7 March 2011

Kanchanaburi

A cacophony of sound. Yes that is what I heard as I put my head on the pillow at midnight in the Thai Garden Inn on the edge of Kanchanaburi. Frogs, cicadas, a distant rooster, night birds and a host of small insects whose names I couldn't possibly pronounce.

Kanchanaburi lies a hundred miles to the north west of Bangkok and is famous because the River Kwai Yai flows through it - under the famous Bridge on the River Kwai. I couldn't do everything in the thirty six hours I was there but I visited two war cemeteries, a large Buddhist temple complex and two museums that tell the story of the Japanese Death Railway. Between 1941 and 1943, 100,000 men died in the construction of this vital link between Thailand and the Burmese coast. Nearly seven thousand of them were young British prisoners of war brought up in cramped box carriages from Singapore and Malaya. Around 40,000 were Malays and a further 40,000 were Burmese. Many Dutchmen and Australians also perished.

The cruel single-mindedness of the Japanese seemed to know no bounds. Dysentery and cholera were rife. There were tropical ulcers and festering wounds. So many heartbreaking stories. Food supplies were paltry and equipment to drive the railway through the mountains was very limited - disposable human muscle power being the principal resource. At the Jeath Museum in the grounds of Wat Chaichumpol Temple, the visitor leaflet closes with these salutary words - "May Peace Always Conquer Violence".

Cycling back from Chungkai War Cemetery, I was startled by a six foot crocodile that had been resting in the grass at the side of the road. It made a swift beeline for the bushes. Later, I was surprised to discover that the Siamese crocodile is extremely rare - a truly endangered species. I guess it could have been a different kind of croc. It all happened so quickly. I'm just so glad it didn't choose to rear up from the tall grass and take a chunk out of my left leg! Sir Chris Hoy or Lance Armstrong never had such problems when cycling.

I swam dozens of lengths of the lukewarm hotel pool, separately met two people from Sheffield and had a whole riverside restaurant to myself as I ate a delicious Thai meal watching the swirling mountain waters flow past me. I rode back to Bangkok in a cramped minibus - £3 for the trip - and after battling through the city's eternal traffic jam I was deposited at a bus station just a mile from my serene guesthouse.

Walking across the Sood Jai Bridge, I had looked at the verdant river vista before me with distant and strangely shaped mountains beyond, shimmering in a haze of heat and had whispered to myself "Yes - this is really Thailand". A dragon boat had powered through the water as I had noticed a little palm leaf house in the shadow of the arching concrete. Here's my latest photo album:-
Dedicated to the memory of a random member of the British army: 996278 Gunner H.Heward who died on October 8th 1943 at the age of thirty one. How very different his visit to the River Kwai must have been. May he rest in peace...

6 comments:

  1. Lovely photos, YP and a wonderful visit which will stay with you always.

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  2. Fascinating 'travelogue' Mr Pudding.
    My next door neighbour many years ago had been a prisoner of war...I was too young to think about his experiences then but now have pause to think how wretched it must have been.

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  3. I am now whistling the "Colonel Bogey March" as I type. Thank you, Pudding. Or not.

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  4. Thank you so much for the story and the feelings that you shared. I saw this by Plato last evening...."Only the dead will see the end of war." Or something like that.

    At first reading, I thought you had cycled the whole way to Kanchanaburi from Bancock. Thank goodness I read it the whole way through!

    One of my favorite words in the English language is cacophony.

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  5. like libby I knew a prisioner of war ( a patient in my psychiatric days)
    she was interned in sumatra

    excellent writing as usual.....I can feel a book coming on!

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  6. JENNY Yes. Making memories. If on my old HOD treadmill I would have just been making days pass by.
    LIBBY Yes being in a place like Kanchanaburi or Belsen really brings it home to you.
    RHYMES Thanks for being one of my most loyal readers. I is much appreciated sir.
    MOUNTAIN MAMA We humans do seem to have an amazing capacity for creating armed conflict, or is it just the men who do it? Cacophony of gunfire doesn't sound so nice.
    JOHN GRAY No book coming but I do enjoy writing and this old blogging lark gives us all the opportunity to publish without silly old things like publishers and editors getting in the way.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.