BootsnAll Travel Network

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Just a short hour or so flight from Pnomh Penh brought me back to Bangkok around 10am in the morning. I had one day to do a bunch of errands and things I needed to do before I would meet my friend Chris again and prepare to go to China. Since my flight got in so early, I assumed that I would have most of the day to get everything done and still have time to spare. But of course, in Asia, nothing should ever be assumed.
After retrieving my bag, I found my way to the airport bus waiting area, and for only 100 Baht, I bought a ticket for a bus that would take me straight to Khao San Road. Unfortunately, it took over 45 minutes for the next bus to arrive, and then sitting in Bangkok traffic from the airport, I didn’t arrive at my guesthouse until almost one. My day was halfway gone already, and I had done nothing yet. I quickly dropped my laundry off and requested it be done by the following morning, and then set off to the post office. I had two packages I needed to send home, in order to lighten my load a bit before traipsing around China, and also to send some copies of CD’s that I had made of my pictures, very important. By the time I got some lunch and went to the post office, and browsed a few clothing stalls debating if I should by another pair of pants, it was after 5. I wouldn’t be meeting Chris until the following morning, so I had the rest of the evening to myself, and aside from some well-needed internet time and some dinner, the evening passed uneventfully.

Chris arrived at my guesthouse early the next morning, after spending his last evening with his tour group having a farewell dinner. We quickly set out to find out about getting our Chinese visas, and luckily we ran into a tour guide that Chris knew, who ended up taking us to the travel agency his company uses. We filled out the necessary paperwork, and after paying our individual fees, as my being American ended up costing me about a third more, we were assured that we would have our visas in two days. Our flight to Beijing was already booked for the 29th, so we had to have these visas by then. Fingers crossed, we set out for some lunch and wrapped up a few necessary things in Bangkok before heading to the bus station to go to Kanchanaburi, where the famous bridge on the River Kwai is. A couple of mishaps in trying to find a taxi that understood which bus station we needed to go to later, we arrived at the correct one, and quickly bought tickets for the two hour journey north.

After passing through some uneventful Thai countryside, we arrived at a surprisingly large and bustling Kanchanaburi bus station. Neither one of us realized how big Kanchanaburi is, so we were surprised when our taxi ride took almost 10 minutes to reach the riverfront, where most guesthouses were located. After trying one place that our friend Paul recommended we stay at, only to find it was full, our taxi drove us around to a few more places, none of which had what we were looking for, which was a room on the water with A/C. We finally found one place which was a little more than we wanted to spend, but after realizing our room was on a floating dock in the middle of lily pads in the river, we took the room for a unique accomodation experience. And it was a beautiful setting, with views down and across the river, right on the water surrounded by water plants. We had a nice little balcony type area as well with deck chairs and a view of sunset. But these luxuries come at a price, and this time it was the mosquitoes, which seemed to attack at the most inopportune times, so dousing myself with bugspray was a necessity to enjoy sitting outside.

We settled in and went for a stroll along the towns main thoroughfare, lined with bars and restaurants and small shops. Paul told us that this town was really lively and full of travelers, but we seemed to come at an off time, as there weren’t very many people around at all. We had some early dinner, and played some pool at the most ridiculous pool table that we could find. The amount of holes, ridges and bends on this table could make a good pool player really bad, so it made us completely hopeless and one game ended up taking almost an hour, as the balls hopped over a ridge in the table and back into a pocket, or took such a bend away from where we were aiming that it would be a decent curve ball in the Major Leagues. Frustrated and laughing ourselves silly, we headed to another bar and watched a very bad copied version of MI-3 and had a couple of beers. A couple of beers turned into 4 or 5 big bottles of Chang, and since neither of us had been drinking much in the past month, our tipsy-ness went unnoticed until it was too late. We wobbled back home to our riverfront floating room, and miraculously didn’t fall into the river on the way.

Determined to do some sightseeing on our second day, we managed to pry ourselves out of bed around noon and head down to the famous bridge. The bridge on the river Kwai is called the Death bridge, because so many people died while building it, including foreign prisoners of war. The Japanese were building a railway from Thailand to then Burma, and the Death Railway claimed hundreds of thousands of lives due to malnutrition, disease and just plain exhaustion. To find out more about the bridge, we first went into the WWII museum, which is a massive museum containing information on not only the war and the bridge, but various other parts of Thai history and cultural artifacts. The bridge was bombed so often by the Allied forces that they finally made prisoners¬† and the builders sleep on the bridge in hope that it wouldn’t be bombed. Walking the length of the bridge was a strange sensation, as the setting in the small hills around the town make it a very pretty and peaceful place, and the bridge was a bad reminder of the horrors of war. Some bullet holes and things were still evident on the bridge and supports, though much of the bridge was rebuilt by the Japanese. The railway is still operating and you can take a train over the river and bridge, which seems to be a popular tourist activity, but we decided against it.

Since we woke up late, our day passed quickly and we went for an early dinner at a well known restaurant, which also houses a Thai cooking school. It was almost empty when we arrived, but by the time we left all the tables were full and people were waiting. We went back to the bar showing movies and just relaxed with some films and beers, knowing that it might be our last night or two of relaxation before heading out into China. The following day we needed to get back to Bangkok to pick up our visas, so on our way to the bus station we stopped at the WWII cemetery, which is the final resting place for about 5000 foreign forces, including many British and Australian. The cemetery itself was pretty and well maintained, but the contanct traffic noise just a street away made it decidely unpeaceful in my opinion. Heading to the bus station, buses to Bangkok left every 15 minutes, and before we knew it, we were back on Khao San Road.¬† We headed towards the travel agency, and luckily, they seemed to think we were part of the tour guides group, because our visas were ready earlier than they were supposed to be. With that behind us, we could relax the rest of the evening, and mentally prepare for China. We researched a few places to stay in Beijing when we arrived, but aside from that and reading a bit in our guidebook, we though little about what our arrival in Beijing would be like. Our flight was leaving the following morning, so we needed to get up early, and with that, we decided to get some rest, as somehow we knew, we’d need all the energy we could muster.

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