Saturday, October 31, 2009

Samboon and the Angry Man (Atleast we’re out of the Tree)

Well it has been a little while between blog posts now and we've had quite the adventure. I am currently sitting on the train in 3rd class (cattle class was the only option). We are heading towards Aranyaprathet the border town between Thailand and Cambodia, in an hour or to we will cross into Poipet in Cambodia.

When we last posted we were about to head into the Jungle on a three day, two night tour. Our first day heading due west from Bangkok took us to the War Cemetery at Kanchanaburi, the cemetery is one of five that contain the graves of Allied soldiers that where killed while being held as POWs by the Japanese during the second world war. There was a large section dedicated to Australian soldiers and reading the inscriptions on the grave stones was really moving as they‘d had personal inscriptions from the families added. When you think about these young men working on the Thai-Burma railway and never coming home it’s hard, but when you read ‘sleep now my son, daddy is proud of you’ or ‘put of flower of his grave for me, mum’ it makes it that much harder.

We then went to the “new” bridge over the river Kwai, the original bridge was actually 300meters upstream but as they bombed the shit out of it towards the end of the war, no trace of the original bridge remains. Was still pretty cool to go there although the museum at the location was poorly arranged and other than seeing an Ex Japanese Military BSA and a Triumph painted “Triumphn” we were pretty disappointed.

After the museum we rode the “Death Train” along side the river and through the jungle to Sai Yok. It was a little unnerving getting on something called the “Death Train” but it was actually pretty nice. In case you are interested it was called the “Death Train” due to the 100,000+ people (POW’s and local forced labour) who died building it.

After riding the train we were dropped off at Sai Yok Noi waterfalls for a two hour swim. The falls were beautiful and was the first time we had seen clean water since leaving Australia. The whole place is full of tourists and locals alike, although we kinda felt it was only us and the locals actually swimming at the falls, as most of the tourist just spent their time posing for the camera in various different positions.

Our accommodation for the two nights was a guest house floating over the river Kwai. It was a fairly basic room with two firm beds, an aircon that didn’t work and our bathroom had a view of the river through the floor boards (Just to remind you that all the water ends up in the river. Yes shit too). The guest house was really relaxing and had a nice dining area that was great to just chill out with a beer and watch the river run by, floaties and all. We met a few Pommie travellers and swapped stories about Bangkok and our itineraries.

We were offered the chance to go and bathe with Elephants before breakfast the next day. Seriously it was the most fun I’ve had so far. Our Elephants name was Samboon and our driver was Tun. We both climbed onto Samboon and Tun led him out into the river (Yes the same river our shit goes into) then Tun shouted various commands and Samboon would either spray us with water or dive to the left or right trying to throw us off. It was so much fun I think we laughed the entire time. Samboon was really cheeky and seemed to be having a ball as sometimes he’d dive or spray without any forewarning.

After a shower and dodgy breakfast we went for a peaceful drift down the river on a bamboo raft, then went back to visit the Elephants for a Jungle trek. The jungle trek was really cool, Prue commented that she felt like an English princess or Lord for me conquering the land as our driver Chai led Mukhun our Elephant through the jungle.

After the Elephant riding we headed over the “Hellfire Pass” just near the border to Myanmar/Burma. Hellfire Pass has a museum setup by the Australian Government, and we both walked out of there with massive lumps in our throats after reading the letters sent by the POWs building the railway and seeing footage of the malnourished prisoners in the camp. Walking down through the pass itself was a very sad experience. The sheer size of the cutting made for the train must have been a painful and soul breaking experience for the POWs and really emphasised the strength and courage of those that did survive.

We returned for lunch at the river guest house (lunches and dinners were buffet style and very good, but breakfast was just an egg and dry toast) then headed off to Tiger Temple. We approached Tiger Temple with a bit of mixed emotion as we had heard reports of it being under investigation for doping the Tigers to keep them placid. If that is the case I think the tigers looked quite happy to be doped. Seeing the way they behave gave us the impression that they weren’t doped at all as once or twice one would get a bit agitated and let out a roar, and we were told on the previous day that one of the tigers had swiped a guys shirt leaving a muddy paw print. He was happy though as he had a souvenir and wasn’t going to wash his shirt again.

We were lucky enough that after posing for photos with the bigger tigers and then heading down to the cubs, we were actually locked in a enclosure type area with the cubs as they led the larger tigers past. During the time they were separated, the Monks let us play with the cubs, Prue got to hold the leash for awhile, and as I was scratching one of the cubs head you could see how like cats they are as it threw its head back just like any pet would.

We spent another night at the river guest house and chatted with more travellers, this time some Germans girls, an Elderly Aussie couple from Mornington and a solo Aussie girl. Our tour was a bit hectic and for t he last day we were supposed to go and visit a place called Erawin Falls, but as it costs 500Baht to enter the falls we decided to just chill out at the falls we had already been to which were nearby and didn’t cost anything to enter so we spent the 500 Baht bathing with the Elephants again. It was just as much fun the second time, and as soon as we saw Tun and Samboon we ran over and climbed on before anyone else could. Simone the Aussie girl also came to the waterfall with us and it was nice to just relax and go at our own pace, as the pace of the tour thus far (to quote one of the German girls) felt like school camp, with a very angry and bossy teacher/tour organiser.

After we headed back to Bangkok we decided just to hit the pause button, we spent the rest of the night chilling out again, having dinner on KhaoSarn Rd and getting a Thai Massage. The next day pretty much followed suit, but was a bit of a fuck around as we had to collect our visas for Vietnam and find out about the train to Cambodia. We missed the morning office hours of the Embassy by fifteen minutes so we went to the station by taxi, but the traffic was too bad so he dropped us at the subway, when we got to the station we found out there was no pre-booking for tickets and only 3rd class was available, then took a tuk-tuk to MBK again for absolutely no reason other than to kill time until the embassy reopened. Then after a short stint shopping on KhaoSarn Rd again we got home tired and overheated and hadn’t really accomplished anything. Aaargh Bangkok.

We managed to catch up with our mate Karina from Darling Towers on Friday in Bangkok, funnily enough we sat down to eat dinner and kept an eye out for her in case she went by, funnily enough it wasn’t till after we finished dinner and Prue went of to get a massage that I found her sitting right across from us on the other side of the road. Was good to catch up with her briefly, but a 4:30am wakeup call meant we had to hit the sack.

Oh well, we will be off the train soon and into Cambodia, and I guess if you read this message that means we made it somewhere that we could upload it to the web…

(After note: In Cambodia, the border was a interesting experience, details later, at Battambang, more free wireless at out Hotel WOOP!!!)