Our last week in Thailand

We’d just spent a couple of nights in Sangkhlaburi in the north west of Thailand having hired a car in Kanchanaburi for our trip. John had enjoyed driving as the roads had been really quiet and the car was virtually brand new. We felt like seasoned travellers driving around but now it was time to return the car and get a lift back to Oriential Kwai. It was so good to be back. Once we’d checked in, there was just time for a quick dip in the pool before going down to the river to watch the sun setting whilst enjoying a beer.

Bungalow No 11 waiting our return, not to mention the fabulous pool. Who could resist?
One of the most peaceful places in the world with the river gliding by, the birds going home to roost and the sun setting on this idyllic spot.

The next day was Sunday and as we’d done quite a lot the previous two days we thought we’d have a fairly lazy day. John went for a bike ride whilst I took some pictures in the garden and had a swim.

Taken by John out in the country on his bike.
The garden is full of the most wonderful flowers.
Beautifully tended gardens at Oriental Kwai.

It was around mid-afternoon when Evelyn, who co-owns Oriental Kwai with her husband Djo asked if we’d like to go to the local Sunday market. One of the chefs was going to buy vegetables and we could have a lift with him on his tuk-tuk, this was actually a small motor bike with a sidecar. This is a big local market but even so we weren’t ready for how huge it was. Before now we’ve walked into Lat Ya the local village on market day and so we thought this market was in the same place, we were wrong. It was much further, the other side of the main road out of town, quite honestly we would never have found it.

The young chef seemed very pleased to chat to us as he drove along in the searing heat. Our eyes were burning from the dust and hot air even though we were wearing sunglasses, the chef wasn’t though. Dropping us off at the market he quickly disappeared into the crowd obviously heading for his favourite vegetable stalls.

Lots of interesting things to buy.

I wouldn’t say we stuck out as we walked around the stalls but we were definitely the only people there who weren’t local. Fortunately no-one seemed to mind me taking pictures and some stallholders were quite amused to see two European tourists.

Everything looked such good quality, even the jumping toads on the fish stall (bottom left picture). The guy on the right seemed a little out of place with his array of knives and machetes for sale. We weren’t tempted by the knives or the toads!

We eventually found a stall selling bottles of water as our meagre supply had run out. It was just too hot for us so we escaped from the hustle and bustle of this busy market and sat in the park opposite. Only now were we realising we had quite a walk ahead of us to Oriental Kwai. We didn’t want to think how far …! We eventually made it back but not before stopping at a cafe for yet another cold drink. Djo was in reception when we arrived. He took one look at us and couldn’t believe we’d walked all the way from the market. Two very cold beers were quickly put in front of us – we’d earned them!

The next day we got a taxi into Kanchanaburi. There’s a tourist shop not far from the bridge which I like going into. It’s family-run and although most things are covered in layers of dust there are some Thai crafts in there a little more interesting than in the other souvenir shops.

We were so close to the bridge and as it wasn’t crawling with lots of coach parties we walked across. It’s an iconic landmark. I hope that people walking across think for a moment of all those men who lost their lives building the bridge and the infamous Thai – Burma railway.

The Bridge over the River Kwai with a water monitor swimming underneath.

It was time for a spot of lunch so we walked down to the cafe by the river. We had a prime spot overlooking the bridge with free entertainment courtesy of a water monitor. I’m pretty sure that for the rest of the day we lazed around at Oriental Kwai, swimming, reading, enjoying the sunshine, the wonderful food and the peace and quiet of this wonderful place.

With our holiday almost over we decided to make this day a memorable one and booked to go to Elephant Haven, a sanctuary which opened in 2015 for seven rescued elephants. Elephant Haven is located in Sai Yok, a thirty minute drive out of Kanchanaburi. A mini bus collects you and you join other tourists for the day. We’ve been to several elephant camps before but this one particularly appealed to us as it’s on a small scale. The herd have the freedom to roam, socialise, enjoy a mud bath and cool down in the river Kwai which runs through the sanctuary. In this beautiful setting you can observe the elephants behaviour and learn more about their complex social structure. The emphasis is more about educating the visitors about the needs of the elephants and the work the project is doing to highlight the plight of the Asian elephant.

As you’ll see from these pictures, the elephants are very happy here and not surprisingly we had a fantastic time. It’s the perfect ending to this Blog on our trip to Thailand. We can’t wait to go back and hopefully we will be able to in 2021. Thank you for reading this, the following Blogs will, for a while, be about our trips nearer to home.

Lining up ready to eat as much sugar cane as possible (that’s the elephants).
Getting up close with the elephants.
Cooling off with a swim and a mud bath.
Thank you Eli for letting us share the day with you.

From caves to dragons to elephants in Thailand.

There’s always a danger when you visit a country like Thailand that you end up getting ‘templed-out’! If you’ve visited more than three temples in a day then you’ll know what I mean. This temple though is just a shortish trip out of Kanchanaburi and it’s well worth a visit. It’s called Wat Ban Tham or The Dragonhead Temple because there’s a long staircase that leads up the hill into a dragon’s head and through its body! You then walk into a cave, up a few steep staircases and eventually you arrive at the top. And what a view! We hit the gong just for the hell of it (three times according to Buudhist tradition) as we felt we’d achieved something.  Would you believe there was no one else around although someone had lit some incense sticks earlier.

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Another interesting thing is that as we drove along the quiet road to the temple we noticed a huge Chinese cemetery. These large marble family graves each built into a grassy mound are like miniature mausoleums often decorated with mosaics and pictures of the deceased.  We stopped and walked around for a while amazed by the opulence of it all. The design of each grave is exactly the same so when there are hundreds in one area with nothing else around it seemed a little strange …

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Elephants! Several years ago we spent three wonderful days at an elephant sanctuary in Chang Mai. It was an unforgettable experience as elephants are our favourite animals. Riding on an elephant and I mean sitting on its back, not on a seat and feeling it’s lovely soft ears flapping around your ankles is just a very special experience. Contrary to what you’d think, elephants’ backs are not that strong so whenever I see tourists sat on one of those heavy wooden seats on top of an elephant it makes me shudder. I hate to think of the pain that’s causing the elephant and all for the enjoyment of the tourists.

Since that first camp in Chang Mai we’ve been to the Elephants World  in Kanchanaburi three times. Each time we have had a great time although on our last visit we felt there were too many tourists in each group so it didn’t feel quite so special as before. A relatively new sanctuary has opened up also near Kanchanaburi, Elephants’ Haven and appears to offer a similar experience. The best thing we found was to check with the hotel owners; they are pretty knowledgeable about the organisations and have up to date news on them too.

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After breakfast it’s off to the river to bathe.

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Stand back, he’s on his way to the river.

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Great fun cutting up food and then boiling it. Once it’s cooled you make them into balls and feed them to the older elephants who haven’t got quite as many teeth as they started with.

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Wallowing in the mud is great fun.

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Time to get into the river, grab a brush and a bowl and an elephant and have fun.  They love their back being scratched!

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Time for their final meal of the day before heading off in the jungle for the night.

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Just before we left Kanchanaburi we visited one more temple. Wat Tham Phu Wa is known not just for being a meditation retreat but for the amazing temple which is actually a cave. The stalactites hanging down are really impressive and round each corner you’d see another statue of Buddha all carefully lit. If they’d lit the statues too much if would have taken away the ethereal feel of the cave. There was no chance here of getting in without leaving an offering (as if we would …) as once you’d taken off your sandals to walk down there were women collecting money. Compared to the Dragonhead Temple this one was much more touristy.

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Now we’re on our way to our next stop in Thailand, Ayutthaya.

The Hellfire Pass Memorial

We took a taxi from Oriental Kwai, where we were staying, to The Hell Fire Pass Memorial.

It’s known locally as the Museum of Chong Khao Kad and is the area where POW’s and labourers during WWII were forced to carve through a mountain of rock to enable a train to pass. The Japanese needed a more secure route to maintain their armies in Burma so a decision was made to construct a railway 415 kilometres long through dense jungle and mountain from BanPong in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat. (This information is taken from the booklet provided by the Australian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs). Of the 60,000 Allied POW’s who worked on the railway 20% died between October 1942 and August 1945 with an estimate of 90,000 civilian labourers having perished during that time also.

Admission is free to both the Memorial museum and the walking trail taking you along part of the the Death Railway. The Museum is excellent but tough viewing with graphic stories, memorabilia, first-hand accounts and pictures of the terrible conditions suffered by the POW’s and labourers. It’s hard to imagine how anyone survived …

Many of the tourists arrive at the Museum by coach and don’t have time to walk the 4km from the Museum to the end of the walking trail. Most people therefore walk as far as the monument at the end of  notorious Hell Fire Pass and walk up to the look-out which gives you a view looking down on the Pass. We carried on through to the end of the trail which is just 4km. All that time we only saw a handful of people and quite a lot of evidence of the tools used and some of the original tracks. Not one sound of a bird singing. All along where once the railway lines ran was eerily quiet.

Our taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the end of the trail and took us to Namtock railway station to catch the train back to Kanchanaburi. It’s an interesting   journey especially going over the wooden viaduct that overlooks the River Kwai. I sat on the outside steps by the door to take a picture of the viaduct, couldn’t do this on GWR!

The visit had been a very emotional one but we were so glad we went.

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The first part of the walk has several flags and crosses of remembrance lined each side of the cutting.

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The notorious Hell Fire Pass. The tree has become almost a monument to the thousands who died cutting through the rock.

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The Memorial to the POW’s and labourers who suffered extreme hardship with thousands losing their lives. The smaller  pictures were taken along the walking trail.

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Evidence in the rocks where the explosives were placed also metal taps, sledgehammers and other tools used to break down the earth and rock. Not sure what the bamboo canes were used for in the r.h. middle picture.

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Railway sleepers still marking the Burma-Thailand death railway.

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This must have been a tantalising view for the POW’s as they worked. The mountains in the distance are in Burma.

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More evidence of the railway line.

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Thie is the end of the walking trail just past Compressor Cutting. Our driver is waiting for us, you can just make him out. We were grateful for the bottles of ice-cold water he had ready for us.

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On the right is the wooden viaduct we’ve just come over on the train.

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The War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi. All the POWs who died were reinterred here by the Commonwealth Graves Commission apart from the American POWs whose remains were returned to the U.S.


Oriental Kwai Resort by the River Kwai.

The train journey from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi takes about three hours and like most train journeys in this part of the world there’s never a dull moment. There’s always someone coming along with hot and cold drinks, fruit, unimaginable things in plastic bags and complete meals in foil containers. The vendors hop on and off the train as it saunters into the station (this is not a fast train) so the variety of food and sellers  changes all the time. You can go by bus which we’ve done a couple of times or hire a taxi but the 7.50 train from  Thonburi station in Bangkok is definitely our first choice. Oriental Kwai is just a short ride away in a Songthaew.

We’ve stayed at Oriental Kwai four times and yes … we love it there! Djo and Evelien are so welcoming and the cottages are superb. There’s only twelve of them and they’re tucked away in a stunning tropical garden, each cottage well-spaced from the next. There’s lot to do in the area including visiting Hellfire Pass which you can get to by train and taxi. I’ll write about this in my next Blog and include some of the pictures I took. It’s a very atmospheric walk with no bird song.

There are two Elephant Sanctuaries close by, Elephants World and Elephants Haven.  Yes there’s another Blog coming up with pictures of our visit with the elephants.

Erawan National park & waterfalls is another great place to visit You can spend hours walking and swimming in the beautiful green jungle with its stepped waterfalls. There are caves and temples to visit, fantastic landscapes, stunning views, walks, cycle rides and of course going into town by boat on the River Kwai is a must. The boat stops just by the (in)famous bridge which is always full of tourists walking across it.

Here is a selection of pictures taken at Oriental Kwai. It really is perfection and so peaceful, we can’t wait to go back!

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Staff at Oriental Kwai Thailand


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A beautiful sunset to round off the day, followed by a few beers and another excellent meal. What more could you ask for?