It’s hot in Thailand and as its the rainy season the weather is very humid so any exertion brings you out in a sweat even when it’s cloudy. I could not begin to imagine the horrors the men building the Death Railway suffered or how they were able to work for so long in such punishing conditions. Of course building the railway between Thailand and Burma during the Second World War came at a high price with tens of thousands of men dying from disease, malnutrition, exhaustion and maltreatment.
As we gazed across the immaculate cemetery in Kanchanaburi the sun came out and the heat burnt into our backs but it didn’t seem to matter. The cemetery was filled with rows and rows of graves of the men who had died building the railway. It was a sobering moment and one of quiet reflection.
The previous night Gilly and I had watched the classic 1950’s David Lean film “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. It had seemed so appropriate with the real bridge just a few hundred metres from where we camped. The next day we got to hear the real story in The Death Railway museum which gave an excellent overview of the building of the railway. Whilst it is well know how many allied servicemen were killed in building the railway it’s probably less well know that many more indentured Asian workers were also killed and treated even more atrociously.
Today, the town of Kanchanaburi has grown around its famous site into a normal bustling Thai town. Each day groups of tourists are bused in to walk across the famous bridge and we duly followed suit. But it will be the view across the war cemetery after learning more about the horrors of building the Death Railway that will remain in my memory longer.
From Kanchanaburi we headed to another historical city. Ayuthaya was once one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world. It was the capital of Siam from 1350 to 1767 when it was sacked by an invading Burmese army. After that the capital was moved south to present day Bangkok and Ayuthaya was left in ruins. In recent years a lot of restoration has been going on and the city has become a UNESCO world heritage site.
Our first task was to find somewhere to stay/park so we headed to the tourist information centre. Despite the fact that it was a busy weekend they had a massive car park that was virtually empty. Ideal we thought, I wonder whether they will let us camp there. We asked at the Tourist Office who weren’t sure and said we should check with the nearby Tourist Police. Knocking on their office the person quickly asked what we wanted, we explained and he just said fine. Mind you I am not sure whether he was one of the tourist police or just a builder doing some maintenance work. It didn’t matter we had an ideal quiet spot from which to discover the city.
The city is filled with ruined temples and palaces in different stages of disrepair. One of the things the Burmese did when they sacked the city was cut off the heads of all the Buddha statues so there were headless statues of Buddha everywhere. The temples were very impressive but it was hot work walking between them. For me I was finding it particularly hard going as I had a temperature and was not feeling great. The general diagnosis from the family was that I was suffering from Man flu so just had to suck it up and get on with it.
From Ayuthaya we were heading back to the jungle to Kho Yai National Park. We were looking forward to this as the park is set at an altitude of about 750 metres and so was a very important 3 to 4 degrees cooler than where we had been. As we drove towards the park there were a couple of almighty rainstorms that turned the roads into mini rivers. We weren’t worried though as we knew the camping in the park was on tarmac so we would be fine even if it continued raining.
However on arriving at the Park we were told we were not allowed in as the truck was too big. When I enquired they said it was because the road was narrow. It looked fine from the gate and I am sure it would have been no worse than what we have travelled upon before but as all the tour buses were also parked up at the entrance gate I could understand they weren’t going to let us in. But what now? Normally we have a Plan B but this time we had been so certain it was all sorted we had no Plan B. Together with the Rangers, we came up with a plan to visit Tap Lan National Park just over an hours drive away.
Mind you finding the park entrance proved to be a challenge and I am sure we ended up on driving on much smaller roads than we would have in the more famous Kho Yai. In the end just before it was getting dark we found the entrance. It was after park closing time but a security guard was still there. He said there was no problem and to just drive in. When we asked him how much ( there was a sign displaying charges) he just waved us away and said no need to pay. One of our concerns was ensuring we were parked for the night on a solid base. There had been a fair bit of rain and more was likely. Our first foray down a path revealed a pleasant clearing but it was at the end of a water run off so we rejected it. It was now getting dark so we were getting concerned, when we found the official campsite. As it was down a grass track and we couldn’t see if the ground was solid we just parked on the road at the entrance. There was no one else there anyway.
The next day we awoke to a lovely view over the valley. We moved to the end of the track in case where we were would get in the way of other visitors. Not that we need of worried. The park is less well know than its famous neighbour and it is certainly far less developed with less things to do. However we decided to hang around for a day though to take a walk to the nearby waterfall and to enjoy the slightly cooler climate.
We had one last stop to make before we reached the Cambodian border. When we were at the windscreen repair shop in Bangkok we met Mr Pong who was also having his motorhome repaired. While we were talking I asked him if he could ask the garage if they had any rear marker lights I could buy. I am always knocking mine off on trees and had run out of spares. They did not but he knew a shop that did just near the Cambodian border. Whilst this was helpful he went even further, called them up and ordered the lights for us. So as we approached the border we stopped to pick up our lights.
The owners of the shop also owned two motorhomes and as soon as we pulled in had the lights on the counter ready for us, they were expecting us. They asked us where we were going and where we planned to stay the night. As we didn’t really know where we would stay before the border we said so. They suggested we drive a short way out of town to their country home next to the river and camp there for the night. It was a lovely spot and so kind of them. At first we couldn’t quite fit down the road due to their entrance sign, but no problem they had one of the workmen get the tractor and raise the sign. It’s amazing how people go out of their way to be so kind and helpful.
That evening Phan, Tukta and Benz joined us for dinner. They ordered in some lovely Thai food whilst we shared some less appetising food we had cooked. It was lovely to meet some fellow motorhome owners and whilst communication was not easy, Benz did a great job translating as we shared stories and showed each other photos. The hospitality we were shown was amazing and it was a great end to our first crossing of Thailand.