Friday, September 10, 2004

Last week I temporarily vacated Bangkok for the town of Kanchanaburi - a standard looking town three hours north west of Bangkok via a 25 bhat train journey. This journey was marred somewhat by a very drunken local attempting to teach me Thai boxing number one in the world in Thai for the majority of the journey. It was later made more interesting as I had to verbally maneuver around some pleasant but persistent touts attempting to make their commission by convincing me to stay at particular guesthouses. I beat them all by taking myself to Apple's Guesthouse - a place that doesn't need to sell itself is usually preferable I find.

Kanchanaburi is made special due to its geographical location - near Bangkok and beside the Burmese border; also overlooking the Kwai River - this town was the perfect place for a bridge providing passage for trains passing through Burma and into India from the east. And so it came to be: during WWII the Japanese rounded up their Allied POWs and set them to work on a railway which would serve such a purpose and their srategic interests. Prominence for Kanchanaburi was sealed by the David Lean film Bridge Over The River Kwai which is an inaccurate tale but yet supplies Alec Guinness with the opportunity to produce a stirling performance.

The River Kwai Bridge, Kanchanburi - and the train heading for Bangkok.

Visitors of all ages flock to see the (fairly unremarkable looking) bridge, a well maintained Allied war cemetery, and to partake in the town's other activities. And luckily there are many. Tours take in a series of stunning nearby waterfalls, elephant bathing, more examples of POW efforts on the railway, rafting, a monkey school (which I missed!) and even a tiger sanctuary ran by a Buddhist monastery where I was one of a number of tourists to stroke the fur of a couple of fully grown adult tigers. Such is the beauty and immensity of these animals - one cannot help but be awed into a silenced reverie.

I did this last excursion as a half day trip. I couldn't help but notice on my receipt the very carefully and deliberately written words No Insurance. I avoided wearing red, but it was okay; the tigers ignored me - they were hand-raised from birth, contentedly fat, and probably drugged to the eye balls. Which is morally acceptable if monks are doing it surely...

I petted this. Pretty cool eh?

Typically for a tourist town Kanchanaburi serves up a string of bars and restaurants offering western and Thai fare. And as is usual in this part of the world they saturate the market to the extent that a single traveler finds it difficult to find a bar with the busy hustle of people meeting each other over a drink. Instead customers are spread out such that the average number in a place is between none and three. Classic south east Asia annoyance.

I rarely offer many recommendations on these pages, and it is about time I started. I shall immediately address this oversight with a plug for Apple's guesthouse restaurant - possibly serving the best Thai food I have eaten and deserving of their excellent reputation. Apple's also do a cooking school and their one day tour was superb. The rooms are okay although at a meager 150 bhat per night I have nothing to complain about - but bring your earplugs if you want to avoid being forced to listen to the chat of the residents in the adjacent room to yours.

And I will further compensate for my past ineptitude by recommending a superb guesthouse in downtown Bangkok: Suk 11 is air conditioned throughout, is extra clean, enormously friendly and I don't stay anywhere else in the city I have returned to for the next few days.

Ah, air conditioning... the second greatest invention in human history...

Meanwhile, Stav has put up some picures from her stay at Cool Bananas guesthouse in Agnes Waters, Australia. Don't expect to see me featured too much, but they do illustrate the sort of thing I had to put up with whilst I was there.

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