Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hellfire Pass

Since we have been in Asia we have been intending to travel to the Burma Death Railway. However, getting to Kanchanaburi from Vientiane requires some travelling time and it has never quite fitted our schedules. But I had time owing from extra work over year-end and we were able to plan a mid-week trip, avoiding weekend day-trippers.

The night before we took the train we went for a walk around the neighbourhood.  We came across 2 young boys who wanted to try out their English. They did the usual where are you from spiel. Then they asked Andrew. "How old are you?" To which he replied "how old do you think I am?" They looked at each other, conferred briefly in Thai and replied...."67". Andrew looked a bit surprised because um...he is 67...

We traveled both legs of the journey on the local train.  3rd class, windows down and wind in our hair.  While we said to people we were going to Kanchanburi, we actually didn't venture into the town itself, staying 20 minutes outside of town.

And we didn't really want to see the reconstructed bridge "over the river Kwai" Instead our destination was another 1.5 hours further north.  All the way to the end of the line, Nam Tok.

There, we eventually found the driver we had organised, and then we promptly told him we wanted to stop and have some lunch. There had been a multitude of ladies selling fruit, popcorn and meals prepared in banana leaf, but we had not felt hungry until we actually got off the train.  He took that in his stride, and soon we were sitting at the end of a long table at a place that catered for large tour groups.  The food was very good.

Then we jumped in the back of the Songtheaw and sped off toward the museum, about 15 minutes out of town.  Coming from Laos, constant fast speeds and good roads are a bit of a novelty.

The museum was opened in 1998 and was very well done. Back in the 80s a former POW returned to the area and found it totally covered with jungle regrowth.  He petitioned the Australian government and eventually it developed into the museum memorial that stands today.  There is a 2.5km walk along the path of the railway.  Most people appeared to be there as part of tour groups and as such they all walked only a short distance to the memorial and returned to their bus.  We, in the full heat of the day, walked the entire length of the available trail.  There is more, but it is currently inaccessible. While it follow as rail trail, there was plenty of up and down and my phone said we had climbed 20 flights of stairs.   The Australian Veterans Assn have a very good audio-guide, which has former prisoners talking about their experiences.  We walked for less than an hour, carrying water, wearing good shoes while hearing about prisoners working 18 hours a day, with 2 meals of boiled rice, disease, torture...and we had a lovely cool towelette & chilled water waiting for us in our pickup truck.  And we felt rather drained by the effort, poor us.

With the museum visit complete, it was off to our accommodation.  We had booked a room at the Oriental Kwai which had singularly good reviews. Having stayed there, we concur 100%. The location was tranquil, the villas spotless, the staff well trained and the food excellent.  We wished we had booked more time at the resort, with only 10 villas it was relaxed and unbelievably quiet.

Sitting by the river having lunch in the restaurant and Andrew asked me if i could hear the music, which I couldn't.  He continued to look slightly distracted for further 5 minutes until he moved his leg off his phone and I too could hear the Seekers singing at loud volume.  Of course in usual Andrew fashion, he is not quite sure how he managed to become a one-man disco.

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