Monday 4th - Thursday 7th December
First on our minibus at 6 a.m., then onto different hotels in Bangkok to pick up Vicki & Glen from Ottawa, Canada and then finally Pat and Penny from Yorkshire. These were to be our travelling companions for the next 3 days. We had a couple of stops to the usual temples en route and we arrived at Kanchanaburi at midday for a tour around the museum dedicated to the POW's and the local Asians who had lost their lives building the railway line between Thailand and Burma. This was followed by a short walk around the cemetery where we laid some flowers, it was a very moving experience. We then met our cruise director Mr. Somlux who turned out to be a very multilingual intelligent character, he made our river cruise much more informative than it might have been.
Our luggage had been taken aboard whilst we were looking around the museum, the boat should hold a maximum of 20 people in 10 cabins but there was only to be 6 of us, plenty of room. The cabins were basic but practical and the top deck was made of teak and was about 160' long, this area covered the dining tables, comfy lounge seats, the bar and a sun deck area . Every meal was served Thai style, several dishes in the middle, scoops of rice, followed by fresh fruit. Somlux as he like to be called always told us how "hot" the dishes would be marking them 1 - 10.
Every day we would make our way up stream at a very leisurely pace, just watching the scenery unfold, however, the crew were constantly looking for sandbanks and monitoring the level of the river Kwai as it twisted and turned, a couple of times we had to hold at a position for several hours until water was let out of the dam further upstream.
We visited yet more temples and extensive ruins left over from the Khmer empire. We took a local 3rd class train (hard wooden seats) from Tha Kilen station to Saphan Thorm Krasae passing over a very long wooden viaduct built during the 2nd World War (the journey took 19 minutes) The train was packed with standing room only, mainly with tourists who wanted to ride the famous route. We then went to the Elephant village for the inevitable ride, Linda did not like it at all but Ron had a great time, our elephant seemed to have a mind of its own and just kept wandering off. To visit these amazing sites from the river we either had to clamber up rocks (if our boat could get close enough to the side of the river) or climb into a Long Tailed Boat which would take us to a landing site where we could then crawl out of the boat (there is not a lot of space for manoeuvring). As our boat could not move any further upstream our "leader" took us to the Tiger Temple. This is run by a Buddhist monk, they do not charge you to go in but rely on donations from the public to fund this project. Volunteers took each person by the hand and another one took your camera to capture the moment when you could stroke the tiger (about 10 of them all together). This is something we don't think we will ever get the opportunity to do again.
The next day we visited the Kaeng Lava Caves, they were very dark and the humidity was unbelievable, you came out of there absolutely dripping. Next on our agenda was a trip to a boarding school who's patron is the Crown Princess Sirindhorn, this school is mainly for refugee children. It was a very humbling experience, all the children are taught their 3 R;s, cooking, gardening, and respect for their elders and each other, this is to equip them to be self sufficient in later life. Each day brought more experiences for us on board and the last one that day had to be the most amazing. We were taken by boat to join a big raft which was towed to the Sai Yok Yai waterfalls and then tied to a rock. We then had an instant shower of very cold spring water which comes from a spring about 500m away. One of the Yorkshire lasses had brought their shampoo etc, so we all had our daily shower, it was great fun.
Our last night on board and we were entertained by the crew, there were more crew than passengers on this trip. They played instruments, sang to us and the finale was a Thai dance by a student girl who is learning about tourism.
The last morning our luggage was taken off-board and loaded with us to a minibus and we were taken to "Hell Fire Pass" a part of the Death Railway which had been cut through stone mountain, there are several memorials to commemorate all those who died there. Back to Kanchanaburi where we walked on the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. Penny laid flowers with a picture of her grandad attached as he was a surviving prisoner of war from that area. Our last meal together as a group was on a floating restaurant overlooking the river, with the inevitable rice etc. Then came the goodbyes as they were all going back to Bangkok and we were going back upriver to join the Jungle Raft. This river cruise has been one of the most enjoyable things we have ever done and we would recommend it to anybody (as long as you can climb, bend and squeeze into small places).
The Jungle Raft - what a difference that was!! No electricity, no flushing loo, no hot water, a very primitive hut floating on the river (about 50 rafts in all), every time a long tailed boat went by all the huts rocked, we felt quite seasick at times. Paraffin lamps were lit as dusk approached and we had a cold shower by torchlight, then searched in our case for something to wear The meal once again was - you have guessed it - Thai, more rice etc. We feel that our eyes are slanting upwards - oh for a chip butty with brown sauce. We were entertained later by Mon dancers, we found the music not quite to our taste (very loud and tinny). Off to bed, not more bugs again, but at least we were provided with a mosquito net over the bed as you couldn't shut the windows (no glass). A very disturbed and noisy night with dogs fighting on the riverbank behind us and the usual jungle sounds.
Friday 8th December
Breakfast on the raft was another experience, bees, they were everywhere, luckily they were not the stinging type, but we could not eat our breakfast in peace. Back to the room and laid in the hammock until we left at 9.30 a.m. We were taken by boat (we are getting quite good at clambering in and out of these) to the pier to await our transport to take us to Cha-Am. A 3 hr journey ahead, and we tried to get caught up with some sleep. What an amazing sight awaited us, a 5* hotel and met at the entrance of the hotel with the usual Thai greeting. Our room was a godsend after the previous night, a deluxe bedroom with a huge bath to soak in, a loo that flushed and a great view over the Gulf of Thailand (we were on the 19th floor). We got unpacked - all our kit was damp after being in the jungle - and we sent some clothes to the laundry, found our swimwear and off to the pool. Straight to the swim up bar and Ron sampled more of the local beer. We chose to have chips with our evening meal, but couldn't get any brown sauce to put in a chip butty. We felt very relaxed and looking forward to a few days of sheer indulgence.
Saturday 9th December
Is it only 2 weeks to Christmas? , no sign of it here. Relaxed breakfast sitting on the terrace watching the waves, it is great. All we have done today is swim, aqua aerobics for Linda (a nice young Thai boy took the class), basked in the sun, walked into the local village and along the beach front. Every other stall or shop is either a Thai massage parlour!! proper ones not seedy ones, tailor shops - where everybody wants to make Ron a suit, laundries or restaurants, oh, a very few souvenir shops. We forgot there was one bit of exertion today, we joined in the Coconut bowling, we were the only 2 representing Great Britain, all the rest were Finnish or Thai.. We also got bitten very badly, we think whilst were enjoying a drink or two during Happy Hour (5 p.m. till 7 p.m.). Walked back into the village for our evening meal, this time we chose to have rice with our dinner, the whole cost for 2 courses each plus drinks was 335 bahts which is less than £5. Back in the room we put on the TV and Tottenham were playing Charlton - you all know the score.
Sunday 10th December
Decided to check out Hua Hin today, a local town about 15 km from Cha Am, the King and his family have a bit of a pad here. Our hotel run a shuttle bus so we just used that transport instead of negotiating taxis or tuk-tuks. The local market was in full swing, hacking at bits of meat and fish of all descriptions, the smell was not to Linda's taste. Done a bit of souvenir shopping as well, thought we had better buy something to remember Thailand by. Linda would have liked to buy a new bikini but every stall only sold up to XXL, which was too small. One vendor even suggested that Linda was NOT THIN ENOUGH, enough said the diet starts tomorrow, the problem being that most Thais are only a size 6 or 8. Back to the hotel, it was getting far too hot to be wandering around town, straight to the pool for a cool down. Ron missed the afternoon games session by pretending to be asleep!! But copped it later when we went down to the bar for Happy Hour they were running a darts contest and we were the only competitors with Dan the organiser and Tum a waitress, we still lost though. The purse strings won over and we went back to the local restaurant for a cheap meal.
Monday 11th December
The temperature has dropped today, only 31 not the usual 35 and quite cloudy as well, what will we do. We could think of Christmas as the hotel has put up a Xmas tree and lots of lights everywhere, we haven't seen many at all in Thailand as they are mainly Buddhist. Walked to the local village to see the "fishing fleet", all the locals were either cleaning the fish or smoking them (as shown on our picture). Restful day as we go back to Bangkok tomorrow to join a "classical" trip the next day.