As mentioned yesterday, Kanchanaburi is a dead end in our generally Southern heading. To get further South from here you either need to go by road, or backtrack by rail. Now I have mentioned on a few occasions my love of the Thai railway but I should also touch upon the fact that it is massively affordable and I find you get to see a lot more and interact with the other people you're making the journey with rather than all sit facing forward, looking at lay-bys and the plants that line wider national roads, punctuated by service stations and the odd dog the bus swerves to avoid. So we decided we would leave by train, it would mean heading back North to a station with better connections and then heading back South.
It was a beautiful morning in Kanchanaburi and we spend some time sorting out our things, tidying up and pulling out some laundry to drop into one of the places along the tourist drag. 20THB a kind or about 40 pence. I walked down the strip to the launderette where a small Thai man sat watching the TV. I explained that we needed the washing back by 1. He had initially suggested 6 but was fine with 1 - not a bad haggle down.
Strolling back to the room, I'm looking for places to have breakfast. We had walked past one place last night on the walk back from The Bridge that offered Breakfast and Pad Thai. I thought we might be in with some luck. With bags packed and stowed in the guest house we walk down the back street that leads towards the river. I'm starting to doubt my memory when I spot the sign on the other side of the road. We are seated and get comfortable, abusing the free WiFi after ordering two Pad Thai and some drinks. It is an amazing morning and already hot. I am immensely pleased with the large hat I gained in the tat shop yesterday, keeping the sun off my neck.
Time is marching on and I want to see the Jeath. It turns out there are actually three museums that are called or call themselves the Jeath Museum in Kanchanaburi. We made it to two of these but I suspect that Sarah was remembering the third. The first is tucked away behind stalls in a market. It has a slowly rusting Japanese loco in the yard, with a car parked over its coal compartment. This place is more like a cabinet of curios than a museum and certain sellers of tourist junk seem to have got a foothold inside. It sprawls across many levels and also houses a jewellery museum and Miss Thailand Directory - a mural painted across a wall with clothing racks in an adjoining room. There are some good pieces tucked away in here, but you really have to look. It does however offer some great views over the bridge.
We loop back and follow the railway until it meets the main road and head towards the train station. The sun is beating down on us now and we pause for a drink. It's quite a comparison when you can buy a bottle of Sprite here for forty pence. We pass by the train station to buy tickets for the journey North. We're turned away as there are more than thirty minutes until the train is due to depart. I remember vaguely reading this somewhere. Maybe because we weren't at a starting station... Oh well. We walked a little further down the road to the railway museum and research centre. This is much more how most people in the UK would expect a museum to be. It's pristine and the entrance fee includes a coffee in the cafe at the end. It sits next to one of the cemeteries in Kanchanaburi, somewhere I don't think I could handle after two days of looking at photos of emaciated men.
Cutting it fine, we swing by the launderette where we are handed the bag of beautifully smelling, clean and folded laundry, pop via the Tamarind to collect our bags. At the train station we are able to buy our tickets to Nakhon Pathom and have only a short wait before our train pulls in. It's long enough to let us get a good look at the general back packers that are currently mooching around Thailand, talking inanely about how they lay in the sun, got heat stroke, are now wary of drinking in the sun, but... wait... they're going on a booze cruise in a few days. It leaves one slightly despairing of the fact that there are people who simply want a slightly more exotic version of a Friday night out in Clapham, every night of their holiday. I'm all for kicking back and enjoying a very cold beer or 4, but I like the lack of sterility, the ability to haggle and to walk away feeling I have seen and learnt something... This is becoming a longer and more meandering rant than I had intended but I hope that it conveys something of my determination not to be a t**t abroad.
On boarding our train, we settle down next to a Thai man who at first looks a little uncomfortable, but on realising we're not going to eat him or try to struggle in Thai that doesn't go much further than 'Sawadee', he settles back into his seat too.
The warmth of the day and the rocking of the train lulled me to sleep quickly. I woke up about half an hour from our Northern destination. There are two things every Thai person in Thailand loves. One is the King. The other is Buddha and they take their Wat (temples) very, very seriously. It seems like a contest in many ways and as we walk through the station we are met by the BIGGEST Wat I have ever seen.
It's giant. We walk down the road, a strange little market where people on their scooters ride up to the stalls, place their orders and ride off to get a clearer view of the Wat and then turn back, finding some more Langhsat on the way and getting some more water at the 7-Eleven. We sit on a bench at the station and practice our peeling technique. There's a roll and twist that means the fruit comes out neatly with the the skin in two halves.
The train pulls in. Technically we have allocated seats, but it's 3rd class the whole way unless you're in the sleeper section and the carriage we are in is nearly empty. We pick some unoccupied seats and get comfortable. As the train rolls back South, partly the way we have come very recently, we start to plan the trip beyond this point. Two weeks isn't very long to get used to or see a lot of another country, no matter how you travel and so inevitably we need to think about how far South we want to go and how much time various options mean we need to leave for the ride back to Bangkok to fly home.
The jumps from here might get longer with more time spent in each place. There are options for some island hoping and we would both like a few days in PKK to kick back on the seafront and walk on the white sands of Ao Ma Nao beach.
There is a family sat behind us with this very small baby girl who is very interested in Sarah and I, we wave, pull faces and exchange smiles with the members of the family who are chatting away to the baby who stares at us with wide eyes. There is a slightly awkward moment where they are searched and checked by the train police for seemingly no reason at all. Thailand as a whole aspires to have fairer skin and so class is determined by a mix of time you have to spend in the sun and the amount of money you can spend on whitening products. Every brand of moisturiser here comes with either whitening or anti-spot additives. The train police find no reason to hassle them any more and everyone settles back down.
It's getting dark outside. The sky is pink, turning gold and then purple as the sun sets. The temperature starts to fall, not too cold, and in the dark we finally pull into Phetchaburi. Thanks to technology working (we love a certain mapping app) as it should we quickly find our way to The White Monkey and, travel weary, check in. The host easily up sells us to the room with the air con for an extra 50THB. A decent shower that is almost hot does a lot to restore us and the room is comfortable and clean.
We lounge a little enjoying a G&T. We flick through the random pieces of laminated paper on a stand in the room and see the details of things our guest house can offer or arrange, Thai massage, buses, taxis, laundry... After I had dropped off the laundry this morning, Sarah realised that she hadn't given me half of her washing and so we drop this and today's clothes in to the service at the guest house. The man on the desk advises us where to go in search of reasonable Thai food - out the door, left, left and left again. We are spotted miles off as tourists. We try the restaurant we think looks the best and then are directed back one door. As soon as we walk in, without a word, the woman in charge who is sat at a table, turns to the old lady who is working the wok and says 'two Pad Thai'. There are no other options or choices. It's not bad either! As we had explored our many left turns we spied a bar for afters. It had the coldest beers we've had to date. There's great people watching two. Three guys who arrived on the same 100cc scooter are sat at the table across. They order a bottle of cheap scotch which one of the younger waiters hops on a different scooter to fetch and then spends the evening dutifully pouring for them. They must be regulars as the waiter knows how the three want it served without being told and kneels down next to the table to have a quiet one himself without his boss seeing. Dogs run through the streets in packs and the night moves on. Pretty spent after four Singha we make the huge 150 meter walk back to our guest house. Tomorrow we're heading to Chumphon on an evening train. The town is the gateway to some of the more popular islands, an early night is called for and what makes it better is that breakfast is included in the room rate!