Yes we were lucky to go on holiday before Lockdown. Having flown in from Paxi in Laos to Bangkok we got a taxi straightaway after getting off the Airport Rail Link. Before now we’ve had to wait quite a while. Thankfully this driver didn’t keep falling asleep every time we stopped at traffic lights! A bit scary as the traffic in the city is quite manic.
We have stayed in Baan Manusarn, which is a small guest house a couple of times before. As Bangkok goes it’s a fairly quiet area. The pier for the ferry is at the end of the road and there’s quite a few good restaurants nearby. Once we’d dumped our bags we had an afternoon to spare so we headed for the iconic temple of Wat Arun. Last time we were there we had horrendous jet lag and just about managed to drag ourselves around. This time we didn’t pay to go into the main temple as there’s plenty of other buildings you could go in for free. I’m saying ‘could’ as now you have to pay to go into the temple complex. Can’t imagine there’s many tourists visiting there currently or anywhere else for that matter – Thailand isn’t letting tourists in at the moment. Seems to be working as since the pandemic hit the country they’ve recorded just one death. That’s the official figure …
It was a fairly early start the next day as the train to Kanchanaburi leaves Thonburi station at around 8.00. There are just two services each day. You have to allow plenty of time to get to the station as Bangkok wakes up at 4.30am every day and the roads are busy. The huge market by the station teems with life and is where the taxi drops you off. You have to have your wits about you wheeling you case through to the station. The train journey takes about three hours and is an interesting trip but the exciting part for us is arriving! A quick call to our resort and a taxi is organised and we’re on our way heading out of town.
This for us is the most perfect place to stay. We love it here at Oriental Kwai. No wonder it’s Kanchanaburi’s number one hotel on Trip Adviser. It’s a 15 minute ride from the town and as soon as the taxi turns off the quiet lane into the drive, we feel at home, well our home in Asia. There are just twelve cottages and we like to stay in number 11. We enjoy the walk through the beautiful gardens, across the little bridge, past the immaculate swimming pool to the main reception area and restaurant. Late afternoon we like to sit by the river, have a drink and stay there until the sun goes down over the River Kwai.
Djo and Evelien who own and manage Oriental Kwai are lovely people and make you feel so welcome. They opened the hotel in 2007 after clearing quite literally a jungle! Together with help from their families they achieved their dream and their success story continues today. As I write this in the year of a pandemic my man and I are just hoping it won’t be long before we can go back again.
Although we know this area well we still like to do some sightseeing and lots of walking and John did a cycle ride whilst I stayed to take some pictures in the superb gardens. We’d also decided to hire a car this time and drive up to the lake town of Sangkhlaburi in the west of the province.
Picking up the hire car in the town was very straightforward, we’d booked it before we left home. Once you get out of the town the roads are very quiet although this route continues up to Three Pagodas Pass and the Burmese border. It also takes you past the entrance to the Visitor Centre and starting point for visiting The Hell Fire Pass, the name of the infamous railway cutting on the former Burma Railway. Although we have been before we wanted to see the changes they’d made to the exhibition centre.
The Visitors Centre and the Museum had been re-vamped however we both felt that the new layout of the exhibits didn’t have the impact we remembered from our last visit. It’s quite a steep walk down to the railway cutting itself but the impact of this area never changes. It is an emotional experience and the Memorial Walking Trail following the route of the ‘Death Railway’ is a sobering hike albeit with magnificent views over towards Burma. Don’t expect to hear any birds singing as you walk along – there are none. On this visit the walk was closed which was disappointing but we have walked it a couple of times before.
Back in the car and still heading North West we started looking for somewhere to eat. After an hour or so we were beginning to wonder if we’d have lunch at all when I spotted a cafe by the side of the road. No one spoke English – well why would they (?!) and the locals having lunch pretended we weren’t there. We hadn’t a clue what was going to be served up but the main thing was it was all going to be freshly cooked. I believe we had chicken, veg and rice but I honestly can’t remember, we enjoyed it with no ill affects so that was the main thing.
The journey after our pit stop became more interesting as we drove up through the forest and then down to Vajiralongkorn Lake. It’s actually a reservoir that was created when a dam was built in 1982. It’s a huge expanse of water and very impressive. The other thing you notice about this area of Thailand is the diversity of the people. Sangkhlanburi is a small town, traditionally the Karen people lived there. Now there are Burmese people, many refugees having left Burma for the safety of Thailand and people from the Mon tribe and other minorities. Apparently they live together in perfect harmony although there are defined districts with some living in the hills or on floating raft houses and the Mon people who live across the other side of the lake which is spanned by a huge wooden bridge.
As usual once we’d arrived in Sangkhlanburi and found our hotel, Kingfisher House, we chilled out for a while over a well-earned beer – ‘Chang’ as it happens. Time then to walk down to the lake and check out this famous wooden bridge which is Thailand’s longest. It is quite a landmark and was built in 1986 although it looks much older. Unfortunately the bridge known as the Mon Bridge partially collapsed after bad weather in 2013. As the bridge links the main town of Sangkhlaburi with the Mon area of the town, the locals quickly got together and within weeks rebuilt it. How’s that for teamwork? Although it wasn’t late the bridge was deserted as you can see from this picture. This is a very sleepy non-touristy place.
The next day we started off by exploring the town and headed up to see the reclining Buddha. Buddhists try to do a good turn every day, especially on Friday, to gain merit and that’s what a group of locals were doing outside a temple. There was a lot of painting and chattering going on and when they saw us we were invited to do some painting too!
There wasn’t much to see in the town itself and the market was pretty unexciting so we headed down to the bridge again. By now the temperature was in the high 30’s, very hot for walking across the bridge to the Mon village. Most of the shops were just closing but fortunately we found a cafe and I discovered the refreshing merits of Lipton’s iced tea! I managed to find one souvenir shop that was still open thinking there would be lovely Mon crafts to buy, sadly that wasn’t the case but I did manage to buy one or two little things.
Walking back over the bridge the heat was unbearable hence the rather natty headgear (bottom left picture). The little girl with the decorated face is Burmese. The yellow paste is called Thanaka made from ground bark . Its a traditional cosmetic often worn by Burmese people to protect the skin from the sun. The picture top right is of two local women laying out the freshly caught fish to dry.
Very few people in Sangkhlanburi speak any English so going into a cafe or anywhere is quite an experience. Once again we had no idea what we were going to get for lunch at this family-run cafe overlooking the bridge but the omelette and chicken was delicious. The cold drink which took quite a while to make was a real sugar rush job but we drank it of course. They were so kind to us, as though we were the first tourists they’d had there for a while.
After our lunch we drove up to see this rather splendid temple with the equally splendid name of Wat Wang Wiwekaram. The picture below is my favourite from our stay in Sangkhlanburi. It was a beautiful temple and although there would have been lots of monks we didn’t see any until we drove away. There was a group down the road sweeping the street …gaining that all important merit with Buddha.
When we went back to the bridge in the evening to watch the sunset the family from the cafe where we’d had lunch came out onto the balcony to wave to us. We felt very honoured.
We enjoyed our couple of days in Sangkhlanburi but felt that was long enough although we would visit again. We’d seen most of the sights and enjoyed the peace of the place and marvelled at the Mon bridge and the beautiful lake but it was time to get back to Oriental Kwai!
On our journey to Kanchanaburi we stopped at this interesting temple which was clearly a mix of Buddhist temples and Hindu. Quite unusual I think. Amazing statues and once again, no-one around.
The last part of this Blog on Thailand will include pictures from the market we went to which was fascinating and there will also be some pictures of elephants (irresistible), as we spent a day at an Elephant Sanctuary. I thought I’d do this as a separate account otherwise the Blog becomes a bit too long. I suspect this one might be so if you’ve read this to the end – thank you!