Friday (Oct 7th) we were collected from our Hotel in Bangkok about 6.30am, we then drove about 3 hours to Kanchanaburi where our first stop was the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (known locally as the Don-Rak War Cemetery) It is the main Prisoner of War cemetery associated with victims of the Burma Railway. It is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There are 6,982 former POWs buried there, mostly Australian, British and Dutch.
We then jumped back on the bus and headed to the River Kwai - the black iron bridge was brought from Java by the Japanese supervision by Allied prisoner-of-war labour as part of the Death Railway linking Thailand with Burma. Still in use today, the bridge was the target of frequent Allied bombing raids during World War II and was rebuild after war ended. The curved spans of the bridge are the original sections. A daily train is still following the historical route from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok Railway Station.
In 1943 thousands of Allied Prisoners of War (PoW) and Asian labourers worked on the Death Railway under the imperial Japanese army in order to construct part of the 415 km long Burma-Thailand railway. Most of these men were Australians, Dutch and British and they had been working steadily southwards from Thanbyuzayat (Burma) to link with other PoW on the Thai side of the railway. This railway was intended to move men and supplies to the Burmese front where the Japanese were fighting the British. Japanese army engineers selected the route which traversed deep valleys and hills. All the heavy work was done manually either by hand or by elephant as earth moving equipment was not available. The railway line originally ran within 50 meters of the Three Pagodas Pass which marks nowadays the border to Burma. However after the war the entire railway was removed and sold as it was deemed unsafe and politically undesirable. The prisoners lived in squalor with a near starvation diet. They were subjected to captor brutality and thus thousands perished. The men worked from dawn until after dark and often had to trudge many kilometres through the jungle to return to base camp where Allied doctors tended the injured and diseased by many died. After the war the dead were collectively reburied in the War Cemeteries and will remain forever witness to a brutal and tragic ordeal.
We first looked around a museum which was sh*t then left and went to walk over the bridge, there were so many people around we couldn't really get a good pic. Back on the minibus we drove about an hour to our accommodation for the night and where we had lunch. It was a floating hostel! We had a lovely Thai lunch.
After lunch we rafted on the River Kwai for a while before returning to the floating hostel and back on the bus! We drove to have elephant rides (We were sat on a seat on its back so no legs getting slapped by the elephant's ears like in Sri Lanka!) We didn't really enjoy it, the elephant was taken on a 15 min trail through the river and the Thai boy controlling the elephant had a big stick with a hook on the end (!) Our elephant kept wanting to do his own thing so we were a little scared! We felt that the elephants were possibly not treated well and that they give these rides a ridiculous amount each day - because as we were leaving another big group arrived so it was time for the elephants to do it all again! Next we visited a Waterfall, it was nice, Joe asked a girl to take a picture of us and he stepped up on the waterfall - I ended up losing my flip flop and then falling over! (Soaked for the rest of the day!) Luckily my flip flop had wedged a bit further down so we saved it!!We got back on the minibus and went to the train station to ride the train along some of the original death railway.
The train ride was a bit boring, everyone was nearly falling asleep. The scenery was nice though - shame the camera ran out of battery! We got off the train, got picked up and driven back to the floating hostel. We had dinner and met some people - 2 Dutch girls, a really annoying American girl that knew everything! And a lovely English couple called Ami and Daniel. We sat up chatting for a while having a few beers until we all got bored of the American girl!
Saturday Morning we had breakfast about 8am - the 2 Dutch girls had had a nightmare the night before - as they were getting into bed they noticed bugs crawling all over the bed! They looked like bedbugs, the second room they were moved to also had the same! After breakfast the group separated - me, Joe and the Dutch girls joined another group of older Aussies. We drove to Erawan National Park - a 550-square-kilometer park in western Thailand Founded in 1975, it is Thailand's 12th national park. The major attraction of the park is Erawan Falls, a waterfall named after the erawan, the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. The seven-tiered falls are said to resemble the erawan.
We had 2 hours here. We were not able to swim in the waterfall as there had been so much rain it wasn't safe. I thought it was just one waterfall but it was a series of 7, we had to trek to the big one at the top which was a bit of a mission in flip flops and on the wet ground but we did it, it was a shame that when we got to the top we didn't find it very spectacular (not after visiting Iguacu in South America!) We trekked back down and had lunch.
Back on the bus, Joe and I were sat in the front and I could hear Jersey being talked about in the back, turns out one of the Aussie couples was actually from Jersey! We didn't get chance to chat as the group was split up again! We got on another bus and drove to Tiger Temple.
In 1999, the temple received the first tiger cub, that had been found by villagers and died soon after. Later, several tiger cubs were given to the temple over time, typically when the mothers had been killed by poachers, others who wanted to get rid of their tiger "pets" or those were under pressure to do so as laws and policies surrounding the keeping of protected species became more strict. As of 2007, over 21 cubs had been born at the temple, and the total number of tigers was about 12 adult tigers and 4 cubs. As of late March 2011, the total number of tigers living at the temple has risen to almost 90.
The Tiger Temple practices a different conservation philosophy than in the west. Being a forest monastery no alcohol is allowed on site. Additionally "appropriate" clothing must be worn by women covering their shoulders and knees so as not to offend the working monks within the site. No bright coloured [red] clothes, no sleeveless or strapless tops or shorts/mini skirts for women. Additionally, no shawls or wraps for the upper or lower body should be worn.
The tigers are washed and handled by Thai monks, international volunteers and local staff. Once a day they are walked on leashes to a nearby quarry. Originally they would roam around freely in this area but now, with the increase in visitors and the amount of tigers who sit in the canyon, they are chained for safety reasons. The staff closely guide visitors as they greet, sit with, and pet the cats. The staff keep the tigers under control and the abbot will intervene if the tiger gets agitated.
Shoulders and knees covered we went in and first headed to Tiger Canyon, It was a very strange set up, we were given a quick safety briefing (no jewellery, sunglasses, bags - anything the tigers may see as toys!!) and stood in a Q, Joe and I had to stand in separate Q's as we were sharing the camera. We gave our camera to a Thai girl then Joe was taken by the hand and led to each tiger to pose for a picture, then the same for me. It all felt very weird!! The tigers were all sleeping, we think they may be drugged. I did see one tiger wake up and the Thai minder use some sort of acupuncture on the tiger's neck that sent it back to sleep.We chatted to a Dutch volunteer who said the tigers are not at all drugged and that they are sleepy because they are nocturnal but I'm not convinced! We then wondered around a bit, watched a monk walking a baby tiger and fed some deer. Then we were all told to get inside an enclosure for our safety as the tigers were leaving the canyon to go back to their enclosures. Once all the tigers were safely back a monk came out with a big tiger and bottle fed her so everyone could have photos with it!
We left Tiger Temple and were all split up again onto buses back to Bangkok. We were being dropped at the tourist office to pick up our passports (they had to be left with the Vietnamese embassy for our visa's) and to be taken to catch our bus to Sukhothai. We had been told by many people not to go to Sukhothai as it was flooded!We arrived at the tourist office late - an hour after it had closed but there was someone waiting for us, we told them we were unsure about going to Sukhothai, after lots of phone calls - some saying it was fine and others saying to stay away we decided to head straight to Chiang Mai. Rushed to the bus station we were put in the worst seats ever on the bus, we had absolutely no leg room, a war movie was being shown and the speaker above us was the only one that worked so was on full blast so everytime we dropped off to sleep we'd be woken by gunshots! Then the film finished we dropped off to sleep then Madonna came blaring out and it was time to stop for food at 1am!! We finally set off again and had to put up with 3 unsupervised Thai kids singing Thai pop music and jumping around for hours! I was not happy to say the least and made it worse by seeing how much leg room the seats upstairs had!
We eventually arrived in Chiang Mai a long 12 hours later!!