We woke up the next morning
to an incredible feast: full American breakfast set, a 6-course teowchew
porridge breakfast set, and a pot of fried rice for 4 persons. Were
we dreaming ? We were almost embarrassed to start and half-heartedly
insisted to the waiter that all these were too much.
happened last night was nothing less than a beacon of luck. We had
unwittingly paddled past the last of the accommodation along that
stretch of the river. Then I saw a fire burning on the bank and was
immediately very happy and paddled towards it. It was started by an
angler who also happened to be an employee of a resort nearby - Muang
Sing Resort. He recommended us immediately that we could stay there.
He advised us that the next accommodation was 20km downriver and a
3 hours paddle away.
there was no way that we were going to make it there alive. He was
sure that if we continued some spirits of the river would dragged
us down. At this moment, a big tourist boat "The River Kwai"
came roaring downriver and nearly capsized us. I readily believed
everything he said.
thawrai?", I asked the price as I knew we were in tycoon's territory.
Paeng, phan rooy bhat.", he stick out his index finger to indicate
1000 bhat. It will be the most expensive place we stayed on this trip
if we agreed.
pai!", I said go but I almost fell as I got out of the kayak.
My legs were wobbly from sitting in the kayak for 16 hours without
into his motorbike to check us in, and also to call out the resort's
pick-up for the rest of the gear. It was close to 11pm and I could
not think of anything else than to pray that the kitchen was still
JB had better squeezed out some shit to account for all these.
Glimpse of the Death Railway
way the geographical feature of the Thai-Burma border formed, it was
mountains on the Burmese side and the Maenam (River) Khlong on the
thai side. So between Yangoon and Bangkok, were the natural obstacles
of Burmese mountains and Thai rivers. If the Japanese wanted a supply
route to cart out Burmese resources to Thai ports, they would have
to cut a pass through the mountains and bridged Mae Nam Khlong. And
Australian Army historical records, it was written that "The
Burma-Thai railway lline crossed over the River Kwae Yai at Kanchanaburi,
traversed along the bank of Kwae Noi River, cut across the Thai-Burma
border at Chedi Sam Ong, continued on into Burma and joined the Burma
railway line at Thanbyuzayat. The total length of line constructed
was 419 kms. 303.95km being in Thailand and in Burma 111.05 kms."
Po Tiered Viaduct - With the town of Kanchanaburi approaching
we finally saw the first glimpse of the infamous death railway.
The Wang Po section of the Death Railway as seen from the river.
Two main viaducts followed the bottom of the cliff for some distance.
It was recorded that a ledge had to be carved out of the cliff
face to form a base for the bridge and embankment construction.
A River of Life
Muang Sing, the bamboo forests and high cliffs totally disappeared.
The river traveled along the kanchanaburi plains with farms and settlements
along the way. The banks were fertile and choked full with tropical
aquatic plants of many species. I recognized those that I had studied
in school during our ecological science classes. It was like the rainforest
or coral reefs of aquatic plants here.
passed elephant camps, fishing farms, orchards, monasteries, buddhist
retreats, sand mining factories, etc. And river kwai noi supported
them all; this diversity of activities.
scenes - I was amazeded by the layering, diveristy, and balance
of the aquatic plants. It looked to me like landscaping rather
than nature's works. It was wonderful to get close to an elephant
while paddling, except their easy toilet manners. See JB? photos:
Welcome at Kanchanaburi
we were reaching the end of our river kwai noi journey, a boat house
pulled up alongside us (yes, these things can be towed anywhere).
This time it was a group of teenagers who had rented the boat for
a couple of hours of drinks, dance, merry-making, and of course karaoke
singing (out of tune again!). When they saw us some of them started
whistling at us, egging us on, while others had their cameras snapping
captain saw this and then decided to get closer, and before we knew
it we were being raced! The alcohol-intoxicated teenagers were going
wild and cheering for us. It was very difficult to concentrate on
paddling indeed, but we were not going to lose - not infront of the
girls! After half an hour we finally eased off and let the boat passed
us. It was a typical thai sing-song welcome to our finishing just
a few kilometers ahead.
boat houses at Kanchanaburi - The boat houses were all brightly
painted with simple patterns. Tourists and Thais alike rented
them for river cruises and parties along the river kwai. Alhtough
I have never been to or seen Ducth canals, this scene looked "hollandnese"
to me... photo:
Bridge Over River Kwai
river kwai noi (noi means 'little' in Thai) joined river kwai yai
(big) to form River Kwai at Kachanaburi town, at the berthing area.
The river kwai noi was actually the true River Kwai, as the other,
river kwai yai was originally the Maenam Khlong River renamed. A few
decades ago, Maenam Khlong was dam and the outflow from this dam was
renamed River Kwai Yai. So while the railway bridge was originally
built over the Maenam Khlong, it now spans over the river kwai yai.
It stood about 2km from the confluence of the two rivers, and we paddled
upstream to see it.
curiosity many of us have with this bridge was of course from the
memorable 1950s movie "Bridge over River Kwai", and the
whistling song in the movie. Everyone knows why it was called the
death railway, as hundreds and thousands died building it. It was
a must-see place when you are in kanchanaburi. So we had decided to
end our river journey here. While JB had been here before, this was
my first time.
we reached the bridge it was close to sunset. We did not attempt to
land the kayaks to have a walk around or visit the museum. It was
late and there were too many tourists around. A landing would not
offered us a quiet moment we could have on the river. And in such
places of remembrance, silence was perhaps the best respect. We sat
in our kayaks watching the people traffic, watching the bridge, and
the changing color of light.
Over River Kwai - After 3 days paddling down the river kwai noi,
we reached the infamous bridge at sunset. Trains still ply through
this section with regular interval. Approaching at low speed,
it allow passengers inside the cabins to interact with tourists
shielding themselves on observation boxes on regaular section
of the railway. photo:
so we paddled on, one final time finding accommodation for our last
night. One of the most important consideration of finding the 'last
night accommodation', was the space to wash and dry the kayaks, before
we pack them for the flight. After asking around, finally we were
glad we found Sugarcane Resort, a guesthouse nested in the middle
of a lotus garden. It had a huge floating platform for washing, and
with rooms on the water, we could just tied our kayaks by it.
lucky to find it though, as the place was accessible only via a private
waterway entrace among the lotus garden. Looking at the faces of the
owner, I was quite sure she did not intended guests coming in from
that entrance !
Garden Stay - Our accommodation at Kanchanaburi was nested in
a lovely lotus garden. We had to enter and exit using a concealed
waterway among the lotus plants. photo:
Kwai Noi has much to offer to a paddler. The upper reaches flow through
dense bamboo forests and over small rapids. In the mid section, the
river glistened in its most majestic glory, flowing passing beautiful
waterfalls, high cliffs, and foothills of tall hills. Towards the
confluence, the landscaping of its banks by numerous aquatic plants
was just unbelieveablely breathtaking. It offered me something new
each day, with its diverse range of sights and experience presented
with a cool climate. The numerous charming boat houses along the river
were ideal for our kayaks, which we tied up while we rest. The next
day the kayaks were untied to continue the journey or just for a day's
initial plan, Plan A, was to find a North-South river route to Kanchanaburi,
by using Maenam Khlong. During World War II times, Maenam Khlong flowed
freely from Umphang in Northern Thailand all the way to Gulf of Thailand.
Instead we were thwarted and paddled the river kwai noi instead. While
I mentioned pre-expedition curses which brought about much uncertainties
and anxieties, I must also agreed that the paddling at the end had
so far always been sweet.
~~ the end ~~