So if you count a picture as a thousand words, this just might be my longest post yet! What an exciting week. The two days we spent at Kanchanaburi and Erawan were the best days of the adventure so far!
Last week I had some free time on Thursday, so I wandered over to IT world, the tech gear hub of Bangkok and Platinum, a giant indoor clothes mall. I didn’t get anything, but I did admire some of the kids-themed clothing that would make pretty good “flair” as Dartmouth students call it. If only the mario kart 64 shirt was in my size…
This past weekend was spent west of Bangkok at Kanchanaburi and Erawan National Park. Kelly Erickson joined us on the trip. She’s a Dartmouth ’11 who spent the term teaching english at temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She was good company, and seen Thailand from a different angle than we had.
Saturday morning we got up early and took the bus to Kanchanaburi, 2 ½ hrs west of Bangkok. We rented bikes for the day (only cost $1) and went exploring. Our first stop was at the allied war cemetery, where thousands of British, Austrailian and Dutch soldiers were buried. I appreciated the powerful, striking messages on the gravestones.
Next to the cemetery was the death railway war museum, a small but very well put together museum about the history of Japanese Thai-Burma railway during the second world war. In short, the Japanese used POWs and forced asian laborers to build a railway through the mountainous Thai jungle to connect Burma’s major city Rangoon with Kanchanaburi. This linked the major cities in asia, and allowed the Japanese to easily move men and supplies to the war effort in Burma, saving a risky sea route near Malaysia patrolled by allied forces. The conditions for the POWs and laborers were very poor, especially during the rainy season. Long hours of forced manual labour and poor sanitation and nutrition lead to an outbreak of disease that claimed the lives of around a third of the POWs and half of the asian laborers. Most of the POWs were British, and there were many Australians and Dutch as well. About 650 Americans were made to work on the railway, of which 131 died. There were two things that struck me most about the museum which I didn’t know beforehand:
1) The POWs on the railway were largely well accounted for by the Japanese and POWs alike, and the Japanese allowed the POWs to bury their dead in cemetaries. Since such good records were kept, it meant that after the war a major effort could be undertaken to find and move the graves of most the POWs that died from out in the jungle to allied war cemeteries in Kanchanaburi.
2) The asian laborers, despite initially being drawn to the project as a form of work, had a much higher death rate and were nearly all buried in unmarked graves. They were treated the same – or more often worse – than the POWs. 90,000 laborers died on the railway, compared to 16,000 POWs.
The museum was a good stop to get some context before seeing the famous Bridge at River Kwai a few kilometers away. You could still see bomb marks on the piers, and some of the original spans were still intact.
Afterwards we went on a long bike ride across the river, through the countryside and up a hill to khao poon cave, a large limestome cave that houses a temple inside. Kelly told us what she knew about Buddhism and being monk, as well as about the 10 days she recently spent at a meditation retreat in a temple where she spent 8-11 hrs a day meditating. We rode back at sunset and headed out to dinner at the town’s night market in the evening. I bought some very colorful, comfortable pants and a shirt. Before heading back to the inn to go to sleep we had a fun little debate about what was more attractive – a guy showing up on your doorstep with a Ferrari and a bunch of roses (Sean and Wolfgang’s choice) or one with a dehydrator, doughnut machine and proofing box to make dried fruits, doughnuts and bread (my choice). Kelly and Laurie sided with cooking over cars.
On Sunday we had another early start to catch the bus over to Erawan National Park. We checked into our “bangalow” as it was called and trekked 1.5 K back along the road a market for lunch. The entire afternoon was spent a Erawan falls, a set of 7 cascading waterfalls spaced around 300 meters apart from each other, with the 7th and top falls 2.2 kilometers from the trailhead. Each of level of the falls was unique and gorgeous. I can’t really write a description that does them justice, so I’ve included many pictures.
We spent most of our time at the 4th falls where we went on the water slide, got bitten by fish and played frisbee with the Thais. One little kid was particularly fun and kept faking out Nozomi with the frisbee.
On our way up to the 5th falls we were lucky enough of to encounter a pack of monkeys. Some were eating, others had babies hanging on to them, one tried to attack us and one monkey did his impression of a waterfall onto an unsuspecting and soon-to-be-disgusted Laurie.
Falls lvl 6 were the prettiest, with several green cascades and cool pool formations. I couldn’t help but contrast the beauty of Erawan and surrounding area to the horrors of the death railway we had learned of the day before. What was a paradise to us was a hell for the POWs and asian laborers. It seems that only humans are capable of taking such a beautiful place and making it so deadly.
In the evening we sat around our bangalow talked for a while. We each shared our top 10 list of places to visit or activities to do during our senior at Dartmouth. It was a wonderful moment of reflection. Its starting to settle in that we’ve only got one more year in a place we’ve called home for the past three.
Back in Bangkok classes are picking back up after midterms. Our last thai class is this Wednesday. My Thai is getting better – its good enough now to hold a conversation with the lady I buy veges from at the market and to order food from a restaurant or street stall. It’ll be a busy week between homework, job applications and a job interview. This Saturday we are going on a “study trip” to learn about Thai culture at a cultural center west of the city then on Sunday and Monday we’ll visit the ruins of the old city. We’ve been advised to stay out of the city this weekend because the red shirts – a political group supporting the former prime minister Thaksin – are going to hold demonstrations in the city and block traffic, with up to a million protesters expected.