We had a couple of days here and had reached a point where we were keen for some proper rest and relaxation. While the sight of the pool over some simple but tasty breakfast [free toast & coffee / tea] almost won us over we decided that being at the home of the Death Railway and the Bridge over the River Kwai we ought to take in a splash of culture first.
We hired bicycles. This is further evidence that I am open to almost anything on this voyage as I hate bicycles. You can blame having a daily commute to work in the states for this.
After a few wrong turns we found the Death Railway Museum. This was a well presented exhibition chronicling the events and lives lost during the building of the Thai-Burmese Railway. The Japanese, during their World War II campaign, commissioned the mammoth project to ensure a supply line for their troops. While the officers and engineers were all Japanese the workers were a mix of south-east Asian labourers and POW’s from the Allies Forces. A huge number of people died during the project from a mix of conditions and brutality.
Our journey so far has led us to sites of the most horrific atrocities ever presided over by the human race – Auschwitz, Hiroshima and the Khmer Rouge – so it would be easy to become blasé and desensitised to smaller scale tragedies. While the Death Railway Museum can’t hope to have the same impact it’s not really about comparing and ranking is it? People died as a direct result of the action or indeed inaction of other people and irrespective of the numbers it’s obscene and ridiculous.
Next up we peddled over to the famous bridge over the river Kwai. This is not a particularly impressive structure but again its infamy is more due to the lives lost during its construction rather than the bridge itself.
We eventually rolled back to our guesthouse and hit the pool. There’s something about hitting the pool on a warm day that trumps all else in terms of actually feeling like you’re relaxing. It was a great afternoon and much comedy was had with the underwater camera.
Later Colin and I scoped out the local night market [Colin unfortunately fried his calf on a moped exhaust pipe – nasty] and we decided to all head down for an array of snacks. Afterwards we retired to our gaff with a few beers and pack or cards before an early night in preparation for the big activity of our time in Kanchanaburi – volunteering at the Elephant sanctuary.
After breakfast we were picked up and transferred – with a number of others – to the sanctuary. We were introduced to 3 volunteers who were staying at the sanctuary and working as guides for the travellers who came for just the day, as well as the lady running the show. The Elephants were just arriving with their Mahout’s – a kind of one-to-one keeper that looks after, trains, and guides their elephant. It was breakfast time and we were set to work almost immediately feeding the prepared food to the grateful trunks of each of the lined up Elephants. I think if that’s all we’d have done for the duration of the day it would have been us that gave up first – their appetites were insatiable.
Over the course of the day we were introduced to a few of the elephants, we chopped fruit, slaved over hot woks to cook sticky rice for the older ones, swam 4 kilometres down the river Kwai to a banana plantation to collect the banana trees themselves [the elephants will east the lot]. We then made the rice balls up and fed the older elephants, saw the medical team in action nursing the ongoing ailments each resident elephant suffers from and then spent an hour or so in the river with the elephants giving them a good scrub. Pineapples were also delivered, prepared and fed to them over the course of the afternoon. By the end of the day we were pretty exhausted but I think collectively we enjoyed the chance to muck in and do something useful and productive for the benefit of the gentle giants.
The next day was a huge journey to Koh Phangan so the night went by quietly.