Relaxing and Learning in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
I was fearing that Kanchan (as the locals call it) was going to be horribly built up compared to the last time we were here in 2003. Well, it has changed, that’s inevitable, and everywhere that we’ve returned to has changed massively in the last thirteen years, but Kanchan has been refreshingly similar to how we remember it. The main drag has developed a lot, with many more bars and restaurants, but everything is still pretty low rise and the place feels relaxed, open and welcoming. You can still see the mountains surrounding the town from pretty much everywhere. Access to the riverside is pretty much monopolised by the bars, restaurants and hotels, but sitting in a riverside restaurant as the mirror calm river reflects the deep reds of the sun setting behind the mountains is pretty bloody special, so you can’t hold that against them.
We managed to dig out a couple of old pictures from when we were here last time. Here’s a couple of “compare and contrast” shots of the railway. One of the things that has surprised us is the impact of health and safety on the bridge itself. When we were here last time, the sleepers were exposed, and there was only a narrow set of wobbly boards between the tracks to walk on. Frankly, it was a very easy bridge to fall off and there was a story going around of a poor woman that had tripped, slipped between the gaps between the sleepers and had to be dragged out of the river. Six weeks later, she was still in hospital in Bangkok being put back together. These days, there are hand-rails, extra platforms and warning signs.
Something that hasn’t changed much is the railway itself. Here’s a “before and after” photo of the Wampo Viaduct. I’m not convinced that the addition of my face adds much to the scenery…
Having charged through Sri Lanka, we’ve approached Thailand with a much more calm and relaxed style. Kanchan was only going to be a quick stop-over to fill some time before Myanmar, but as soon as we got here, and discovered that the lovliness of the hotel matched the gushing of the TripAdvisor reviews, we decided that we “needed” to stay here for a full week. We can visit some more of Thailand later…
We’ve not done a great deal in our time here, there’s been an adventure most days, all of which have inevitably centered on the terrible history that has made this place famous. We’ve talked to the boys about the Death Railway, and we’ve visited the excellent museum across the road from the military cemetery. It’s clearly impossible to fully grasp the enormity of what happened here between 1942 and 1943, more so if you’re only ten years old, and all that we can hope for is that the kids get some appreciation of it. We’ve tried to explain things by putting them on a scale that makes sense in their world – e.g. to build the length of traintrack between the hotel and this restaurant, 150 people would have died. We visited Hellfire Pass where they learned more about the living conditions, the diseases, the food and saw first hand the scale of the work needed to build the railway. We’re going to try and get to the Burma end of the track to try and close the story off for the kids. It’s not been as structured as formal classroom learning would be, but I think that they’ve come away with personal memories and a deeper understanding. They’re certainly able to talk about it confidently enough.
Even though the history is always present, we have managed to have a serious amount of fun during our time here. Hiring bikes – we were too tight to hire one each, so the kids had to sit on the luggage rack at the back – was properly funny. Negotiating the Thai traffic whilst trying to take photographs of each other and not get killed always brings a smile to the face. Kayaking down the river was a beautiful way to spend a morning. The scenery around here is seriously lush and incredibly peaceful, most of the time the only sound you hear is that of the animals in the jungle mingled with chanting from the monks in the numerous temples that you drift past. We tried to get the kids to document the adventure, but having read their account, I’m not sure that they were on the same trip!
Our time here has been so lovely and so relaxed, that we’ve managed to completely lose track of time, and have been unable to work out what day it is. We almost got on a bus to travel back to Bangkok to catch our flight to Myanmar a full day early, which would have been pretty awkward. It’s been so lovely, that we might bring Granny and Nanna here when they drop into Thailand for a visit in April. The kids are excited at the thought of showing them around. I can’t see us getting them on a kayak, but there’s loads of other great stuff here to keep us busy.
We’re excited and a touch nervous to be heading off to Myanmar tomorrow, but we’re sure that it’s going to be amazing in a completely different way to Thailand.