03.04.2009 - 07.04.2009
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Now as I sit on the bus headed to Ko Samui for the Full Moon Party a lot has occurred since my first blog entry. There was a little bit of a quick decision that had to be made after arriving in Kenchanaburi since the trip over to Sangkhlaburi (which was highly recommended in Travel Fish) was turning out to be pretty difficult to get to, especially since we only had a few days there and hadn’t decided whether we wanted to do a trek while there. Fortunately while doing some research while waiting for our mini-van we found out that P Guesthouse in town offered a one day trek that offered everything hikes in Chiang Mai did, just without the massive flow of tourists flocking to the villages or forested areas. We couldn’t reach P Guesthouse to book a reservation so we just decided to wing it and head over hoping for the best. The two our ride from Kanchanaburi to Sangkhlaburi was esay enough and after arriving around 4pm we headed to P Gueshouse and luckily we were able to get a room for two nights and sign up for the trek the following day.
P Guesthouse was unbelievable and I highly recommend staying there. This and another place called Burmese Inn are both very popular, but where we stayed definitely stood out for its staff, food, views, and vibe. The first night we spent around the guesthouse area relaxing near the lake until the sunset faded. We attempted to visit around the quaint village for a little bit until about 2 minutes into our walk I heard a slight noise come from Jessie only to find her on the ground with her entire leg inside a drain/manhole. I’m not sure exactly how she managed to put her leg into a hole the exact size of her foot, but it happened, and that was the end of our little walk, just some scratch marks along her leg, but nothing life threatening. That night we checked out a floating restaurant that was recommended in our guide book but was completely empty. The food was decent enough, nothing to write home about, but still very cheap.
The following day we started our trip with seven other people to boat ride underneath the world’s longest wooden bridge, visit an underwater temple (Jessie mentioned earlier that they damned the river flowing through the town, therefore creating the lake/reservoir that currently resides, therefore flooding any trees and structures that stood in its path, such as the temple), elephant riding, and bamboo rafting. I thought the day was a perfect option for anyone in a rush. While we didn’t visit any villages, which is usually a popular aspect of the treks offered in the north, I wasn’t too disappointed since those villages usually aren’t that secluded since they are visited by hundreds of tourists a day, and typically are only around because of the tour outfitters. Besides that, the elephant ride was a lot of fun as it was my first time to have that experience and the bamboo raft was both fun and relaxing. A solid lunch of fried rice and a much needed dip in the cold river mid way through the rafting segment topped the trip off. Also, our guide was a camera maniac and took close to a hundred pictures of each person throughout the trip from all different vantage points. Once we were wondering where he disappeared to only to find him up in a trip taking pictures from above.
Once we arrived back to the guest house around 2pm we decided to take another motor bike out on the town, this time with Jessie behind the wheel to visit the Mon Village across the lake as well as a temple, large Pogoda, and lastly the Three Pagodas that mark the Thai-Burmese border. The Mon Village was really interesting to visit since it gave some perspective into the poorer communities in Thailand, and it also gave us the opportunity to stop and actually walk on the wooden bridge, which I guess now adds another feat of walking across the longest man-made bridge in the world! Looking across the lake from P Gueshouse, a really cool looking golden Pagoda with Indian influences juts out from the forest, and while not as impressive up close (the reflection of the sun from a distance makes the gold much brighter) it was still a nice quick visit. On our way to the border it started pouring rain, so we stopped at a guard post to wait out the storm. The guards were a lot of fun, and after we asked for a picture with them, the cameras immediately came out as they too wanted pictures with the American and “Canadian.” The drive to the border from town is only 22 km, so even though the three Pagodas were pretty uninspiring, we didn’t have to sacrifice much and getting to the border was a nice surprise to our itinerary since we decided on the journey that same day. Burma is closed off to tourists and only allows around 100 visas a year, so spending time in the country is almost impossible, so at least being able to see the surrounding area from a distance I guess could be considered second best.
That night we ate at the hostel and tried some Burmese curry, which was pretty tasty and we could immediately tell the difference between it and Thai curry since it definitely had an Indian influence to it. We also finally smartened up and had the lady working at the desk write down on a piece of paper how to say “What is your best dish?” in Thai, so now when we show up to restaurants we just point to the piece of paper, and away the waiters go giving us advice on their best dishes…so far its helped a lot. The food has been very nice in our first week here. There are some dishes that are a little on the blander side compared to its Americanized counterpart, such as Pad Thai, but the majority of dishes have been impressive. After the cooking class in Chiang Mai, its now very easy to detect all the herbs and sauces they use. In fact, most dishes offered are very quick and easy to cook and only require the same types of sauces, herbs, and spices in most dishes, just with different variations and main ingredients. For example, fish sauce, oyster sauce, mushroom sauce, chili paste, coconut milk, and sweet and sour sauce are the main staples purchased in the markets that can be found in most dishes. Ginger, garlic, shallot, thai basil, green beans, cabbage, chili, kfair leaves, lime, mint, cilantro, and a few other herbs can be tasted throughout most entrees. And finally, the different meats, vegetables, rice, and noodles make each dish unique. I actually just recently tried a street food that I loved - spicy sausage sliced at an angle served with big heads of cabbage and large thin slices of ginger and dried chilies. The combination of flavors was really great, and can’t be beaten for around 50 cents.
Back to Kanchaburi we dropped our bags off early in the morning at the Jolly Frog Guesthouse and once again made a last second decision to head to the Erewan Waterfalls and spend the night in the national park first and then visit the few museums and attractions Kanchaburi is famous for. We arrived late to the national park unaware that the waterfalls close at 4pm as well as the caves, so we spent the afternoon and night wandering around and after finding a good location for the sunset, we set up shop and waited for it. I had read in a blog that hitchhiking was very easy and safe to do around Thailand, and it was readily apparent while walking outside the park. Without even trying to get a ride drivers and bikers were constantly stopping asking if we needed a ride back to the park or even back to Kanchaburi, a two hour ride. We would eventually rely on hitch hiking to get us from the Hellfire Pass Museum to the Death Railway, but we stuck to walking that first night.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to be the first ones at the waterfalls. Erewan Falls is a seven tiered waterfall system that is probably the most famous in Thailand. The water is crisp, clear, and bright turquoise with each tier providing different swimming environments, large fish, and interesting levels of water streams. Although for picture sake, the sun wasn’t at its perfect height to reflect the water’s color, getting their before anyone else allowed for some really nice unobstructed pictures. The entire hike up to the seventh tier and a little swim time took close to 3 hours, which was longer than expected, so we had to rush a bit in order to make visit the Hellfire Pass Museum and make the train ride back to the main town.
The original plan was to go from the national park back to Kanchaburi, take the Death Railway train to Nom Tok and visit the Hellfire Museum afterwards before getting a bus back to town. However, with a little research, Jessie discovered that we could get to these attractions without first going back to town, which would save us a few hours of transport, so that’s what we did. What we hadn’t planned on was the expensive cost to get from the park to Hellfire Pass. The cost is of course relative to Thai standards, and if we had more time I would highly have suggested hitch hiking since the road is a straight shot to the museum, not to mention it would have saved some good money.
I’ll save the history lesson, but the Kanchaburi and the surrounding was a strategic location really important in WWII, and the Japanese recruited POWs and workers from surrounding countries to build a massive railroad along the Burmese border for transport of supplies. Thousands of these men died in the process due to the terrible conditions they were put through, and the museum was dedicated to these men and describes the whole history of the project and even offers a walking tour that visit’s the actual Hellfire Pass and other areas along the railroad. We were a bit rushed to get back, so we only did the bare minimum, but everyone raves about the museum and it’s design, and it was nice to get a little history in before taking the Death Railway back home.
The train was well worth the time. It does take about twice as long to return, but the scenery is really nice and the final stretch of the trip, crossing the Bridge at River Kuaii, is a really famous segment of the journey. There were some really cute kids on the train as well that were fascinated by Jessie so that kept us occupied throughout the trip as we were able to capture some really great pictures of them. The next morning we took a bus back to Bangkok in order to pick our passports back up, now with visas to Vietnam, Jessie’s contacts that I left back in NY, and the chance to visit the Royal Palace. The palace was indeed extremely impressive and I’m glad I had the chance to visit it, even though we only made the closing time by 5 minutes due to an inept taxi cab driver. We left the Full Moon Party until the last minute and most accommodation was booked, so we decided to spend those few days in Ko Samui instead and just take a ferry to Ko Phanang the afternoon of the party and return back the next morning. I actually think this route may be better since Ko Samui seems a bit more interesting of an island, and accommodation
compared to Full Moon prices are much more reasonable. Until next time…..