Monday, 12 October 2009

(Still) in Kanchanaburi

*** Not completly up to date yet**** So, here we go again. When i left off i had spent one full day in Phuket, and was talking about wondering what to do next. Well, after writing the last entry things definitely took a turn for the interesting......amongst other new arrivals that day was this guy called andy. I was sat in the living room area downstairs, reading a book when he came in and started talking to a couple of people. Within about 5 minutes it was pretty clear that this guy was an oddball. He was endlessly talking about himself, things that happened to him. He was cutting over other people talking constantly, and acted as if he was some great oracle of knowledge. Within a few hours of him being there everybody was pretty aware of the fact that this guy was crazy. Anyway, i met a girl from London called Amy who had been traveling and working in Aus for a year, where she had met her boyfriend, who was now in Cambodia because he wanted to travel solo for a bit. So we were talking a bit while this guy wasn't around. The problem with the crazies is that it's quite hard to tell them to go suck a lemon, you know?

So Andy had asked Amy if she wanted to go out and find somewhere to eat, and then she asked me. So off we went, and we were both clearly thinking the same thing about this guy. She wrote a text on her phone and passed it to me saying something like 'i'm glad you're here, this guy is a pervy asshole!' So as we discovered for the next couple of days, he would pretty much just sit around the hostel getting drunk (usually starting at about 10.30am) and try to chat up girls. In the end it was pretty funny to watch, because he would fail, but yeah, the guy was crazy.

The morning after me and amy jumped on a sangewethu and went to the beach. Had some food, did some bodyboarding, managed to avoid getting burnt, so it was all good. This was on Sunday, the day liverpool were playing chelsea. The two new guys in my room who i met the night before were chelsea fans, and we picked up a couple of stragglers to go watch the game with us. Unfortunately, we were trying to ask this english guy if he wanted to come, he got a fair bit of abuse from crazy andy the night before for no reason, but he said that he was going to stay in the hostel. Crazy andy heard us and ended up coming. D'oh. As i said in my last post, Phuket town is more a place for the locals, there was a rumour of an irish pub somewhere so we went for a wander. We ended up finding a place full of locals, it was a liverpool bar and they were all liverpool fans, and were pretty into it! Unfortunatly liverpool lost 2-0, and the chelsea boys celebrated their victory by buying a bottle of whiskey, and playing 'drink alog with a really crappy steven segal movie that i can't remember the name of.' I don't really need to remember the name of it, do I? They are all the same, Segal kicks some ass and raises some hell. One of their rules was that they would drink for every crappy line of dialogue, so naturally they were hammered within about a minute, but it was fun to watch.

Another thing i mentioned in my last post was that i was thinking about what to do next. I'd enjoyed my time in Phuket, but for me the idea of spending the next couple of weeks on beaches didn't really appeal. Yeah i know there's more to it than that, but i wanted something a bit different. At the time i thought i was going to be able to bring my flights to N.Z forward a couple of weeks, so i would only have a couple of weeks left in Asia at this point. So i headed back to Bangkok, and then to Kanchanaburi, which is about 3 hours away from Bangkok on the bus, close to the border of Burma. I'd managed not to read about it somehow in the lonely planet book, but a bunch of people have told me about, and this is where i found out about Kanchanburi! The journey from Phuket to Bangkok was an interesting one, i was relying on everything working otherwise i'd end up in a bit of trouble at Bangkok airport. I was getting on the last bus of the day from phuket town to the phuket airport, and when i got to the bus station the first person i spoke to told me the last bus left at 6. Yeah, not so much. So eventually i found the bus, got to the airport. Flew back to Bangkok. With everything being correct, i'd land at 11.10pm, and hopefully be out in time to get the last airport bus to Khao san rode. Otherwise i'd be forced to get an expensive as hell taxi instead, or wait til 5.30am when the bus starts up again!

We landed about 10 minutes early, so i was thinking i'd get out in time no probs. It's a huge airport though so we jumped on the bus after getting off the plane, and that took about 5 minutes. Then walking to baggage claim which took more time. And so we stood at the baggage carousel waiting for our stuff to come. And so i stood there......and stood there....until i turned around and saw that i was the only one left standing there. Oh shit. A member of staff came up to me and asked to see my boarding pass, to see what flight i'd come in on. She told me to go stand at the carousel next to it, which had baggage arriving from Chiang Mai. And somehow, miraculously, round the corner came my bag. Phew.

So i spent two nights in Bangkok, and then left for Karanchaburi. Getting there was easy enough (by South east asian standards), and so i got into the bus station and then to my guesthouse, 'sugar cane 1'. I chose one of the rafthouse, which is moored on the water. Nice enough room. From what i'd heard, doing a tour is hugely recommended because the sights are very spread out, and so a woman from 'toi's tours' was waiting for me after i dumped my stuff in my room. I signed up for a tour to do erawan falls, hellfire pass, this viaduct place with a cave next to it and a train ride over it, and the river Kwai bridge.

It was about 3.40pm so i quickly went out and went to the thailand-burma death railway museum, which is directly opposite the allied cemetery. The museum was fantastic, and i learnt many things i did not know. Around 9,000 allied P.O.W's had died in the construction of the railway which was being built so the Japanese could have a safe land link from Bangkok up towards India. After the museum i went and wandered around the cemetery. It was about 5pm, the sun was setting and there was no-one else around, all the tour groups had been and gone. It was a very moving and surreal experience. I then checked out the chinese cemetery next door, which was nowhere near as pristine and perfect as the allied one, but different and interesting.

The next day, myself and 9 other people climbed into a minibus at 8am the next morning, and headed to Erawan falls. I was sat next to a german couple from Bavaria, as well as later meeting three people from Ireland and a couple from France. They gave us 2 1/2 hours for the falls which i thought would be way too much, but it turned out not to be enough! There are 7 main falls, and a trail that winds its way up and past them. The trail gets quite steep and treachorous the higher you go. Before entering our tour guide had warned us of the monkeys who lived there, who like to steal hats, sunglasses, whatever they can get their hands on! We went past them after the 3rd falls, but they were only just waking up it seemed as they were hanging out in the trees.

Our group split up as we swam in different falls. Very refreshing water, with fish nibbling at the dead skin on your feet. For some reason i plowed my way up to the top, it took two hours of quite slow meandering/picture taking/swimming, but i realized i had to be back down at the bottom for lunch at 11.30, and they were very keen for us not to be late! So i flew down. I don't think i really touched the ground. After 20 minutes i was sweating like crazy, ignoring the evil monkeys who were starting to cause some trouble lower down the falls. I got to the restaurant at 11.31, success :D.

We had a set list of things we could order, and i had sweet and sour chicken i think. They also gave us a whole lot of sliced pineapple and watermelon, and for the mains they brought out two pots of chili sauce to go with it. It was basically vinegar with very hot chili's (with seeds still attached) chucked in. Some bright spark decided to put some of the sauce, no chili's, on their pineapple. So i tried it too (with a chili), it was a very strange taste. Then we tried it with watermelon. I put a red chili on, then the girl sat next to me said 'you should put a green one on, for colour' i did, and the she found the fattest, greenest chili and put it on my watermelon as well. So by this point everybody was waiting to see my reaction to eating it. It was hot. For sure. But i resisted the temptation to drink so sat there and slowly turned the colour of the red chili's. Took it like a man. Quite a stupid one!

After this we went to hellfire pass, which was really interesting. Its a huge area of rock which mostly aussie P.O.W's had to carve away through using equipment that wasn't much use, so that the train line could pass through it. All these men were malnourished and many suffering from disease. It was called hellfire pass because at night it would be lit up by lanterns, giving it a very surreal look.

Following this were dropped off at a tiny train station, which had a cave nearby. The viaduct the track was on after leaving the station was built back in the P.O.W days, and looked very rickety. We jumped on the train at 4.30pm and rode slowly across it. Once across we thundered through the countryside, before getting off and rejoining our minibus, where we were driven to the river Kwai bridge. We only had 20 minutes here so it felt a bit rushed, but it was very interesting. You could walk across the bridge, and you could see where they had replaced the damage on the bridge caused by allied bombing.

I got back and showered, and eventually went to a place called tai-thai for dinner. I ordered thai red curry, always a mistake, it burnt my face off. Good times though. They had strange pictures of the top four premiership teams cartoon style in various different styles. For example, the man u players were gladiators. I wanted to punch them in the face. Yeah....

Next day i rented a bike from this place right next to my guesthouse. The most laid back man ever lives there. He was about to get in the shower when his wife went and grabbed him, he said 'you staying next door yeah?' Yup. Ok, here you go. None of my details, no payment upfront like normal, he was just 'here you go, have fun.' So i cycled down to the JEATH war museum, which was about a 10 minute ride away. Interesting place, mostly old photographs and news clippings. Worth a visit though. Then i chose one of the many floating restuarants just on the next street. Ordered deep fried prawn and plum sauce. Not too sure why. Everything came battered, including green beans and baby sweetcorn! Odd. But tasty enough. Then i cycled back past my guesthouse and north towards the river kwai bridge. Sat in a floating restaurant and watched the tourists wonder up and down the bridge.

So this website i mentioned earlier, travelfish, absolutely raved about this massage place called suan nanachaat. It's a massage place across the river run by a couple of brits. I was looking on their website and was getting round to calling them to book something, but i cycled past a guy wearing the company tshirt. So i stopped and sorted something out there and then. They pick you up and drop you off for free. Sweet. So the massage would come tomorrow. First, i found a restaurant a fair bit away from the main touristy strip. Most of the places just seem to be bars filled with expats, (all 50+ men) who i walk past every day and always seem to be in exactly the same places. Occasionally, with a thai wife nearby. So i was keen to wander and get away from that. So i found this place called chaba restaurant. Interesting setting, most of it looks like an english country garden with grass and paving stone path. I went for something i hadn't heard of before, having no idea what it was. Chicken penang. It was delicious. Tastiest food i've had in Thailand. I sat there for a bit writing in my diary when the staff started to talk to me. Shortly after i moved over to their table and sat with them. We talked about various things, such as family, work etc. Turns out they had been struggling for customers, because they are far away from the main tourist area, and not many people wander away from there. I felt bad because they had amazing food, and were really friendly. I told them i would be coming back tomorrow, and they told me if i brought customers they would give me a commission!

Also during this day i had arranged to go kayaking the next day, so at 9am the next day i rocked up at Kanchanburi travel centre where they loaded up my kayak and drove me a fair way upstream to the put in. If felt oddly like being back at Outward Bound Canada! So once i was in the water, i drifted downstream, the current being with me. Very peaceful, with a few speedboats going by creating waves. Eventually i got to the famous bridge, and paddled around that a little bit. The bridge after that was fun, the current flowed fast through it, and although there was no whitewater, it was fun to eddy hop from pillar to pillar. At one point i jumped out when i was in the middle on one pillar, sat there and watched the confused tourists speed by on the boats. Eventually i got to the pick up point. Went and had a shower, and some lunch. Then i got picked up by the owner of suan nanachaat and taken to the retreat. It's well away from all the commotion of the main area, in a very peaceful area across the river. I got there and said that i wanted a full body thai massage, not really knowing what this entailed as it was my first ever massage.

I got led to a changing room where i put on long thin flowing shirt and trousers. Then i was taken to the main massage area, where relaxing music was played. As i later discovered from the owner, thai massage is also known as passive yoga. So while many of the things done felt amazing, i was also put into various insane yoga positions by the masseuse, who would use her feet and arms to pull me about.

At first she started with my feet, which felt good, but then she popped all the joints in my toes! I started laughing a lot at this point, which pretty much set the tone for the whole thing. Then working on my legs, one at a time, often she would stop the flow of blood using her thumbs in certain locations, then release and work with the blood flow. Again, parts felt good, others hurt a little! The funniest part was my arms, where on occasion she would lightly punch me in the arm a few times. Again, i laughed a lot. I can get punched for free you know! What she did to my hands was amazing. But again, part of it involved pulling my fingers and hearing them click. She asked me to turn over and she worked on the back of my legs, and then my back. But then the really crazy yoga stuff happened. She'd put knees in places, elbows in places, and just pull me in various directions, usually until there was a 'click' from my body. Again, i was laughing a lot. It was crazy. By the end, i felt amazing, but it was a very strange experience. Talking to the owner on the way back, he told me that the oil massages involve no work from me. That sounds like a plan for next time.

And so in the evening i went back to the amazing restaurant i went to the night before, and this time there were 2 other customers in there! I felt happy for the staff. After talking to the chef lady who i met last night, i ended up going for a massaman curry, which was a sweet and aromatic thing with chicken, potatoes and veg. Amazing, again. They had a whole lot of some kind of fruit on a table next to the street, and they started to bring them inside, so i offered to help, and so did the couple on the other table! After this they gave us some of this fruit to eat, no idea what it was but it was pretty tasty! Then it started to rain, so i ran inside and sat down, and the couple asked if they could join me. Turns out they were both from different parts of France, had met in Austrailia where she had done the last year of her studies and he had been working. We sat and talked about everything, and drank beer. After a while the girl went to go talk to the staff who were sat at the bar, and me and the guy talked about more stuff. Then a little while later, the staff came over with shots of tequila and limes, they were sad that we were all leaving the next day! It was also the french couple's 2nd time at the restaurant, and they also raved about the food. Then the staff cooked some french fries and we all sat around and munched on them, enjoying the good times. Eventually we decided we should go, the french couple gave me a lift back on their motorbike, first time i had seen three westerners on one bike! At the moment the record that i have seen is 5 people on one motorbike, although often 3 of those will be small kids. Back to guesthouse, sleep.....

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