The last time Zoe wrote we were in Khao Sok preparing for a mammoth journey to Kanchanaburi. This journey was one of the most frustrating of the whole trip as it involved a minibus to Surat Thani, a wait outside a shop for half an hour, a songathew to another waiting area for 2 hours or so, a VIP bus to Bangkok which deposited us near the Khoa San Road, a taxi to the new Southern bus terminal (actually well to the west of the city) and then a final bus out to Kanchanaburi. All in all about 17 hours!
We then decided to walk to find a guest house but all the local taxi drivers and rickshaw riders wanted to take us to accomodation of their choosing and we almost had to fight our way through them to get out and walking. We succumbed in the end and paid a trishaw rider to take us to a great place with a swimming pool by the river which we stayed at for the next 3 nights. The rest of the day was relatively lazy. We walked to the Bridge Over the River Kwai and planned the remainder of our time in the area including contacting Zoe's brother Nigel who lives in Kamphangphet and who we were going to go and stay with next. The afternoon was spent by the pool and in the cafe.
Monday started bright and early with a visit to the Burma/Thailand Railway museum. This was an amazing place giving tonnes of details about the building of the railway line which killed 10s of thousands of PoWs and local press ganged labour. Some of the exhibits were quite distressing and harrowing but it was well worth the visit. After this we headed to the train station to take a ride on the train along the "Death Railway" itself - a 2 hour journey along the tracks that we had just been finding out about. This was a beautiful journey though the countryside and knowing what had happened in order that the railway was actually in place gave it a special poignance. Alighting at our destination of Nam Tok we got a taxi to the "Hellfire Pass". This is a pair of cuttings made into the rock using hand tools and dynamite only and must have been a monumental undertaking. The name came around because of the appearance of the place lit up by lanterns so the work could continue at night. We caught the bus back to town as it left later giving us more time at the Hellfire Pass (plus, it was faster and cheaper). There was little left to do on this day except swim, eat and sleep.
We had arranged for Nigel and his girlfriend Au (pronounced Ooo) to meet us at the hostel on Tuesday afternoon. They were going to spend the night here with us and then take us up to their house the following day to spend a few days up there in Kamphangphet. Our daytime agenda however involved renting a moped and heading up to the Erewan Falls. These are about 65km away from Kanchanaburi and are made up of 7 distinct tiers, numerous indistinct tiers, and a series of pools that you can swim in. We trekked from bottom to top and back again stopping at every pool for a swim. There were hundreds of tiny fish at each pool that started nibbling at your skin almost as soon as you got in the water - tickled like hell and we both felt well and truly exfoliated when we left the water.
On the way to the falls we had passed an area filled with enormous rocks of all shapes and colours. These were all on display for sale and export presumably to end up in the lobbys of posh hotels around the world. We strolled around one of these fields and I kept wondering what plan or elaborate ruse my dad would have devised to spirit one of these things away for the garden in Knutsford! We got back to town and had a few hours to kill while we waited for Nigel to arrive so we swam for a bit and then headed to the bar - bad idea! For those who have been to Thailand and experienced Chang lager you will know what I'm talking about. We met Nigel and Au, went for dinner and then more beers and I have no idea what time we finished for the night but Nigel reckons it might have been as late as 4am.
As a result, Wednesday started rather later than planned and we didn't hit the road for Kamphangphet untill 11.30ish. The journey is about 3 to 4 hours if you do it in one hit but we broke it up with stops at a big aviary and a place inhabited by monkeys, turtles, bats and stray dogs. At the second stop we fed monkeys and turtles - the guy you buy the food from puts 2 foot long furry toy crocodiles on the bonnet and roof of the car to keep the monkeys away and for some reason it works. At the same stop we went to a BBQ stall and ordered food while waiting for the bats to emerge from the caves as it goes dark. Unfortunately it pissed down before going dark so the bats all stayed put and we got drenched without seeing a bat. We arrived at Nigel and Au's house and had a quick change so we could go out to eat and a restaurant by the river. Food was great but the karaoke was pretty damned awful!
Thursday afternoon is practice session at one of the local motocross tracks and Nigel had promised me a run out on his CRF250, so for me the day was just an inconvenience whilst I waited for the first ride on a real bike in over 8 months. We walked the town and went to Kamphangphet Historical park with Nigel and Au. We met some of Au's family and saw the various businesses they run (seems nearly all of Kamphangphet is owned or operated by Au's family) and then it was time to go to the track. Nigel sponsors a local lad called "Boy" to race his bike and so while we waited for Boy to arrive with the bike we did a track walk and I told Nigel the likely areas that I might fall off. The bike arrived and Nigel, Boy and I took it in turns to do a few laps battling with an assortment of other wierd and wonderful machinery that had turned up. After showing everyone how it should be done I selected a relatively slow and easy berm and fell off knackering my arm in the process. By this time it was getting dark ayway so we packed up, went home and went out for dinner by the river again but a different restaurant.
When I woke up on Friday I felt like sh!t. My arm hurt and somehow I had contracted an eye infection that meant my left eye felt like it was full of broken glass and I couldn't open it. Au took me to the eye doctor who gave me some pills, creme and drops and advised rest in a darkened room. For me who never gets ill usually this made the 3rd period of being wiped out in less than a year. While I stayed at the house and watched every episode of Fawlty Towers in sequence, Zoe went off with Nigel and Boy to check out some waterfalls. The falls were good (apparently) but the stand out thing Zoe told me was the fact that the locals swam in the pools fully clothed - wierd eh? Friday night I remained in my darkened room while Zoe partied the night away with Nigel and his buddies - actually they sat outside German Mike's pizza place and drank beer till past 1am then came home and woke me up.
Following a complete day of inactivity I was climbing the walls by Saturday and so ventured out of the house with Zoe acting as my guide as I still couldn't see properly. Only got as far as the swimming pool round the corner where I sat on the side and Zoe did 60 or so lengths. We capped the day off with Pizza at Mike's and an early night.
With my eye improving significantly by Sunday we decided to hit the road again. Our planned leisurely trip up the Burma border road would have to be sped up somewhat to make up the time we had lost and thankfully Nigel's mate, Fred, was on hand to drive us up to Mae Sot as this particular bus journey has been known to take 2 days with stoppages and breakdowns. After a quick cup of tea pitstop for Nigel and Fred we waved them farewell and set about resuming our march through South East Asia. Monday morning we would travel to Mae Sariang by Songathew (a pick up truck with benches in the back) with the aim of being in Chang Mai by the start of the following week. With that sorted we had dinner and I found a bar that was showing the MotoGP from Donington and had some beers to celebrate returning vision.
I am fed up of typing now so Zoe will pick up sometime soon with the next installment.
Hope you are all well and we'll see you on the 3rd October or soon after.