Ten days in Thailand

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 …

Wat Arun by the Chao Phraya River

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.

Just a quick journey from Kanchanaburi station to Oriental Kwai Resort – heaven!

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.

“Our’ cottage and the grounds at Orienal Kwai with the river running by.
It’s all there at Oriental Kwai

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.

Floating raft houses on the Vajiralongkorn Lake.

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!

Gaining Merit as in performing a good deed, act or thought is a fundamental concept in Buddhism.

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.

Wat Wang Wiwekaram
A few more people on the bridge to watch the sun setting including two monks.

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!

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?

First stop …Bangkok

A trip along the canal in a revamped boat used previously for collecting rubbish probably wouldn’t be near the top of the ‘must-do’ list for visitors but it’s a great free way to see the city. Yes there’s no charge and it’s good fun. We discovered it the first time we stayed at Baan Manusarn, an inexpensive family run B & B in a quiet part of Bangkok  down from Thewet Pier on the Chao Phraya river. There’s an interesting Thai market opposite the B & B(they are always worth a wander through) and a good cafe down the road  serving cold lager with entertainment from a very friendly cockatoo.


The Chao Phraya river flows through the middle of Bangkok, it’s a river that never seems to sleep. Apart from the ferries which are cheap, full of locals and a good way to get around, there are numerous tourists boats, river taxis and longtail boats criss-crossing the river, like a constant armada. It’s the huge commercial barges that I find the most fascinating. These boats seem to  go on for ever and when full float silently along this huge river dragged by a tug boat. Mostly I think they are carrying sand or rice and once unloaded they seem to bounce back up river behind their little towboats.

Early evening is when the tourist cruise boats start. You can’t miss them with their garish lights and loud music. I shouldn’t knock them as I know friends who enjoyed their two-hour trip and the ‘international cuisine’, but it’s not for us. We’d rather go down to the pier, chat with the locals, share an offering to the fish and watch the sun go down.


The nearest Buddhist temple (Wat Devaraj Kunchorn Warawihan) is quite near to our B & B and is a beautiful building, hidden down a narrow side street. On our second evening walking past we were drawn inside by the chanting of the monks. I love the sound but I’m always amazed at how the monks can sit that long without changing their position. Needless to say we eventually had to leave as we were both getting cramp!


There are of course lots of places to visit in Bangkok. Most tourists go to The Grand Palace and Wat Arun   also called The temple of Dawn. A word of warning about visiting The Grand Palace – check out the dress code, the guards are very strict. If you show up improperly dressed there is a booth near the entrance where for a deposit you are issued with a wrap round long skirt. No problem like that at Wat Arun, our only problem was that we were suffering from jet lag and the heat as we’d only arrived a few hours earlier. We found it hard to drag ourselves around.

These people in the picture below at Wat Arun  have hired their costumes. You see groups like this dressed in national costume at all the main tourist places. Turns out they may not even be Thai! I have more pics like this which you’ll see in further Blogs. You’ll probably notice too that no-one takes the trouble to wear the ‘right’ shoes!


Whether The Grand Palace is always crowded with tourists I don’t know. Looking at the number of coaches parked outside I think it’s pretty impossible to go there without having to jostle with everyone. I gave up trying to get some clear shots of the amazing architecture and instead did the same as everyone else, sharpened my elbows and darted in front of anyone with a camera who was taller than me!

We quickly worked out that The Grand Palace is divided into two main areas; the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Royal residence. The place is still used for hosting royal ceremonies and welcoming the king’s guests and other foreign dignitaries.

The elegant statues of Buddha are beautiful but there are so many features here it’s no wonder everyone is clicking away in every direction. It was a bit of a bun-fight and after a couple of days in Bangkok we were looking forward to escaping to the country.


Reading this back it sounds as though we didn’t enjoy Bangkok but we did. We’ve been there a number of times now and have generally avoided the centre as we prefer just wandering around the streets to see what we come across. China town is fun though, you can buy lunch for a ridiculously cheap price. Travelling up and down the river on the ferries is what we enjoy doing and going into the Wat’s (Buddhist temples) which are everywhere. Bangkok is a buzzing, lively city and a real attack on the senses and apparently has more visitors than any other city. It’s not difficult to see why.