|Tuesday||13/10/2015||Newcastle to Sydney|
|Wednesday||14/10/2015||Sydney 13.40pm to Singapore 19.05pm|
|Thursday||15/10/2015||Singapore 17.35pm to Bangkok 19.05pm|
|Saturday||17/10/2015||Bangkok to Amphawa|
|Sunday||18/10/2015||Amphawa to Kanchanaburi|
|Tuesday||20/10/2015||Kanchanaburi to Bangkok|
|Friday||23/10/2015||Bangkok 20.05pm to Singapore 23.30pm|
|Saturday||24/10/2015||Singapore 01.45am to Sydney 12.25pm|
1 Australian Dollar = 26 BHT
What It Cost
Sydney to Singapore return for 2 $904
Singapore to Bangkok return for 2 $431
Rucksack Inn – Singapore $43
O’Bangkok Hotel, Bangkok 2 nights@$26 $52
Kanchanaburi raft hotel $24
Phon Peng Guesthouse – Kanchanaburi 2 nights @ $24 $48
Mango Lagoon Guesthouse – Bangkok 2 nights @ $28 $56
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market $48
Tiger Temple $48
Elephant Camp $48
Tuesday 13th October, 2015
Newcastle to Sydney
Today is Elkie’s second birthday – a two-year old dolly! Mark and Lauren are at work and darling Abi is at ‘pweeschool’ so I have the bubba all to myself. We have a bath together and, as I always do, I tell her that she’s ‘loving and happy and clever and pretty and kind and sharing’ – she loves it – dear little one. She ‘helps’ me mop and clean the bathroom then we visit Pa at work.
Back home she has a two-year-old temper tantrum – so cute – then Mummy comes home at one and puts her to bed.
Mark is extra busy at work, so we might not be able to get to Sydney tonight. Our flight doesn’t leave till 2.30pm tomorrow so we’ll still have plenty of time to catch a train in the morning. But we always prefer to stay in Sydney the night before we travel – takes three hours off the trip time plus it adds an extra day to our holiday.
About three-thirty he rings to say that he can do the rest of his work through his phone so it’s a mad rush to finish packing and for Lauren to drive us to Hamilton Station for the 4.30pm train. We don’t let the dollies get out of the car – they always cry when they see us leave which, of course, makes us cry as well. Darlings!!
We pull into Central Station at seven o’clock and nearly kill ourselves running across Hyde Park to reach Jillian’s by 7.30pm which is when the concierge knocks off. Jillian is in Perth but has left the key at the desk – she’s so good to us.
Dumping our gear in her apartment – beautiful night-time view of the city which always blows us away – and head off for the nearby East Sydney Hotel. The temperature has dropped and with a drizzling rain, the pub is warm and cosy inside. We have dinner and drinks but can’t stay too late as Mark still has a lot to finish on his laptop. While Mark works for hours, I have an early night – spoilt!
Wednesday 14th October, 2015
Sydney to Singapore
We wake at seven, snuggle and shower. Mark has more emails to get through, so I wash my hair and make breakfast. We always take our own food for the plane, so I walk up to the Woolloomooloo Woolworths – very upmarket and trendy compared to the Woolies at home that only cater to us Newie bogans. I buy salami, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and crackers to eat on the flight plus a coffee for Mark.
At 10.30am we walk across Hyde Park in warm sunshine to catch the airport train. After checking in our bags and passing through immigration we eat at McDonalds then Facetime Lauren and the dollies at Jackie’s – all there for lunch as usual on a Wednesday.
We have turns on the massage chairs before boarding for a 2.30pm take-off. We’ve scored three seats each so with a Triazapam we both sleep for at least three hours! Besides sleeping we have our picnic that we’ve smuggled on board – apparently bringing our own food is a no-no because when one of the hostesses sees Mark eating a big bag of chips she says ‘sir, not allowed. Just don’t let me see you’ – nice.
We’re actually flying with Scoot for the first time. It’s Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier costing us only $980 return to Bangkok for the two of us. And because Scoot is owned by Singapore Airlines we need to have a stop-over in Singapore itself. With no more planes to Bangkok leaving today, we’ll be staying here overnight. We could book any flight tomorrow so we decided to book one leaving late afternoon which will give us plenty of time for Singapore sight-seeing.
So, arriving at Changi’s Terminal 2 (the crappy budget terminal) at 7pm, we’re outside in the heat and humidity in half an hour. I’d booked a hotel through Trip Advisor after experiencing Singapore’s expensive accommodation before. It’s called the Rucksack Inn in Little India – a backpacker place but we’ve booked a double room so it should be okay.
A taxi takes us from the airport across the Helix Bridge where we have a perfect view of the cityscape and the incredible Marina Bay Sands Hotel on our left – that’s where we’re heading tonight!
We like the look of the Rucksack Inn – a small, colourful foyer with lots of young travellers lying around on lounges and travel posters lining the walls. At the desk the lovely young girl seems to find it ‘cute’ that we ‘old’ people are staying in a backpackers! She also happily announces ‘many people – you hab to be sep-ar-ate’ – apparently, we’re in a dorm instead of the double room I’ve already booked and paid for – whatever – she’s very sweet and it’s no big deal anyway.
Someone shows us the dorm which isn’t too bad with eight double bunks – luckily, we both have a bottom bunk each. Pulling out the only ‘posh’ clothes we’ve brought with us, we’re outside in minutes waiting for a bus. To save time, we decide on a taxi which only costs $8 to our destination – the Marina Bay Sands.
This spectacular, futuristic hotel consists of three curved towers housing over two and a half thousand rooms but the piece-de-resistance is the three-acre SkyPark on top of the building with swimming pools, gardens, and jogging paths. It bridges all three towers with a segment cantilevered off the northern end. We’ve seen photos of the pool which is said to be the most famous and stunning infinity pool in the world but there’s no way we’ll be able to even look at it let alone swim in it – only accessible for hotel guests at a minimum of $500 per night.
No worries, our plan tonight is to have dinner and drinks at KuDeTa (now called C’est La Vie) on the top level but first we check out the bottom floor. A continuous lobby links the three towers and is itself spectacular – an atrium at least twenty floors high! We remember we’d watched a documentary on the hotel’s construction so it brings home how amazing this building really is. Inside are tall trees, giant Chinese lanterns and designer shops, restaurants, nightclubs, theatres and huge underground casinos.
We make our way to the lift to take us to the bar but Mark is wearing shorts (very dressy shorts) despite which is still a no-no after 5.30pm. Ok we’ll come back tomorrow.
So now we catch a taxi to Smith Street – ‘eat’ street in Chinatown – a favourite old haunt. Actually, the whole Chinatown enclave is a favourite with us – it has an energy that the rest of Singapore, as lovely as it is, seems to lack. It reminds us of the Asia we love most – temples, food stalls, markets, bars, karaoke lounges and buzzing with people. Sitting at an outside table we order a feast of mussels, prawn balls, Tom Yum soup and a beer each.
The temperature really doesn’t seem to have dropped that much and the humidity has sent my hair into a wet frizz.
Nearby is the Sri Mariamman Temple where a loud festival is underway – Hindu temples always seem to have some sort of festival happening! Outside its colourful, intricate façade, we take off our shoes then watch women singing and dancing in bright saris while men in white dhotis and more saried ladies making offerings and burning incense – love it here!
But now it’s time to head back ‘home’. Our taxi driver seems nice at first and we like that he’s decorated the entire dashboard with waving cats – a good luck Asian symbol. But when we reach the Rucksack Inn he wants $17 even though the metre reads $8 – ‘rush hour city charge’ he says – wtf?
Inside we head straight for our dorm to change in the dark. There are about eight other people but everyone is quiet and we both sleep well with earplugs anyway.
Thursday 15th October, 2015
Singapore to Bangkok
I wake at 5.30am for a toilet visit then fall back asleep till eight o’clock. Mark is already up, showered and shaved so I quickly have a shower and make toast and tea while Mark works on his phone. Lahib, the same friendly girl on the desk from last night, explains the transport situation as we want to get back to the Marina Sands Hotel again this morning.
So, at 9am we’re heading towards the bay in one of Singapore’s very modern and very clean buses. The mixture of old and new architecture makes for an interesting ride – mosques, Hindu and Chinese temples, the old shophouses of Chinatown and the colonial Raffles Hotel, all with a backdrop of cutting-edge buildings and skyscrapers. It’s a mishmash that somehow works.
It’s also a thrill to be driving along Serangoon Road after recently watching the television series of the same name on the ABC starring the gorgeous Don Hany. The series is set in the mid-1960s which was a tumultuous time in Singapore’s history. The country was in a mess – about to break away from Malaysia and gain independence as the British colonial rulers were gradually pulling out. Must watch it again now that we’ve actually been here.
This is our fourth time in Singapore and we have a very different outlook to that first visit in 1999. Then we thought it too clean and sterile compared to the vibrancy of the rest of Asia but now we’ve learnt to appreciate that it’s much more than just shopping malls and tourist traps. Instead it has a fascinating cultural diversity which grew out of the country’s history.
And here it is straight from the internet – modern Singapore’s history is said to have started in 1819 when Englishman Sir Stamford Raffles was sent here to establish a British port to try and break the Dutch domination of shipping in the area. Raffles decided that it should be a free port and that no port duties should be collected. As a result, migrants and merchants from China, India, Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula and the Middle East flocked to the island. Many Chinese and Indian immigrants came to work in the rubber plantations and tin mines, and their descendants later formed the bulk of the island’s population. Before Raffles arrived, there were around 1,000 people living in Singapore, mostly Malays – but by 1869, migration had swelled Singapore’s population to 100,000.
Each wave of immigrants brought their own culture, language, customs, religion and festivals. Intermarriage and integration created the very multi-cultural Singapore of today – ethnic Chinese form 74.2%, Malays 13.3%, Indians 9.2%, plus many expatriates from all over the globe.
Raffles also didn’t want the island to develop higgledy piggledy, organising it into distinct ethnic neighbourhoods of Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street that still exist today.
Anyway, end of the history lesson and back to the present. We pass the beautiful colonial Raffles Hotel, named after you-know-who, but we won’t have time for a visit this trip. Our focus this morning is to explore the Gardens by the Bay which is adjacent to the Marina Bay Sands then hopefully have lunch at C’est La Vie.
The bus drops us opposite the hotel where we catch an elevator to the sixth floor to where we look down into the vast atrium and the spectacular lobby far below. From here the overhead Lions Bridge leads us from the hotel to Dragonfly Lake dotted with fountains and tiny palm islands. On the Dragonfly Bridge, the views are amazing especially looking back at the space-age hotel and the alien forms of the Supertree Grove ahead.
The Grove contains eighteen fifty-metre-high Supertrees that not only mimic the shape of trees with long trunks and fluted tops but also mimic the ecological function of trees. Solar cells inside the structures provide energy for lighting and the funnel-shaped top collects rainwater for irrigation throughout the entire Gardens. It’s environmental sustainability at its very best!
And besides all the science stuff this place is stunning!! And besides that, it’s also swelteringly hot! This means our first task is to buy gelatos and drinks before paying the $5 entry fee to the OCBC Skyway. Here a friendly man tells us, ‘very hot, but lucky, no humidity’. What??!!!
The OCBC Skyway is a long walkway that connects two of the biggest Supertrees. At twenty-two metres off the ground we have a panoramic view of the Gardens as well as the Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer (a giant ferris wheel like the one in London). Also, from the top we get to look directly into the ‘trees’. These vertical gardens are home to ferns, vines, orchids, bromeliads and lots more tropical plants – lovely!
Now, after a steamy ten-minute walk towards the Bay, we come across the Conservatory complex – the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. These are the largest climate-controlled glasshouses in the world and look like giant misshapen bubbles. At the Visitor Centre we pay $20 entry then gratefully enter the coolness of the air-conditioned Flower Dome. This vast three-acre interior replicates the mild, dry climates of the Mediterranean, Australia, South America and South Africa.
The adjacent Cloud Forest dome is even more spectacular this time replicating high altitude tropical plant life and is dominated by a cantilevered skywalk skirting a giant cascading waterfall. The entry opens directly onto these massive falls which spray cool water all over us – heaven! An elevator takes us to the top where we follow the spiralling Cloud Walk that encircles the mountain, densely planted with orchids, ferns, colourful Bromeliads and Begonias.
It’s time now to head back to the Marina Bay Sands to hopefully have lunch at C’est La Vie. I’m worried about the price but Mark says we’re going anyway. At the hotel, he changes into a silk shirt and covered shoes to make sure he’s dressed appropriately this time. We’re told we have a half hour wait to get up to the bar so we visit the Casino where we’ll have a drink. Bizarrely there isn’t anywhere to buy alcohol – an Asian thing?
Anyway, after a wander around the designer shops (boring!), we’re allowed to enter the lift. I must say here that last week I found a great tip on a traveller’s blog. Apparently C’est La Vie is right above the Sky Park Observation Deck where people pay $22SGD to see the view. On the other hand, entry to C’est La Vie is free so you can have the same view and enjoy a few drinks for the same price!
The lift stops on the 56th floor where a pretty waitress directs us to a table inside the restaurant. Ordering mineral water because we’re so hot, we then splurge on crispy, sticky squid, a prawn salad and a chocolate fondant cake – feel very blessed. There seems to be a lot of business people here having ‘very important’ meetings over lunch while the balcony outside is packed with western tourists and ex-pats. We find a table that gives us a panoramic view of the city’s skyline, the Gardens By the Bay and Singapore Strait itself.
To top off our posh meal, Mark orders an expensive beer while I order a cocktail that has a big green chili floating in it! In the end, the total bill only comes to $139 – cheap, really!
At two o’clock we catch a bus back to the Rucksack Inn where we grab our bags and find a taxi to take us to the airport – quick and only $15. After checking in our bags, we eat chicken quesadillas washed down with beer and soda water then take off on time at 5.30pm on our way to Bangkok.
Mark has an aisle seat while I have a window seat with that precious empty seat in between. No time to sleep on this short flight but it’s always nice to be able to spread out. Mark reads while I watch the laptop before landing in the dark at 6.50pm at the old Don Muang Airport where all the cheap carriers have been banished.
The bus area is in chaos so we decide to catch a taxi which is also chaos. Six long lines of people take ages and we finally share a cab with a young Dutch couple also heading for Khao San Road. They’re giants as most Dutch people are and only one pack fits in the boot so we’ve got the other three packs on our laps – a very squeezy trip! We chat the whole way and tell them about the nicer soi area to find somewhere to stay.
We all end up getting dropped off at the entrance to Soi Rambutri, then Mark and I find a room at O’Bangkok next to Baan Sabaii where we’ve stayed a few times before. It’s nice to book into a different place for a change. Our room is on the second floor with a wide window overlooking the lovely tree-shaded soi. For $26 we have a big bed, air-conditioning and our own bathroom.
We know the food at Wild Orchid is always good so we head there for dinner – chicken satay, chicken salad plus beers and diet coke to mix with my Bacardi. Ahhh!! Back in wonderful Thailand! And, of course, one of the first things we must do is have a one-hour foot massage in the laneway across from the temple. Great people watching and the massage ladies keep running off to bring us more beers and cokes while a young man plays beautiful tunes on a violin – heaven! By the way, my right foot is a ‘cankle’ and my right knee is so swollen that my knee cap has disappeared. Looks like I’ll be limping my way around Thailand.
Bed at 11pm after a wonderful day.
Friday 16th October, 2015
Roosters inside the temple wake us at 6am – our favourite alarm clocks. We quickly shower so we can walk around the sois in the peace of early morning. At this early hour, the alleyways are quiet with only a few locals starting their day. Near the temple entrance we sit on plastic chairs to eat fruit salad, muesli, yoghurt, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice – only $6 – no wonder we love it here.
We’re staying in Bangkok again tonight but want to look for a different guesthouse so we wander over to the sois, about a fifteen-minute walk. We cross Phra Athit Road on the corner near the fort where old shophouses covered in flowering bougainvillea line the street then cross small klongs overhung with spreading trees. Love this residential area where people are cooking outside and with glimpses of the river between old teak houses. Over in Soi 3 most places seem to be full so we try an old villa in Soi 1 – a note stuck to the gate reads ‘manager gone to buy food’ – cute.
Anyway, my swollen knee is giving me a lot of grief so we’ll be better staying where we are in Soi Rambutri as I won’t need to do as much walking – everything is right on our doorstep. Now it’s time for another massage – a full body this time. At Pink near our hotel we follow a little massage girl up a steep set of rickety wooden stairs to an airy room overlooking the laneway and the temple trees. It’s the usual simple set-up around here – a mattress on the floor and that’s it. Mark has a traditional Thai massage (250Baht) while I have an oil one (300Baht) – both excellent.
From here we catch a tuktuk to the Amulet Market on the edge of the Chao Praya River near Wat Mahatat. We’ve been here many, many times before, lugging home great Buddhist and Hindu statues, ceramic urns and vases, and so much more I can’t even remember. Our house is full to bursting so we won’t be buying anything more today.
We mainly just want to hang out in this very traditional area. Even though we’ve bought lots of things here ourselves, this isn’t a place where tourists shop – it’s a true local neighbourhood where Thai people come to buy amulets and statues for their own homes.
Another reason for coming here today is to catch a ferry at the nearby Banglamphu Wharf but first we have another breakfast in one of the many simple waterside cafés that overlook floating beds of pretty purple-flowering water hyacinth and the river beyond. These are all family-run places with the cooking done in the back corner so I wander over to watch. Meanwhile a monk has turned up so I make Mark take photos of me with the monk in the background – I love monks!!
From our table on the water’s edge we watch the endless stream of river traffic then head for the wharf. On a flat-bottomed ferry we cross the Chao Praya for Thonburi on the opposite bank. This is where we plan to visit the Siriraj Medical Museum situated within the grounds of Siriraj Hospital, the oldest in Bangkok.
I’d found out about this place when I was searching for something different to do in Bangkok. Nicknamed the Museum of Death, this is supposed to be a bit freaky but we’ll give it a go.
Off the ferry, we ask directions to find the museum in an old building with a wide wooden staircase leading to the third floor. Even the landing has a creepy feel with lots of dark wood and old faded portraits. Entering the Anatomical Museum, the first thing we see is a disturbing row of jars containing co-joined twin babies pickled in formaldehyde. Even more disturbing is that on the bench in front of the babies are present day toys, like fluffy teddies and tiny cars, obviously left by visitors – oh God, I think it’s been a mistake coming here!
In another space we pose for photos with a row of skeletons then find pickled body parts in room after room. One entire area contains a person that we presume is the woman in the photo hanging on the wall – she’s been vertically sliced into thin slivers – like ham in a deli! Her whole body is displayed slice by slice in tall, glass cases!
In more glass cases are bodies stripped of their skin and another that has the entire nervous system and nothing else – interesting but feeling a bit grossed out and decide to give the rest of it a big miss!
Back in the ferry to Banglamphu, we catch a tuktuk to Soi Rambutri and at O’Bangkok we pay for an extra night then rest for an hour in the coolness of our room.
Later we walk through the temple to Thanon Rambutri to see if Mumma Massage is back but we’re disappointed that it’s still only a guesthouse. Once this was the best massage place in Bangkok so we don’t know why it closed down. I can see Sharlo sitting inside but not game to ask after her husband in case something bad has happened.
From here we wind our way through the tiniest of alleyways till we pop out on Khao San Road – we’ve been here so many times that we know all the shortcuts and back alleys in this whole area. Mark wants to have a suit made so we cross over to Aziz Clothing on the bottom floor of the D&D Guesthouse. Mark has had all his business clothes made here for the last fifteen years and Alex has always looked after us.
We ask the lady on the counter if we can see him. A guy turns up a few minutes later saying, ‘I remember you’. But Mark says he can’t, because it’s not even Alex! Do they think that any old Indian person will do – like we wouldn’t notice? Whatever! Alex is probably visiting relatives in India as he often does. Never mind, Mark is measured for a dark grey suit with an extra pair of dress pants, blue casual pants, grey travel pants and two business shirts – not bad for $430AUD.
Now Mark decides to have a haircut, so I walk back through the temple grounds to Pink for a one hour $6 facial. We meet in the room and I love Mark’s hair – the best cut he’s ever had I think. We take the laptop down to Sawadee Smile to sit in the open-air restaurant and upload photos onto Facebook.
While Mark orders a green curry, I have a hair wash and blow dry at Pink for only $10 (being pampered today). Later we have drinks and snacks at Madam Masur which is a new place that’s sprung up on the corner since we were here five years ago. It’s one of the coolest places in Soi Rambutri with lots of cane and bamboo, a thatched roof, cobbled stone bathrooms, floor cushions and lots of ethnic pillows and wall hangings. Very laid-back Thailand without being too try-hard.
It’s still only early (about 7pm) so we wander up Soi Rambutri past the original Sawadee Guesthouse before settling into a sidewalk table at The Green Café. We buy beers and cocktails (but 2 get 1 free) – a margarita, a tequila sunrise and a caprinia. A Lisu tribal woman makes name bands for Abi and Elkie for only 100 Baht before Mark has a fitting for his suit at Aziz.
Home at 10pm – apparently being sensible for an early start.
Saturday 17th October, 2015
Bangkok to Amphawa
Up at 6am to shower, ‘snuggle’, and pack. This morning we’re off to the canal-side village of Amphawa in the west of Bangkok which would only take an hour and a half by bus but we’re going the adventurous route which will take a lot longer. I read about this in an old Lonely Planet – a boxed section called The Long Way to Amphawa – and always planned to do it one day. That day is now!
By 6.30am we’re in the laneway waking up a guy sleeping in his taxi. He’s hilarious – never shuts up the whole way to Thonburi’s Wong Wian Yai Train Station. He cracks up every time he says something which sets us off as well. He points out statues and pictures of the King, ‘this one Rama 9’ and ‘this one Rama 5’. The taxi roof is covered with pictures of him and his family and he points out a photo of himself as a soldier fighting in Vietnam. We also have to look at his traffic fine for running a red light with an actual photo of his taxi on the fine – ‘traffic camera no good!’ – more hilarity!
After the best taxi ride ever, he drops us at the station where we buy tickets (50cents each) for the town of Samut Sakhon. We love this little station – very quiet with locals only and monks walking past. The train won’t arrive for thirty minutes so we have time for breakfast in one of the open-air cafes at the end of the platform.
The people are friendly as most Thais are and laugh as we try to order our food. No English here at all so we just point to someone else’s dish – Mark a noodle soup and I end up with chicken with rice plus a soup that I’m supposed to drink straight from the bowl. With green tea and coffee, the whole bill is only $3.60.
Boarding the train after breakfast, the carriages have open windows which we much prefer to air-conditioning. We get a better feel for the country when we can hear and smell what’s going on outside instead of looking through a glass pane. About half an hour after leaving Thonburi, the city buildings give way to small villages and towns where people live in small wooden houses built on the very edge of the tracks.
This rural area is especially green and lush with palm trees, rice paddies and ponds filled with pink water lilies. Stopping at tiny stations, there’s never a dull moment – always someone selling food, monks and the local people themselves. We’ve no idea how long this trip will take and just watch for the names on the platforms even though most of them are written in Thai. But after an hour and a half we’ve reached the busy port town of Samut Sakhon. It’s only a few kilometres from the Gulf of Thailand and that’s where we need to get to for the next part of our journey.
The train actually rolls right into the middle of a busy food market. The seafood is very fresh – eels, fish and frogs are still swimming around in buckets of water. For some reason one lady turns a frog inside out to show us how fresh it is – what??!! And beside fresh seafood, vendors are also selling dried fish so the air smells extra stinky.
From the market, we walk down to the main road in search of the pier where the Mahachai Canal meets the Tha Chin River. This is where the ferries cross to Ban Laem on the other side. Typically, the edge of the river is clogged with water hyacinth and old wooden fishing boats are tied up near the wharf. We board the flat-bottomed ferry taking a few motor-bikes with us as well as passengers carrying bags of fruit and vegetables from the market. The crossing takes a mere ten minutes – a lovely experience on this gorgeous calm sunny day with not another tourist in sight.
At Ban Laem we find a much quieter little town and hire a couple of samlors (bicycle rickshaws) waiting outside the ferry wharf. Firstly they take us to buy cold water on this hot and sweaty day then ride us out to Wat Chong Lom situated on the banks of the river. A sign outside warns of a serious dress code for women – no shorts, mini-skirts, bare bellies, tank tops, strapless tops or even tops with wide necks! Luckily, I always bring a sarong for such occasions to wrap around my shoulders.
Inside are beautiful wall murals and a statue of a monk wearing sunglasses for some reason. We light candles and burn incense for our precious Angie – yes, you’re with us here too my darling!
Across the road is Tha Chalong Station where we plan to catch a train to Samut Songkhram and the famous Mae Klong railway market (Train Market). But the station is deserted and a young girl at a market stall outside tells us ‘train finished, little people’ – meaning it doesn’t run anymore because of the lack of passengers. A shame but a couple of guys nearby offer to take us to the bus station on the back of their motor-bikes.
We’re dropped at a bus stop on a main road and are soon speeding towards Samut Songkhram in a packed mini-van. We arrive an hour later and head straight for the market. The Maeklong Railway Market is not just any old traditional Thai market, it’s located right on the train line and, a few times a day, the train runs directly through it. When the train arrives, vendors lower their umbrellas and move their produce off the tracks then as soon as the train passes, everything is moved back and selling goes on as usual.
So now we just wander around and I buy a blue and white polka dot dress for Elkie. A group of young school girls stop to talk to us and tell us that the train isn’t finished permanently, just closed for a few months for repairs. So maybe one day we’ll see the whole craziness really happen.
By now we’re feeling tired and ready to reach Amphawa, our final destination. Outside the market we meet a couple of guys with motor-bike taxis and off we fly for the one-hour trip – very exciting. Slowing down on the outskirts of the town we ask to be dropped at the canal so we inch our way through a busy market till we see the water.
Both sides of the canal are alive with cafés, restaurants and wooden shop-houses selling souvenirs, books and Thai sweets. A pedestrian bridge crosses the khlong (canal) to the opposite bank and the popular Amphawa Floating Market. Every weekend Thai people flock here from the surrounding region and especially from Bangkok. Vendor boats park along the two canal banks, ready to whip up a bowl of ‘boat noodles’, rice porridge, even grilled squid and river prawns, to order.
After our long hot bike ride, we stop for drinks at a table overlooking all the action then it’s time to find somewhere to stay. Apparently, this could be a problem because of all the Thai tourists but we really want to find a place right on the khlong and particularly in one of the lovely old teak guesthouses just behind us. The problem is we don’t even know for sure if they are guesthouses because there aren’t any English signs around here at all. I ask a man in a shophouse, ‘guesthouse?’ but he obviously doesn’t understand and calls over a teenage boy who nods ‘room?’.
I follow him up two flights of wooden stairs while Mark stays with the packs. The rooms are very Thai which is what we love but then they want $60 a night – way over our budget so I wander further along the canal looking for a cheaper option. I do find a room for $20 but it’s stinking hot so we decide to splurge on the expensive air-conditioned place – considering the heat and humidity we’ll really need it if we want to sleep tonight.
This guesthouse is also worth it for the wonderful traditional ambience – all walls and ceilings are polished teak while the floors are a cool dark slate. Old glass-fronted cabinets hold brass bowls, Chinese crochery and cooking utensils while potted plants hang from the ceiling. Verandahs on both floors overlook the canal and we even have our own side verandah that looks down onto the market on this side of the bridge. We’re very happy.
We seek refuge from the heat for a quick rest in the cool of our room then wander along the waterfront walkways towards the river. Here we come across a row of amazing massage places, all open to the khlong so we can lie back and watch Amphawa’s canal-side way of life at the same time.
Like our guesthouse, the massage place is completely lined with teak and has mattresses covered in colourful Thai prints spread out all over the floor as well as a few wooden massage chairs set up for foot rubs. This definitely has to be up there as one of the best massage settings we’ve ever experienced – and we’ve been to more than we can count!
So, for the next hour we both enjoy a full-body Thai massage each – a bit painful as they always are – while lovely Asian music plays in the background. My lady calls over her friend to look at my ‘cankle’ so they both have turns of working on it – it’s looking even more gross today!
Considering we haven’t eaten since breakfast at the station in Thonburi we’re starving by now. And it’s also time to head over to the floating market. This is the reason we’ve come to Amphawa and it doesn’t disappoint. Along the khlong is a long row of charming old wooden shops selling Amphawa souvenirs, and of course, lots of sweets, snacks and ice cream – Thai people have a very sweet tooth and seem to be nibbling all day long.
In front of the walkway are wooden benches built in tiers right down to the water’s edge. Here boat ladies congregate in their little canoes sheltered from the sun by faded old umbrellas. The boats are so close to each other, the umbrellas overlap.
Each lady has a sign explaining what she’s selling – all sorts of seafood (fish, prawns, shellfish and squid) as well as pork and chicken skewers. These are all grilled precariously in the bottom of their little boats. We perch on the top row of the narrow steps leading down to the water and order seafood noodles for Mark and pork skewers for me. We call out to one of the ladies who passes the food up to us.
Further down we find another spot to order chicken satay and king prawns to share – all eaten at tiny tables on the water-side stairs.
Also, along here, long-tail boats leave at regular intervals for scenic tours of the Mae Klong. Two tours are available – the temple tour and the island tour. Tour operators must number almost as many as tourists and we’re soon talked into a one-hour boat ride to visit the outlying temples – only 50Baht each (about $2)!
Typically, we can’t leave till the boat is full and, in the meantime, the skies have opened up and we’re in the middle of a tropical downpour. Our long-tail does have a roof but we’re still getting drenched while the boat ladies hang plastic sheets from beneath their umbrellas so they can keep cooking – this afternoon rain thing is very common here at this time of year. The funny thing is, we love it – the temperature is still high and we know the rain won’t last for long anyway.
Finally, we have enough passengers and pull away from the wharf heading back up the narrow khlong turning right as we reach the wide Mae Klong River.
Soon we veer off into one of the small canals that pass through a rural area dotted with stilt houses, fruit orchards and temples. We stop at a couple of lovely wats all surrounded by lush vegetation. My favourite temple is where I crawl on my hands and knees to be blessed by an old saffron-robed monk sitting cross-legged on a carved platform – my head can’t be above his for some reason. He rubs a white paste on my forehead then we tap brass temple bells with a wooden gong – I’m in Buddhist heaven!
Back in the boat, the rain has stopped and we float past Amphawa’s picturesque riverside scenery with its appealing laid-back ambience. The next temple is much bigger than the first ones and has the weirdest setup with statues of monks carrying alms bowls going around and around on a circular platform – Mark says ‘look, a monk-y-go-round’. Ha ha he’s made me laugh! This temple also has a few cows but the next temple (supposedly the highlight) has a zoo!!
Wat Bang Koong sits in the middle of nowhere and for some reason has a funny little zoo with a camel, crocodiles, an ostrich, a dozen deer, two goats, peacocks and ducks. It’s all a bit tragic but the Asian visitors are happily snapping away. We buy water and fruit at a little market just inside the gate then wait for ages on the pier watching catfish swarming in the river just off the bank. As expected, the tour has lasted much longer than the promised hour as we need to wait at every stop for everyone to get back on board so we’re all happy to dump the last temple and head back to Amphawa.
Just where the canal meets the river, we notice a lovely restaurant at the very end of the boardwalk and decide we’ll head there tonight. On dark we have a snack and a drink on our side of the khlong where we watch longtails chug past and people from a nearby restaurant washing their dishes in the canal.
Strings of coloured lights on both sides of the canal are prettily reflected in the still water. The stars are out and with no breeze at all it’s very lovely here at night although there’s still no escaping the heat and high humidity.
Crossing the pedestrian-bridge we wander through the floating market which is much nicer now that most of the day-trippers have headed back home. We chat with two friendly transvestites, one with a big white pompom on top of his head which he shows us is his actual hair.
At the end of the market we find the restaurant we’d seen from the boat this afternoon and settle in for an excellent seafood meal and lots of beers and bacardis. Longtail boats taking tourists on fire-fly spotting tours continually come and go from the canal. We’d thought of doing this but after our overly long temple tour we’ve had enough of boats for the day.
Bed at ten o’clock in our lovely air-conditioned room – an excellent day!
Sunday 18th October, 2015
Amphawa to Kanchanburi
Mark’s alarm wakes us at six o’clock as we want an early start – I have a lot planned today as always. After both showering, Mark packs while I put on my makeup sitting on our little verandah. Below I watch the market, busy already and see a monk loading up his alms bowl with goodies from different stalls – just helping himself to whatever he wants by the look of things as the stall-holders don’t bat an eye-lid.
Before we leave, Mark makes us hot chocolate and coffee on the canal-side verandah then we watch the boat ladies paddling towards the bridge and setting up their little floating kitchens for today’s market. From up here we also have a birds-eye view of the lamp-posts all topped with colourful figurines of a lady in a sampan filled with fruit and veggies – adorable. And fortunately, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and it seems that we have another hot sunny day ahead of us.
Setting off with our packs through the market, one of the stall ladies asks, ‘where you go – Bangkok?’ – ‘No, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market’. She beckons a man in the street who tells us that we can find transport on the next corner.
All too easy and next minute we’re crammed into the back of a small songthaew flying towards
Damnoen Saduak. It’s a cheap (150 Baht) and fun thirty-minute trip through little villages and green countryside until we pull into a dirt carpark in front of the ticket office. A young man quickly takes our packs to squirrel then away into storage while we check out the prices. A very eager lady shows us the price list on a large poster – 300Baht each for an hour – bloody hell! – $120 for the two of us – we don’t think so!
We decide to dump the market, which is supposed to be a tourist trap anyway, and drag our bags out of the storage room. The young ticket woman isn’t giving up, ‘okay 2,000Baht’ but we keep heading for the carpark. Now it’s ‘okay, 600Baht’ (only $24) and we’re happy! Storing our bags once again we climb down into one of the small longtails tied up on the edge of the little canal.
Actually, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a maze of these narrow khlongs that were built during the middle of the nineteenth century. There were over two hundred of these tiny canals around here and they provided the main form of transport for villagers carrying their wares to lots of little floating markets in this area. The main floating market here today is still a true market selling produce that comes directly from local farms but also lots of Thai souvenirs with the tourist dollar in mind.
So anyway, even though this might be a tourist trap, we love chugging our way through this lush little canal with tall shade trees overhanging the water. The banks are lined with palms and banana trees and every now and again we pass a teak house where the resourceful owners sell cold drinks, Thai food or local weavings.
At one place we stop so I can buy two polished wooden bowls from a very old man sitting on his verandah surrounded by large pots of flowering bougainvillea. The banks now are lined with local homes, so close we can almost touch them, and all very appealing with hanging baskets of orchids and ferns and little temple houses perched on carved posts.
Soon we enter a larger canal and the market proper. Here, mostly female, traders, wearing wide-brimmed straw hats, sell their wares from tiny wooden sampans. Locally grown fruit and vegetables are sold to people from the surrounding districts while tourists bargain for souvenirs and food cooked in the canoes themselves. A funny man with only one tooth sells us tiny coconut pancakes then coconut ice-cream both presented in green coconut shells as we float up next to him.
We jump out at an open-sided pavilion crammed with market stalls – we try on silly hats and do NOT buy any of the tacky souvenirs for sale. Back in the boat we chug through more little canals seeing monks in orange robes paddling by and a man with a hideously huge python wrapped around his neck. An old lady with white paste all over her face cooks us deep fried bananas in the bottom of her sampan – love it!
There’s so much to see and despite the ‘touristy’ thing it’s still real if that makes sense. These are real village people trying to make a living and their happy faces make this whole thing a lovely experience.
Back at the ticket office we retrieve our packs then ask the same eager little woman about getting transport to Kanchanburi. She tells us to wait on the road and wait for ‘yellow car’ and writes down instructions in Thai in case we need to ask for help. Outside, we escape the burning sun under a bamboo shelter where a couple of local men are playing draughts with bottle caps.
After twenty-minutes we decide to start walking then soon see a yellow songthaew speeding towards us. We’re not sure if this is the ‘yellow car’ but we flag it down anyhow and it stops to pick us up. Songthaews are as common as tuktuks in Thailand especially for longer trips outside the bigger cities. They’re a sort of modified pick-up truck with a roof and two rows of seats at the back which we share with about five other passengers. We talk to a couple of ladies who are off to shop in the town of Bang Phae which they tell us is where the songthaew terminates.
The language communication thing isn’t perfect so we hand our Thai-written note to a nice lady dressed in all-white who passes it around to the other passengers. After much animated conversing and hand-waving, everyone agrees that from Bang Phae we’ll need to catch a bus to Kanchanburi. A grey-haired man next to Mark says that he’s heading for Kan as well so he’ll show us where to catch the bus – lovely people!
Fortunately for me, we stop on the way for petrol and I race for the toilets for a kabumbah – no paper so manage the Thai way with a hose up the bum – cooling but now have wet pants!
Arriving in Bang Phae forty minutes later, the lady in white asks our driver what bus we should catch then moves her fingers to imitate walking and points across the road but the grey-haired man has already beckoned us to follow him – everybody wants to help.
The bus stop is sweltering with no shade at all so we buy water from a nearby shop. Luckily, we only have to wait ten minutes till our bus arrives because we’re about to drop dead from the heat. The bus is big and airy with open windows and little whirring fans attached to the ceiling. Our driver has no teeth and beams a big gummy smile the whole way while the lady conductor is super-bossy, ‘you sit here’ then seeing our red faces, ‘you drink water’ which she grabs from the top of our big pack and shoves it into Mark’s hand – ha, ha, this is fantastic!
The trip only takes an hour or so and before we know it we’re on the outskirts of town. We haven’t been to Kanchanburi for eighteen years when we were here with an Intrepid group. It’s funny to think how much travelling we’ve done since then but we’ve never lost the excitement for travel that we had all those years ago.
At the bus station we catch a songthaew past the War Cemetery to the Sugar Cane I Guesthouse at the southern end of Mae Nam Khwae Road. This is the backpacker area with lots of cheap guesthouses clustered along the river and we’re happy to see plenty of cafés, restaurants, bars and little massage places. Yes, this will do us nicely for a couple of days.
We’re also happy with the Sugar Cane Guesthouse which consists of cute wooden bungalows as well as an open-sided thatched restaurant perched high above the river, which is, of course, the famous River Kwai – more about that later.
But the real reason we chose Sugar Cane is because they also have raft-houses! This is something we’ve always wanted to do and Kanchanburi has them in force! We book in for only $24/night which gives us our own bathroom and a large bedroom lined with woven bamboo. And besides this we have our own balcony looking upriver with other raft-houses further along the bank.
We have a quick lunch in the restaurant overlooking the river then head up to Mae Nam Khwae Road to check out our surroundings. Of course, our first priority is to have a massage – a foot one for Mark and a very oily full-body for me.
Now we need a siesta after being on the go all day then shower ready for a busy night out – lots of bar hopping is definitely on the agenda. The view of the river in this early part of the evening is especially lovely with mirror calm water and lights twinkling from nearby raft-houses and other guesthouses and restaurants in both directions along the riverbank.
It’s dark by the time we make it up to Mae Nam Khwae Road which is even busier at night. We decide to check out a few other guesthouses as we want to move tomorrow – had the raft-house experience and want to find somewhere with a pool. We like the look of Pong Phan Guesthouse which is right on the river, has a cute reception/dining area and a pretty swimming pool – and it’s cheap at only $20 a night.
Now it’s time to find a way of getting to the night market. This was the first real Thai night market we’d ever experienced all those years ago and couldn’t believe what was being cooked up – crickets, bugs, things that looked suspiciously like rats and other weird creatures that I can’t remember.
We hail down a motor-cycle tuktuk (they all seem to be lady drivers tonight) and soon pull up at the night market – this is unrecognizable to the original! Bloody awful, full of crappy Asian tourist shit so we leave. We jump on the back of a couple of motor bikes to head straight back to Mae Nam Khwae Road and are soon set up in a laid-back restaurant run by a French guy.
After a quick dinner we hang out for a while in a noisy bar nearby. This is packed with aging Pommie men and aging Thai women (prostitutes?) plastered in makeup and dressed to the nines trying to pick up.
Most of these men live here and a sign on the wall announces the next monthly meeting of The Old Farts of Kanchanburi who apparently raise money for local children. We hope so anyway!
The next place has a band and unfortunately I’m a bit pissed and get up to dance and sing to Country Roads. Mark (who is also pissed) says it’s time for me to go home now!
Monday 19th October, 2015
Wake at seven, miraculously without a hangover, but feeling down. I dreamt about Sharon – poor darling will die any day now. I can’t stop thinking about her and Gary and Loretta but mainly Sharon – too terrible to imagine what it must be like for her.
While Mark showers, I sit on our verandah and see two huge monitor lizards only a few feet away in the water – gives me the fright of my life – hideous things! I have a cold shower as well as it’s already hot and sticky.
Breakfast is healthy fruit, muesli and yoghurt for Mark and yummy bacon and eggs for me washed down with fresh orange and watermelon juice. The river looks lovely again this morning as longtails whizz by on the still waters.
In the alleyway leading up to the main road we stop at a tiny travel agent to ask the owner, Dai, if he knows about an orphanage called Moo Baan Dek as we have children’s clothes and money to donate there. I’d asked the mums at Elkie’s playgroup if they had any clothes to give away and have almost a whole pack full. The money is from our Maggie May Children’s Fund named after Mark’s Mum that we and our mates all put in.
Dai says, ‘yes, I know’ and can take us there this morning. We also ask about Erawan Falls so it’s decided that for $50, he’ll take us to the orphanage, Erawan Falls then elephant riding – sounds perfect!
Can’t wait to get going so we race back to pack and check out of the Sugar Cane before checking in to Pong Phan. We’re back to meet Dai in fifteen minutes and soon set off in a big black air-conditioned van headed for the Sai Yoke District. Dai talks for the whole hour to Moo Baan Dek.
He’s originally from Ko Phan Ang, a beautiful island off the southern coast where we spent a few days in 2008. When he was young he’d met a crazy Aussie guy there who taught him to speak English so now he can make a living working with tourists. He tells us that he came here to Kanchanburi ten years ago and is now married with a six-month-old baby girl.
Apparently there’s a problem with ‘grandmother’. He says, ‘she like her very much. She won’t give her back’. Dai and his wife have to drive to see her at grandma’s village an hour away very two days! I say, ‘can’t you just take your baby back?’ but he laughs and says, ‘You have to know her!’. Bloody hell!
Then he tells us that Thai people don’t wear seatbelts or bike helmets like we do in our country. He says ‘you want to be safe’ but ‘Thai people don’t give a shit’ – ha ha, he’s so funny.
So, while Dai is happily chatting away, we’ve left Kanchanburi far behind and passed through fertile countryside, lush and green as well as the odd small village. Eventually we turn off the main road onto a dirt track that winds for a few hundred metres through a thick forest area till we come across the first of Moo Baan Dek’s many wooden buildings.
We’re greeted by the lady principal who shows us inside. We give her the bags of clothes then a $200AUD donation. She tells us that Moo Baan Dek is also called the Children’s Village School because it’s not strictly an orphanage. Children from poor or broken families are also taken in to give them an education and a life they wouldn’t have otherwise.
The school’s philosophy is spot on – the belief is that ‘by setting a natural environment as well as love kindness, freedom and encouragement, the children’s emotional stress and behavioral problems can be cured’.
A sweet young woman called Briell shows us around the grounds. Besides the school buildings, there are the accommodation huts – large gabled wooden houses that look perfect in this rustic setting within the forest. Each house has ten children and one adult, plus ‘more than two dogs and three cats’, she laughs.
Everything here is ‘eco-friendly’ and all run by the children themselves – solar panels to run all their electricity (no shortage of sun in Thailand), a small plant that recycles plastic bottles into oil and another plant that recycles paper/cardboard into paper that they can sell. And with all this self-sufficiency, it’s not surprising that they have a farm as well – vegetables gardens, cows, chickens, ducks, pigs, fish and frogs – yes, frogs!
But there’s even more to this place. A lovely river runs through the property and on the banks we find guesthouses for visitors and a huge open-sided stadium – all paid for by a Chinese benefactor.
Back near the office, Briell shows us where the kids learn weaving, batik and woodwork, extra skills they may need after graduation. Lots of them are also helped to start up their own businesses. We think this place could teach a lot to our stupid school system at home.
Some of the kids are sitting in an open-air room so we wander over for a chat. Even though they’re not with their families, for one reason or another, they at least have this amazing place to call home – just a handful of the lucky ones, I suppose.
With a warm farewell from Briell and the principal, we set off for Erawan Falls. After a half hour drive through the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and valleys, we pull into the carpark attached to the Falls. Because this is a popular tourist attraction, we find lots of shops and restaurants as well as toilets and changing rooms. We haven’t eaten since breakfast so we find a big, dark place to order chicken and rice.
Now, with the high temperature and humidity, we can’t wait to get into the water. We both change into our swimmers and head off for the long walk to the Falls. Besides having a gammy knee, I hate walking with a passion so I’m very happy to catch a ride with one of the little buggies that ferry lazy tourists from the carpark to Erawan’s bottom tier.
There are seven tiers in all, the last one a steep two kilometre walk uphill, so I know we won’t be climbing to the top. The first pond is pretty but it’s the second one that’s the most popular with its deep pool and waterfall. Limestone in the water gives it a pretty milky aqua colour.
We reach level three along a series of trails and footbridges but decide to head back to the second pool. Getting into the water is no easy feat as we scramble across rocks and tree branches. But the water is lovely, cooling us down on this hot, clammy day.
The only problem is that the water is teeming with flesh-eating fish. We’ve experienced the fish-spas in Bangkok and Bali where you dangle your feet into a tank filled with these little monsters who nibble away at your dead skin. It felt more like a tickle than anything else but I’m seriously being eaten here and because of the colour of the water we can’t see the size of the fish – creepy! Get me out of here!!
Mark isn’t bothered, although the fish probably can’t munch their way through his hairy legs. He swims over to the waterfall and climbs up onto the rock behind. Meanwhile I’m trying to drag myself up out of the water – even harder getting out than getting in. When Mark swims back he helps haul a very plump Thai lady up onto the rocks. God love her!
Back in the cart we zip through the park back to Dai waiting in our van. Now we’re off to the Elephant Camp. This is another enjoyable drive through lush greenery and limestone hills to the camp set on the banks of a river with jungle all around – this country is gorgeous!
We pay 600 Baht each before being introduced to Phiphi, the mahout, and Thu his elephant. We climb onto Thu’s back from a tall wooden platform then Phiphi leads us down to the river. Thu wades out to the deep section and dunks us right under a few times – lots of squealing (Mark) and laughing. Back in the shallows, we jump off while Thu lies on his side. We all give him a good scrub then Mark and I have a water fight with Phiphi. Back on the platform we reward him (Thu) with a bunch of bananas. Set off now for the one-hour drive back to Kanchanburi after a brilliant day.
I decide to look for a hairdresser to have my hair washed and blow-dried. Would never do this at home but it’s cheap as chips here so why not? The first one says, ‘already have customer’, the next one ‘no hab shampoo’ (what?!) and the next one is shut – hilarious! We wander up the street and back again to find the shut one is now open and I have a cold-water wash and blow dry for only $5AUD.
We decide to eat at ‘home’ (Pong Phan) tonight so I order a tuna salad while Mark has a spicy Thai salad all downed with soda water and beer – very cheap at only $10 for the lot. Back up in the street we both have a one-hour massage – full-body oil for Mark and foot for me.
Settling into Pong Phan again, we hang out at one of the outside tables to drink beer and Bacardi then order fish, chips and spring rolls. In bed at 9.30pm – me to read and Mark to watch an episode of Game of Thrones.
Tuesday 20th October, 2015
It’s already hot by the time we wake at seven and the sky is a clear, brilliant blue once again. Mark has another healthy muesli and yoghurt breakfast while I have another unhealthy bacon and eggs. We eat at a table under a shady tree surrounded by flowering orchids – this place is very pretty.
Up in the street we hire a motorbike for the day and drive straight to Kanchanburi’s most famous attraction – the bridge over the Kwai River. The building of the bridge and the terrible story behind it became legendary all over the world in David Lean’s 1957 movie Bridge On The River Kwai which won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. I remember watching it for the first time with Mum and Dad when I was young and then, how many times since, I don’t know.
The original bridge was part of the Death Railway planned by the Japanese to run from Thailand, across into Burma and then on to India which they intended to attack as well. The Japanese forced over 180,000 Asian labourers and 60,000 prisoners of war to build the railway. It was the prisoners themselves (mainly British and Australian) who called it The Death Railway because of the thousands of men who died building it – 12,000 POW’s and many more thousands of Asians. It’s said that one life was lost for each sleeper laid in the track!
The only section that still remains is from Nam Tok to Kanchanburi and we actually did that trip in 1997. I remember finding it hard to imagine the horrors that had happened on that beautiful line of track.
After parking the bike, we set off to walk across the bridge. Side-platforms run next to the track to make it easier and we stop to take lots of photos of the river which is mirror calm this morning. On the opposite bank we find a lovely wat with a tall white standing buddha at the front with people chanting inside. Back to the city side of the bridge, we buy clothes for the dollies from a small market then check out the Train Museum.
Our next stop is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery where over seven thousand POWs are buried – just some of the men who died building the railway. Another two thousand are buried at the Chungkai Cemetery where we plan to visit later. The cemetery is immaculate with manicured grass and small flowering shrubs planted between each plaque. We spend ages reading the names and ages of the young men who died here – I look for one who was twenty-eight when he died – the same age as when our darling Angie passed away. I find two next to each other, both died on the 9th July, 1943.
From here we drive south along the riverbank to the Jeath War Museum. We visited this place in 1997 and found it very moving but it doesn’t look the same and we leave disappointed. But happily, we find a busy wat right next door. People are praying, bringing baskets of goodies for the monks, more carrying bunches of lotus flowers and others burning oils. Monks are everywhere and I’m in heaven.
Across the street is a vast open-sided place where more monks are sitting in rows on a raised platform built all along one side while others sit on mats on the floor. Ladies dressed in all-white are also sitting in groups on the floor and everyone is eating from metal bowls. It looks like the ladies have supplied all the food.
And, as usual everywhere in Thailand, it has a friendly, welcoming feel with golden buddha statues, flowers and pictures of the Buddha’s life. We’d like to stay longer but we’ve more to see before lunch.
Taking off across the bridge, we ride out past the Chungkai Cemetery then through green countryside till we reach Wat Tham Khao Pun, better known as The Cave Temple. We pay 30baht each entry to a young monk then climb the rock-hewn stairs to the entrance. Now we descend into the cave which opens to a vast chamber. Here a fat sitting buddha is surrounded by golden buddhas in all shapes and sizes. I buy flowers from an old lady who also hands me three burning incense sticks. I present them to buddha as an offering for Angie – she’d probably laugh.
More caves deeper down and more buddha statues on the way. We reach a very narrow section and my knee is hurting so it’s a good excuse to head back to the top. Outside we buy ice blocks from a little cart then head back to the guesthouse.
First, we book a songthaew to visit the tiger sanctuary at 1.30pm then have lunch at Pong Phan – prawn curry for Mark and fish and chips for me. We still have time for a swim in the pool before getting ready for the tigers.
The songthaew picks us up directly on time. We’re sharing with a pretty Dutch girl and a freaky Aussie guy covered in tats, piercings, and wearing Doc Martens and a kilt made from camouflage material. Later we pick up a weird version of Mr. Bean before reaching the Tiger Temple in the Soi Yok District about an hour later.
I feel like a total loser writing about this place but at the time we weren’t to know that a year later in 2016, the Thailand Wildlife Conservation Office (WCO) would shut the whole place down! They relocated one hundred and thirty-seven tigers, and tragically, the frozen bodies of forty cubs. I’m not sure what the cubs’ story is all about but I think it had something to do with the Chinese and their traditional medicines. Those idiots will pay anything for their fucked-up ‘remedies’ – like poaching rhinos for their horns as we experienced in Zambia last year!
And the worst bit is that this place did start out with the right intentions. It was founded in 1994 as a forest temple and sanctuary for wild animals, mostly Indochinese tigers, but obviously something went horribly wrong in the meantime.
But, oblivious to all this, we pay 600Baht each to get in then I’m given a polo shirt to wear over my singlet top – it’s a temple after all, but very hypocritical when you know the truth about the place – which we didn’t – have I said that enough yet?
Our driver leads us into the grounds and down into a canyon where twelve beautiful tigers are lounging around. Other tourists are here as well so we need to wait our turn. Each person has two Thai handlers, one to hold our hand and the other to take photos as we pose with the tigers. Amazing to see them so close.
Later we pay an extra 1000Baht to watch them play. About twenty of us are herded into a cage down near the water while a couple of handlers dangle toys on the end of long poles so the tigers will jump from rocks into the water to try and grab them. They frolic like kittens, chasing each other and wrestling – cute if they weren’t so big.
After the tigers are fastened to leads, we have turns walking with one of the biggest ones up out of the canyon. Don’t feel nervous but probably should – this is Thailand after all and safety probably isn’t too high on the agenda. Mark is next and he looks very biblical with a long line following behind him – like he’s leading his people to a better world – ha ha.
Back in the songthaew with the Dutch girl and the weirdo, we’re soon back at Pong Phan for a rest in the coolness of our room. Mark reads then I head off for a back massage.
Dinner again in the garden at Pong Phan.
Wednesday 21st October, 2015
Kanchanburi to Bangkok
With another hot day dawning, we have a quick swim before packing and catching a motorbike tuktuk to the bus station. We’re heading back to Bangkok this morning but miss the 7am bus by seconds. We buy tickets for the next one which leaves in twenty minutes anyway. This gives us time for breakfast at a street stall selling pork soup and pancakes – there’s always an up side.
At 7.20am on the dot we set off with two seats each on the shady side of the bus. We both dose for an hour before reaching Bangkok’s Southern Bus Station about ten o’clock. Too hot to work out which bus to catch to Banglamphu so we grab a taxi to take us straight to Soi Rambutri.
Even though we’ve stayed in this alleyway more times than we can count, we want to try a different guesthouse. We like the look of Mango Lagoon and for only 700Baht it’s a great deal. On the first floor, our window looks out onto a thick garden filled with banana trees and palms – a little oasis right in the middle of Bangkok! Our room is clean, with a sitting area next to the window, cable television, air-con and our own bathroom. Another plus is the open-air restaurant downstairs that faces the soi and close to the temple entrance.
After checking in we walk through the temple grounds where Mark buys a bag of fresh pineapple from a little man pushing a fruit cart. And we can’t pass by without visiting the wat to watch worshippers praying and burning the inevitable incense and oil. Other people are sitting in front of a long line of orange robed monks but not sure what that’s all about – beautiful as always though.
Back out the other side of the temple grounds, we cross over to Khao San Road where Mark tries on his clothes at Aziz Tailors. All fit perfectly so he orders four pairs of shorts for $120AUD. Now I shop while Mark relaxes with a coffee in an open-fronted café. I buy two fabric bags for Lauren then clothes for the dollies at the busy Banglamphu Market a couple of streets away.
Now it’s time for lunch at Mango Lagoon – tuna salad and soda water – then up to the room for a rest and a snuggle. At five o’clock we’re back down in the restaurant for a couple of lemon sodas. While Mark works on his computer I relax with a half-hour foot massage at Pink. This has to be one of the funniest experiences I’ve had for ages.
I’m sitting next to a young Pommie woman having her hair bleached. Her friend is a pretty Nigerian girl who’s currently out front spruiking for customers. ‘She’s bored waiting for me so she’s gone to work. Nigerians are the best sales people in the world’, laughs her English friend. And she’s right – people are pouring in for massages whether they want one or not – hilarious!
On dark we wander around the busy alleyways stopping for a pizza at the wonderful old Sawadee then margaritas and beers at Madam Masur. This place has stacks of atmosphere including a fat rat in the ladies loo.
From Soi Rambutri we head down towards the river and come across Good Story, a trendy Thai bar with a guy playing a guitar and singing with a deep gravelly voice. Wonderfully moody here with dark green walls and ceiling – Bangkok has got it all!
Back to the Soi, we set up in an open-air bar that’s been here since our first trip eighteen years ago. Set on a corner it’s perfect people-watching – can never get bored around here. Ready for bed about 9.30pm, we can’t get anyone to take our money so we do a runner!
Thursday 22nd October, 2015
Today we plan to visit Ko Kret, an island in the Chao Praya River, that we’ve read about in the Lonely Planet. Mark wakes at seven but I snore till 8.30am. Breakfast is at a stall opposite Baan Sabaii. We chat to an Italian man who’s lived in Thailand for the last seven years. His home is a shack in the jungle just outside of Kanchanburi – no electricity or water.
From here we walk out to the main road where a local man tells us we need to catch the number 33 bus. Once we’re on the bus a young couple explains to the conductress where we want to go so she’ll be able to tell us when to get off – everyone is helpful!
An hour later we’re dropped at a busy intersection and clueless on how to get to the river or even where it is. But we soon flag down a couple of motorbike riders who drive us a couple of kilometres to the water and we’re soon crossing to Ko Kret on a small river ferry.
Ko Kret is unique for its inhabitants of Mon people. The Mon tribes dominated central Thailand between the 6th and 10th centuries and retain their distinct identity through their version of Buddhism and, particularly at Ko Kret, their pottery. This is why Ko Kret is often referred to as the Pottery Village.
Also unique to Ko Kret is that there aren’t any roads, only a system of concrete paths and wooden walkways which connect the temples, pottery villages, riverside hamlets and restaurants. One path runs around the entire island, about a two-hour walk, but my knee won’t be up for that. Instead we wander through the temples then on to the pottery village where we buy a teapot, an elephant statue and tiny crochery animals for the dollies from a old smiling couple.
At another place Mark buys a beautiful traditional teacup for work from another sweet couple who have their little grandson translate for them, ‘you come back. Bring your family’.
Near the pier, we order pork noodle soup then cross back to the mainland on another little ferry. We find motorbike taxis to take us to the main road then catch a taxi back to Banglamphu – not much quicker than the bus as we’re caught up in the never-ending traffic jams.
It’s a relief to return to our quiet little haven and we head straight for Pink. I have a manicure, a pedicure and a leg massage while a horrible German woman complains about everything. She won’t even rest her head on the pillow – ‘not hygienic’ she whinges – until they give her a free leg massage. I can just imagine what the girls are saying about the old bag in Thai – ha ha.
Meanwhile Mark is having a lovely time on the verandah having a foot massage while drinking a ‘big one’ Chang. All this pampering is for our night out on the town. We’ve seen photos of Bangkok’s amazing rooftop bars and tonight we’re headed for The Vertigo Bar. We dress up for the experience but then can’t find a taxi driver to take us there. They all say it’s too far and the traffic is terrible but one guy says he can take us to the closer Baiyoke Tower which is the highest rooftop bar in Bangkok anyway.
So off we go to the Pratunam area where the eighty-four floored Baiyoke Tower is an unmissable towering landmark. The hotel was built in 1998 and is unfortunately showing signs of age. We pay $24 each to take the lift to the roof which apparently also get us one drink. Rip-off!! The bar area is fucking horrible with bogans walking around in shorts and thongs! So much for our posh night out!
But our hostess is lovely and the view is worth it! Floor length windows give us sweeping bird’s eye views of Bangkok alive with coloured lights and ribbons of headlights on the freeways snaking all over the city. After cocktails – a strawberry daiquiri for me and a margarita for Mark – we hightail it back in a tuktuk to Soi Rambutri.
Up to our room to change out of our posh clothes and back into t-shirts and thongs – heaven. We find a cute bar near the temple gate and love, love, love being back here.
Friday 23rd October, 2015
Bangkok to Singapore
Our last day. Up at seven for breakfast at the Green Café in Thanon Rambutrithen then wander around to Khao San Road but nothing is open yet. Back in our room we start to pack then head out later for a massage at a new place we hadn’t noticed earlier. It’s set in a lovely garden with massage beds curtained off from one another with long sheer drapes. The massages are the best we’ve had so far but are still the same cheap price as everywhere else. Sweet Thai music is playing and we’re given warm tea and water afterwards.
Later in Khao San Road we buy presents for home then I have a one-hour facial for $8 – making the most of being pampered while I can.
At 3.45pm we’re off in a taxi for the airport arriving about five o’clock. After checking in our bags, we pay $40AUD each to hang out in the CIP Lounge. Free food and drinks – it’s good value if you think how much we’d spend on dinner and drinks in the terminal anyway. Mark makes the most of it with five drinks and we both stuff ourselves. We also steal muffins, sandwiches and drinks to eat on the plane so we really must come out in front.
We take off on time on Scoot Airlines for the two-hour flight to Singapore. It’s now that we realise we should have booked our bags straight through to Sydney so I talk to the male air steward – who’s wearing foundation and lipstick, by the way – who says he’ll bring us up the front of the plane before we land so we can race to Transit Lounge E.
Off the plane we make a run for it but Transit E is miles away so we decide to leave the airport then come back in – this is crazy! Luckily immigration is quick and our bags come out early as well. From Baggage Pickup we race two floors up for check-in to find other people still lined up. No worries!
With a Temazapam each, the eight-hour flight is quick and comfy with a spare seat between us.
Land on time in Sydney then train home to our three darling girls.