombed, though in a very cruel way. When the Japanese heard the planes, they forced the prisoners of war to walk onto the bridge and wave at the planes in hopes that they wouldn’t bomb their own men. They did – and when the bridge was destroyed, the river ran with blood for days. After the war, the bridge was rebuilt as a memorial, although nearly all of the actual railway line has been destroyed.
Obviously, I’d heard of the river Kwai, but I had never realised it was in Thailand. I never knew what had happened here, and would have honestly guessed the river was in Africa if asked beforehand. Its kind of sad that such a big event has completely passed me by, although at least I was in better shape than B, who had never even heard of the river itself.
A small train does cross every now and then, taking passengers to the site of an old prisoner camp on what little of the line remains, but we chose to walk along. Its been prepared so walking along is easier, and with so much modernisation on each side it was hard to picture what this area was like during the war. To the right on the opposite side of the river, there’s a temple which is one of the few things that survived to this day, although nearly didn’t due to one angry Japanese. Thankfully he was talking down out of firing, as if he had, none of the Japanese would have been able to get out safely after the war, and Thailand and Japanese would not be as friendly as they currently are.
Our final stop of the day is the Kanchanaburi graveyard, built on the site of one of the prisoner camps. The ashes of the prisoners are buried somewhere in the graveyard, but most of the identified soldiers who lost their lives have a grave and plaque here. This was a much more sombre place to visit – but its an actual graveyard, so that’s not too surprising. I would have loved to have spent more time here and read every name, but we only had a short time before we had to head back – its nearly 3 hours to Bangkok.
Its been a long day, although for some its been a little too long – they need to get to the train station to get to Chiang Mai, and the company promised them a car that would take them directly (so that if they missed it, the car would speed on to the next station) and it hadn’t appeared. So instead, our driver was going like a madman, driving as fast as he could back to Bangkok – which was fun for those of us in the back since we were right over the wheels and there are bumps all over the motorways, very bumpy ride indeed. About an hour outside of Bangkok though, they spotted a taxi with their names and got out, allowing the driver to return to sane speeds. The mad boost did help though, as we got into Bangkok nearly half an hour early…and then got dumped with a few other people heading for Samsen Road in the middle of nowhere and pointed in a direction. The protests are still affecting the centre so the bus wont go near it – and his directions aren’t spectacular. Thankfully, one of the group had working GPS on the phone, and a bus conductor managed to give us better directions – this soi led straight into the tourist centre of Bangkok, and in 5 minutes we were back in familiar territory.
Since everything generally went well, I head to Born Free to book the Koh Tao transfer too – but because its so late she can’t do anything. Asks if I can come tomorrow, but with the extra tour I’m not sure when I’ll get there. Thankfully, she says booking on the day wont be a problem and to just do it in the morning I leave.
As a final success for me, a few of the people in my room have now checked out, and a quick survey of the beds proves that the one of the far opposite of me is much comfier, so swap and get a good nights sleep, yay!