I need to give this post some context. I am writing, wrapped up on my bed, having just devoured the Thai take on Red Velvet cake in a muffin form, bought from the 7-Eleven and might be able to feel the beginning of a hangover already. I am sipping water to try and negate this and Sarah is out cold in her own bed next to me. Dead to the world.
We got up this morning and walked to Kanchanaburi station - not far from where we're staying but a little walk up to the main road and through the shut up market. There are stalls that look semi-permanent and we agree we should check it out another night.
There's a queue for tickets. A set price of 100BHT a ticket for tourists to make the ride down to the end of the line. Trains no longer run down the full length of the Death Railway going about two thirds of the way. As we're served at the window we encounter the issue that befalls every traveller at some point, only having high denomination bank notes in our wallets. We are asked to stand to one side and wait. When enough change is collected (or someone has made it to the bank, I'm not quite sure which) we are called back to the window and handed our tickets and our change.
I pick up a copy of the Southern Timetable. This covers all the trains from Bangkok to KL. It's an attempt at relative time time-tables and takes a little getting used to but it's the core guide for our making our way further South and we flick to it through the day, looking at where we can go next.
They obviously knew we were coming. Sat in the station in all its green, cream and gold beauty was the Eastern and Oriental Express. The staff are immaculately turned out and we peruse the cocktail menu through a window. Would they notice if we just slipped on board and sat down? How far could we get? Worth a go? We sat on a bench in the shade watching guests carrying their branded bottles of water board the train. A few of the larger guests struggled to make the foot plate but staff were on hand to politely shove the right parts and see them safely on board... Just.
Thai people are very relaxed about the wait for things occur. We sit and watch the minutes pass as our own departure draws closer wondering when they'll fetch in the steps for the express and pull out... But they don't. The beautiful train sits there. And continues to sit there.
There's the beginning of action further along the platform. A different platform? Cross through the E&OE? We had been told to sit and wait on this platform. We decide to give it a moment and see how this pans out. It turns out yes, everyone who was trying to get to our train had to pass through the Express. The beautifully turned out staff took it in their stride, guiding us promptly up and out the other side. The briefest smell of wood polish and glance of crystal glassware and we're back on the track bed in the bright sun looking at our ancient train that will carry us down the line. Our seats were to be a bit more humble.
This is a great example of true tourism, You take something that not even the locals are prepared to travel in, namely third class carriages from the 1940s and 50s that have wholly wooden seats and you charge the tourist 100BHT to ride in them, whilst chasing out the locals who have paid a cheaper fare. We take our seats - they're not that uncomfortable and start the ride with the usual theatre of going forwards and backwards, picking up coaches and eventually trundling on. It's a two hour ride to make the end of the line. This whole route largely exists for tourists although we do spot very small villages along the way. I am rocked into a snooze by the mix of the warmth and the motion of the carriage and when I wake up in a very fine dust. Sarah isn't sure what caused it, but there was a lot of it.
Nam Tok is the end of the line and there's nothing here. We negotiate with a man with a truck to take us up to Hellfire Pass. It's not cheap but we agree a price for a return journey to make the train back to Kanchanaburi and having run us up to the doors to the museum, which was a lot longer than we thought or would have wanted to walk, we didn't feel so bad.
We walked down the first stretch of the preserved section of the track first and through the pass to the memorial at the end. On entering the beginning of the cut there are people's personal memorials littered up the walls, photographs, small wooded crosses, poppies wedged into almost every nook in the rock face. This was once a smooth hill side. This is hard to believe and even harder as you find the broken off tips of hammer and tap 'drill' bits that are in the rock. This is the deepest 'cut' in the death railway and every inch of it was created by the hard work and forced manual labour or allied troops and duped Asian workers. It's a strange spot to want to take a selfie but a couple are moving slowly through the cut with a phone on a selfie stick. Perhaps the events that occurred in this narrow chasm do not translate. I'm moved by the place and we sit in the shade at the end of the cut for a while before heading back up the winding track to the museum.
The full trail of the preserved section of The Death Railway is 4km long and very much on the list to do another day (read next trip). It takes in several of the cuts and wooden built bridges along the original route. You walk along the track bed all day and so I would probably need something a little more sturdy than my flat deck shoes.
The museum isn't huge but packed with enough slightly terrifying facts to leave you a little heady at the end. A mix of photographs and survivors art work lines the walls and shows you how thin and tortured these men were. We step out of the cool air conditioned museum and back into the dazzling sunlight to reclaim our shoes.
A stall at the top of the car park sells cold drinks and we pause here swigging back a strange chocolate milk shake before getting back into our truck. The driver still waiting for us, chatting to other drivers.
The truck driver whisks us back to Nam Tok at break neck speed, overtaking everything on the road and are at the station with time enough to buy tickets and board the train in an orderly fashion. Being the last train back, it gets much busier just as I start to doze. Suddenly I'm thrown awake and a little confused but a loud crunch-bump and a face full of dust. It happens again. Are we derailing? Under attack? It turns out that where they are re-laying the track and ballast, that it is so new that pieces of it still get caught under the wheels as the train comes past, shattering under the weight and throwing dust everywhere. The dust makes my hair feel brittle.
The train sits at a set of points and wait for the last train towards Nam Tok to pass us before continuing on. No one quite knows when it'll get there. People get off and go looking for drinks, toilets or just something different to do. Eventually the platform staff wave everyone back onto the train. Beyond this to Kwai Bridge Station, there is only one track and so the train had to pass us before we were able to continue.
We get off at Kwai Bridge Station to walk over the bridge and back to the guest house. As we walk back from the station to the river we are drawn in by a tat shop and mooch a little in the cool evening. It is a cave of wonders. Everything we had seen at every tourist attraction since arriving for half the price. A few treasures and a silly hat to keep the sun off my neck are acquired, One 'gem of a find' was needed in three colours for Sarah and it was only my insistence in tearing her away that she didn't have one of each colour they made!
We walk to the bridge in time to see the sun set whilst standing over the river. There are a lot of tourists in every spot and so I struggle to find any attractive picture of the bridge - I might try again tomorrow but it is not as big as you might think. It is impressive for what it represents and iconic in every way. We were informed earlier in the day that it is due to the plain engineering skill of the British and their being under good command that means it was completed with minimal fuss.
It's time for a beer. There's a place on the content that serves cold Singha (everywhere seems to) and we sit in the fading evening and sip. We make it through two bottles before we have enough of being eaten alive and decide we need to find somewhere new and have some dinner.
Exploring the back road towards the guest house, we end up in the first place that has other guests. A good sign anywhere. The menu is geared toward tourists wanting a taste of home but as the back is a list of Thai dishes. We order several and break into a few more beers. There's an awkward moment where I'm nearly left hanging, having gone to cheers Sarah - thankfully the social faux-pas is avoided... just. The food is as good as I've come to expect here and for a fraction of the cost that you might pay for the same at home. There is, as ever, one more beer (we share a large one) and we settle our very reasonable bill.
Strolling back to the guest house, the vaguest of plans is forming for the evening, including trying to take up a sign on getting drunk for 10BHT, washing the dust out of our hair, maybe some clean clothes...
There's nothing quite like a hard day being a tourist and nothing like a shower and clean pants to make you feel great. Raring to go we slipped up the driveway and to the 'Drunk for 10BHT' stall. It's disappointing. It transpires it's largely a cheap whisky bar and watching the girl running it short pour a 15ml measure into Coke, I was underwhelmed. We sat and drank our first drink and thought instead we would try a shot of a mixture from two bottles best identified by their colour. I can't describe what it tasted like but after a second dud I was ready to move on.
Meters from where we sat was Blue Jeans - the closest I have seen Thailand get to a pub. We take a seat and are handed a six page cocktail list. A little more promising, a lot more than 10BHT a piece - but why not. We aren't very good at planning. If any of this looks like a beautiful and masterfully planned trip to anyone, then you've got us all wrong. Indecision, being easily distracted by shiny tat and a willingness to go 'yeah...ok, why not..." means that at best we're like two people getting on a bus with good intentions and no real idea where it's going. Our vaguest of goals for this trip is to make it to Singapore. I can tell you now that neither of us expect to make it that far, but it gives us a direction to travel in. But on the cocktail list is a Singapore Sling. It would be rude not to, just to say we had one whilst we were away and to give us a basis for comparison if we do eventually make it to the bar at Raffles.
For a cocktail that was costing less than £3 a go, they were surprisingly good. As they arrived a band were striking up just meters away. Jimi Hendrix, a little Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here - which has been knocking around inside my head for about a week), some Stones... I thought as we were sipping on a very interesting take on a Margherita that the band had a groupie - turns out it was the lead's wife. Ah the life of an ageing Thai rockstar. We wrap the night off with a Left-handed Screwdriver as they're in the throws of Honky Tonk Blues. We can both feel the headache coming already! Time to turn in, but I have a craving for something sweet... and so I am sat in bed munching on Red Velvet cake.
There is the danger of getting stuck in Thailand. Finding a place that is beautiful, easy and with good food, you very quickly get comfortable. To avoid this, we booked ourselves somewhere for tomorrow night to propel our journey onwards. It's very easy to get caught in the Thai's chilled out vibe but Kanchanaburi exists wholly for the tourist to do the things we did today. It's the end of the line except for the run out over the River Kwai and whilst it's pretty enough, there are better gems further South to pick and to get stuck at.