Breakfast had to go on the room bill this morning, as yesterday’s shopping spree had cleaned us both out of cash. John went to the ATM, while Brigid finished yesterday’s diary entry. (Thank heavens we are going home tomorrow. They are getting longer and longer …) Then we left the hotel to find the ferry landing for Thonburi Station. Today’s plan was to see ‘The Bridge Over The River Kwai’ at Kachanaburi.
Using Nancy Chandler’s map as our guide, we arrived at Tha Phra Arthit, where a long-tail boat was just mooring. A Thai woman called to us from the bridge. “You want tour?” she asked, pointing at the boat, “350 Baht”. Brigid replied that we only wanted a river taxi to Tha Rot Fai, across the river. “OK. 250 Baht,” she said.
Now call us stingy, if you will, after all 250 Baht is only about £4. But, according to Nancy Chandler, long-tail boat fares start at 5 Baht, and we were only going two stops down the river! Grumbling, we set off on foot to find a closer ferry landing.
We took a slightly circuitous route, through the University grounds, but eventually emerged at Tha Maharat ferry terminal. The crossing to Tha Rot Fai cost us 2 Baht each!
The ticket office at Thonburi Station was closed, but an immensely helpful, English-speaking, policeman told us a train was due to leave for Kachanaburi in about an hour. What was less clear, was how long the train journey would take, and whether or not we would be able to catch a train back to Bangkok in the evening. The guidebook suggested that a bus runs from Kachanaburi at about 7pm, so we threw caution to the wind and bought a couple of single tickets.
Rattling through the Thai countryside on a third class train, windows wide open, is a strangely relaxing – if noisy – experience. Again, the train was scrupulously clean.
At regular intervals during the three-hour trip, an attendant appeared with a broom to sweep the carriages. The buffet service was provided by individual vendors, selling fresh satay, cold drinks, nuts, and fruit. At each station they would switch trains, giving a certain variety to the snacks on offer. At one station, a prolonged stop for hitching or unhitching freight cars allowed the passengers to take advantage of the trackside market.
We were slow to exit the station at Kachanaburi, which meant that most of the ‘tuc tucs’ and other motorised transport had already gone. Instead, we were approached by a couple of rickshaw operators, who promised us that the trip to the Bridge would take no more than 15 minutes – and they would show us the Allied cemetery as well.
Actually the Bridge itself was a bit of a circus. Of course we were glad to have gone to see it. But the sight of hundreds of people, elbowing each other out of the way to get their photos on the narrow track, surrounded by the usual tourist paraphernalia, brought mixed emotions. (Bearing in mind we are talking here about the infamous “Death Railway” where 16,000 Allied POW’s and countless thousands more labourers from neighbouring Japanese-occupied countries, died during construction.) Particularly sickening in this respect, was the behaviour of a group of five or six young Japanese men, who giggled and teased each other as they gathered their ‘happy snaps’. One has to ask oneself what the Japanese teach today’s children about this great feat of engineering.
We spent a few quiet minutes’ reflection at Kachanaburi’s war cemetery, before catching the bus back to Bangkok. At least most of the POW’s have known graves, which is more than can be said for the other labourers …