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The Death Railway

Taking the advice of the owner of the Baan Are Gong Homestay, I headed to Kanchanaburi after several lovely days in Ayutthaya.  I opted to take the mini-bus there, which cost considerably more than the local bus, but it got us all there (other travelers included) in a fraction of the time.  By “considerably more” I mean it cost $12, which is only about $8 more than what the local bus would have cost, so really it was a teeny investment to save potentially an entire day of being on the road.

Along the way I couldn’t help but see so many similarities in the terrain that reminded me of Florida.  Were it not for passing the occasional Wat (Temple) here and there, and of course stores with names written in Thai, I would have seriously thought I was back in the Sunshine State.

Sunshine State???
Sunshine State???

After about 3 hours (with a 10 minute break half-way) we arrived in Kanchanaburi.  Kanchanaburi (among other things) is home to the Bridge on the River Kwai (part of the “Death Railway”), a war museum, and several war cemeteries.  Most people have heard of The Bridge on the River Kwai because of the novel “The Bridge over the River Kwai” by Pierre Boulle published over 60 years ago now.  Though I have read the book a LONG time ago, the significance and history never really hit me until I was standing on the ground where it all happened.  You read in school about the World Wars and all the countries involved, but it just doesn’t make quite the same impact on paper.

The Railway (which the bridge is part of) runs from Bangkok to Burma (now Myanmar) and was built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 using slaves for its construction.  Slaves consisted of civilian Asians and Prisoners of War (POWs) from the Netherlands, England, Australia, America, New Zealand and Canada.  Over 100,000 slaves, just shy of 50% of the original population working on the railway, died during the project, hence it came to be known as “The Death Railway”.

Today the railway still exists and it even still runs.  Additions to Kanchanaburi due to the railway construction includes a War Cemetery dedicated to the almost 7,000 Allied prisoners who lost their lives during the project and a separate monument erected by the Japanese Army in February 1944 in honor of those who died.  Once a year in March, voluntary members of the Japanese community in Thailand assemble there for a memorial ceremony to honor those who perished.  So many lives lost again in cruel and unnecessary ways for the advancement and power of others.

There are two “main” roads in Kanchanaburi, one runs right through the center of the city providing easy in and out access and is lined with every possible business imaginable.  The second meets with the first, but veers off toward the River and runs parallel to it.  It’s the second road that dead ends at the Bridge and along this long road is where the majority of hostels, bars, Thai massage shops, and restaurants can be found.  Or in other words, it’s the main tourist strip.  Bars are a dime a dozen with several hanging signs that boast they will get you drunk for only 10 baht (about $.30).  Though I was actually smart and DIDN’T wander in myself to see if that claim was legit, I have heard from several others that yes, yes the advertisement is NOT false, lol!!

I stayed in a little hostel called the Green View Hostel right in the center of tourist-ville, but it was tucked back just enough off the road to drown out all the street noise.  For 200 baht a night I got a very large and clean private room with a private bathroom (SCORE!!!) surrounded by lush beautiful foliage.  I was practically the only one staying there during the 4 nights I was there and honestly it’s beyond me as to why because the place was absolutely lovely!!  I wouldn’t recommed any other place unless one was looking to spend at least twice what I paid so they could be on the River.

In general the feeling I got from Kanchanaburi is that it’s a “good ol’ boy’s” place.  There were so many older men from Australia or England staying year round because of their various Thai girlfriends.  I found it to be such a cliché really.  Mostly they stayed steadily drunk all day and shared personal stories about their lives and their girlfriends that I really never cared to hear about.  Unfortunately they were also somewhat unavoidable because every time I’d go to eat somewhere one or two would inevitably come to chat… whatever sign I had on my forehead that made them think I somehow cared to hear about their sob stories, I promise I tried multiple times to scrub OFF!

Luckily there were several others around who were pleasant (not from England or Australia interestingly enough) to be around and chat with.  But I will come back to that in a second…

I lingered in Kanchanaburi for 5 days, and honestly the only reason I stayed so long was because I just couldn’t decide what my next move/place to visit would actually be.  I had heard of the Erawan National Park where the famous 7 tier waterfall is and really wanted to go there, but I didn’t want to do a day trip because the earliest bus would get there at 10am and then we would have to leave again at 4pm.  It was possible to camp out there but reserving a spot was harder than doing my taxes!

The woman at Baan Are Gong recommended going to Sangkhlaburi to see the famous Mon bridge, but it was over 200 kilometers from where I was near the border with Myanmar (Burma) and the only way to get back to other places in Thailand like Chiang Mai would be to go back through Kanchanaburi (since the Myanmar border is closed currently) and that just seemed like a waste of time to me.

I just couldn’t decide.  I debated literally in my sleep and would wake nightly to conjur a new plan of where to go/what to do.  The logistics of it was killing me.  The only way to get to the Erawan National Park was from Kanchanaburi.  The only way to get to Sangkhlaburi was also from Kanchanaburi, even though the National Park is ON THE WAY TO Sangkhlaburi…. Grrr….. I was close to just saying “screw it”, I’ll skip going all the way up to Sangkhlaburi and will just show up at the Park and hope there is a place to camp available…

Then at lunch, the day before I planned to leave I met a lovely man from Germany.  We got to chatting and he told me he had just gotten back from Sangkhlaburi.  Excellent!  I can ask him if it’s worth it!  I posed the question and out came his IPad.  For the next 20 minutes he showed me picture after picture and mini-movie after, well, you get the idea.  Ok, ok.  I have to go there.  New plan (number 192): make the long haul to Sangkhlaburi first, then go to the Park (via another stop in Kanchanaburi).

For some reason, even though all the other plans just didn’t feel right, suddenly this one did.  And now I know why…

On To Sangkhlaburi New Year’s: Human Version

Back to Thailand

Most Random Street Signs!!!

I can’t leave the Scotland section  without mentioning the street signs…  Aside from the fact that when we went to Skye all the street signs turned to Gaelic, they had a whole slew of other street signs that were quite interesting…

There were the usual ones that we are all familiar with: Beware of deer, or Beware of Elk/Moose or even Bear or Cougar (if you are from Florida:))

But since Scotland has literally gotten rid of any and all potentially dangerous animals in the Country (no bears, no wolves, literally nothing that could eat or be a predator to humans) they had to pad out their street signs a bit to extend beyond the boring ol’ “Beware of Deer” sign…

So they extended to:

“Beware of Sheep” (ok, I get that since there are a ton there)

“Beware of Hairy Coos” (these aren’t as common as sheep, but could still be dangerous if challenged)

“Beware of Squirrels” (???  Really???  Are there that many around that we should be that cautious of them?  It would be terrible to hit one but it wouldn’t be quite as dangerous as hitting a sheep or hairy coo…)

“Beware Families” (I get this one is designed to get people to slow down, fair enough!)

But my personal favorite of all of them:

“Beware Old People!!!!” I just had to find one on the internet to include for you!!  Totally cracked me up every time!!  I love the detail of it too, how the old man has a walking stick and both are hunched over… LOL!!!!  Loved it!!!

Beware Old People
Beware Old People

On to Gatwick & Airport Fun (leaving the UK)

Back to United Kingdom

Back in the States

I flew back into the States from Bogota, Colombia after almost a full year of traveling between Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.  I had spent most of my time in Costa Rica in the sleepy small Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo on the Southern Caribbean coast.  Coming back to the States was a bit of a shell shocker from a few perspectives.  First the amount of technology blaring in your face in the form of TVs was one thing I definitely noticed that took some getting used to again.  The second thing was the blinders were put back on.  You know, those blinders we tend to put on walking down the street, not saying hi to a soul unless you know them.  Not being present to the outside world while moving through it yet just keeping to your own world.  Those blinders… When first going to Costa Rica it literally shocked me that people would say good morning to me and acknowledge me as I walked down the streets.  Then I got used to doing the same to others as I went from place to place.  Then back in the States at first I kept my newly adopted persona of acknowledging people but was met with strange looks and no responses or people literally making a wider gap around me as they walked past.  So eventually the blinders went back on… Oh well…

Coming back to the States was a choice I made primarily because the bank account was starting to get a little low and because where I had been traveling in Colombia was getting too cold for my taste and the travel enthusiasm was just dwindling.  I went back to Houston to help house-sit my sisters place (and her two adorable dogs) as she was away quite often.  I got a job there as a bartender and server (a trade I picked up for the first time ever in Costa Rica) and stayed about 6 months or so.  Once my sister was back from her work obligations and I was no longer needed as a dog/house sitter, I moved to Key West, Florida.

I lived and worked in Key West for 10 months, saving all my pennies as much as possible (though of course I did have a little bit of a life too!) and then packed it all up and headed out traveling again.  This time the destination was Europe.  My time in Key West I’ll never forget.  And who knows, one day I may still return.  Though it isn’t the kind of place I could see myself living at permanently (there are no beaches on the island itself and it’s a little too much of a party town for my taste… If you don’t like to drink to oblivion on an almost daily basis there’s not much of a life to be had there really) I had so many amazing opportunities and met many people I consider life-long friends. It took a while to find some of these people, but I’m blessed that I did.

Key West really is a drinking town with a fishing problem.  It’s no wonder people get way too carried away there.  Tourists come for the party and as a person in the service industry we were there to provide it.  Mind you, we only dealt in the LEGAL party!  Though many tourists did come to Key West literally thinking they could do anything (it’s amazing, I seriously think people thought Key West was no longer part of the States and they could do whatever they wanted!!) and we were sometimes asked for drugs at my work from tourists, but they were always turned away.  Yes, Key West also has lots of drugs.  Go figure.  Until having lived in Costa Rica I never really realized how prevalent drugs really are.  Then from there on they literally seemed to be everywhere.  Sometimes I miss my rose colored glasses, but just like everything else in life, you can choose to be involved or you can choose not to be involved.  Everyone has a choice.

You know, as I type this up I can’t help but think that even though I really couldn’t wait to get out of Key West at the time (since there were a number of things I didn’t really like about it) it somehow grew on me and now I can say I have a little strange spot in my heart for the place.  Perhaps its also because I really enjoyed my job.  I know that’s an odd thing to say, but I really enjoyed bartending and serving; creating a positive vacation experience for tourists and such.  Anyway… that’s enough nostalgia for now!

So after leaving Key West, surprising my mom in Houston for her birthday, taking a trip out West to see family and friends in Arizona and New Mexico, then a trip to Mexico (Puerto Penasco aka Rocky Point) with my mom and finally seeing my Tennessee family back in Houston, it was time to hit the road again.  July 30th, 2014 I landed in Heathrow airport in London…

 

On to London

Back to Homepage

Crocs

The following morning I rose early and went off looking for my usual cup of delicious Costa Rican coffee.  I went back to the soda I had been to the previous day and after enjoying my coffee headed out back to a portion of the town I had sort of explored the day before but not entirely to my satisfaction.  It was down a dirt road from one of the restaurant/bars along the coast line about 200 meters south of the boat dock.  The dirt path led to a bunch of vacation bungalows.  It wasn’t the bungalows that had intrigued me the day before, but rather a little sign I noticed off to the side of the parking area for the bungalows.  The sign read “Nature conservation area.  Please limit your visit to 15 minutes”.  I was very interested in this area the day before, but since it was starting to get dark by the time I had fist discovered it, I thought it best to save going in the area for a day activity.  Now that it was daytime however, I wandered in…

The little trail led through a dense jungle area that lined a river running toward the Gulf.  Birds and several lizards, army ants and spiders could be spotted everywhere.  As I wandered in obviously taking in the beauty of my surroundings, a sudden spotting out of the corner of my eye froze me in my place.  There, along the bank of the river just about 10 feet from me was a crocodile!!!  No fence separated us, it was just him and I.  Now, I have lived in Florida and have been to Gatorland and have seen many a Gator in my time but all from the safe distance or a separation by either a fence or my being locked in a car while they swam in the surrounding swamps.  Never before had I been so close and without any barrier between a croc and myself.  As all of the little tid bits I’d heard about crocs started coming to mind (such as do not run away from them in a straight line but rather confuse them by changing paths often, crocs have tiny brains, try to gouge their eyes out if attacked, etc) in case it decided to start toward me I continued to simply stay frozen and watch the beast.  It hadn’t moved at all and my only choice of path was either to go forward past his area, or retract.  Of course I chose to retract!!  I had only wandered about 5 minutes into the area so getting out wasn’t difficult at all!!

Quite startled by what I had just seen, I decided to head back to the safety of the hostel to regroup and obviously tell the others about it!  When I got back, the others were awake and starting to plan their day.  And “F” had also made an appearance.  He was completely back to his normal congenial self as he was the day before prior to the drinking and again kept trying to get me to go with him on a special tour through Corcovado Park with him.  I again turned him down and instead joined the two Belgium men to tell them of the crocodiles and to simply get away from “F”.  Upon hearing of the crocs, of course the guys asked me to immediately take them to the area and I agreed.

Not entirely believing the advice from “F” about the park being closed either, the boys wanted to go to the official park office and inquire about its status for themselves.  So we also incorporated this portion to our outing as well.  By this point, since I had acquainted myself with the little town the day prior, I was able to lead the way via the shortcut to the airport that led to the park office.  There the boys discovered the news that indeed the park would be closing in just another day and that they were only allowed to go there, stay one night and return the next.  They asked if I wanted to join them on the trip, but I declined as first the price ticket for such a short trip was rather large ($10 per day plus all sorts of extras that I don’t now recall…) and second, it was too much of a rushed trip for my taste, especially since camping was involved!  I much prefer to spend time camping rather than hiking 8 hours only to sleep one night and return the next day.

In any event, the boys happily signed up (they were seriously the MacGyver types!!) and after all the bills were paid and formalities signed we headed back out to the crocs.  Along the way we enjoyed the numerous scarlet macaws that we passed in the surrounding trees.  They are quite easy to spot as their noise is unmistakable as is the sudden thuds of rock hard almond seeds dropping to the ground below from snacking macaws.  Finally we made it back to the croc entrance and this time, being much wiser, I made the men go first!!  We walked in following the winding path once again until we reached the same bank that I had been to before.  This time however, I wasn’t just looking ahead of myself to watch where I was walking.  No, this time I was also looking at all of my surrounding areas in case any crocs were lurking in the dense jungle around us!!

Go figure that when we got to the bank, the croc was gone!!  Great, I thought, now I look like I’m making stuff up!!  Luckily I was validated quite quickly however, as just as I was standing there stammering that “it was just HERE like 30 minutes ago!!!” like a petulant child, from two separate directions, 2 crocs swam nonchalantly to the edge of the river on the bank!!  The boys of course were fascinated and wanted to try to coax the crocs out of the water!!  Crazy boys, I know!!  And honestly I’m not at all a fan of harassing wildlife in any fashion, especially if they could easily kill you!!  But I stood by as one the boys (the more adventurous MacGyver one) picked up a stick and slap the water in front of the crocs to try to “tick them off” enough to get them to come forward a bit.  As he was doing this, I was several feet behind and started to take better notice of the slow-flowing river.  To my utter shock, it wasn’t just 2 crocs in there, it was dozens!!!  Not just crocs either, but caymens as well!!  Now really there isn’t much to fear from caymens as they are MUCH smaller than crocs and will never grow to the full size of a crocodile, so they didn’t concern me much.  I just found it so fascinating how many live creatures were and had been just below the surface of the river.

After several minutes of unsuccessfully coaxing the crocs out, the boys became bored and decided to continue on the path.  Of course as I started to cross the bank area, the crocs who had turned away from the stick slapping suddenly decided to turn back toward the bank and come toward me!!  This of course freaked me out as one of the boys stated “I think they like you!”.  Yes, for dinner no doubt!!  I once again froze in my steps but was eventually convinced to keep going, keeping a very keen eye out for my new “friends”.  The trail surprisingly was not that long at all after that spot.  We shortly thereafter encountered a barbwire fence that forced us along another part of the trail that was definitely less traveled.  Eventually we made our way back out to the main road after carefully navigating our way over and under the various jungle that was in our way.

The rest of the day was spent playing on the beach, enjoying the macaws, saying goodbye to the Belgium boys who were packing up for their Corcovado Park adventure, and meeting the French man who had come in the night before but had finally decided (yes, it was almost dark again) to wake up!!  Another couple had also joined the crew at The Corner in hopes of also going to Corcovado Park.

Funny side note here, my wonderful landlady Berta had been told by “F” as he had told me that he wanted to take me on a private tour of Corcovado Park.  Berta knew his nature however and had thankfully already become protective of me, especially after hearing of the previous night’s strangeness, and instead offered “F’s” private tour offer to the newest guest couple that had arrived.  “F” was quite furious about this as he told me, because he had told Berta specifically that he only wanted to offer the private tour to me.  I however, was delighted that Berta did what did, and I once again had to tell “F” “thanks, but I was never interested in the private tour with you” all the while thanking Berta profusely for stepping in as she did!!  For all the potentially dangerous situations that I have found myself encountered with while being in Costa Rica, there has always been a more benevolent and protective force in the form of the elder ticos and ticas!!  For this, Berta and others along the way will always have a very special place in my heart.

The night was thankfully uneventful as I simply lingered around The Corner keeping Berta company and chatting with her as best I could.  I only hopped out momentarily after my dinner at a soda for some homemade ice cream Berta had told me about and after chit-chatting a bit with Jul, the man from France, I headed off for some lovely sleep!!

Once again, I neglected to bring my camera for the croc event as I have grown quite accostomed to traveling the town with as little in my possession as possible, but fear not for the adventure continues…

On to Beach Adventure

Back to Costa Rica