Friday, March 28, 2008

Kanchanaburi Grim - Visiting A Cemetery & a Death Museum

West of Bangkok, and a 3-hour drive headed via the eastern highway towards Ratchaburi is the central town of Kanchanaburi. With a population of barely 60,000, this stretched out town boasts of several sights that tourists flock to, the main one being the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai, popularized by an old American film. This bridge is linked to the famous World War 2 Death Railway to Burma. These days, tourists take on the riverside scenery in droves.

For this trip, here is the tour package itinerary, as published. Tourists will be pickep up from their guesthouses at 7 AM. From there, the van travels 3 hours to Kanchanaburi and head straight to its first stop, the Cemetery of the Allied Prisoners of the 2nd World War, then a visit to the War Museum, aka the JEATH Museum (an acronym: read further). At 10:30, we would take a walk to the Bridge Over The River Kwai. After that, they will take us to a train station. We shall take the train through these wood-based train tracks, experience the Death Railway first hand, which is allegedly the most dangerous curbing bridge in the world. The bridge itself is made of wooden logs along the mountain. At 1 PM, we shall have our Thai lunch. At 2 PM, we shall be taken to Sai Yok Noi, the other waterfall attraction in this area (the more majestic waterfall would be the Erawan Falls). It’s supposed to be our free time. We will be free to roam the area on our own. At 2:30 PM, we shall leave the waterfall for the Tiger Temple.

I paid 600 baht for the whole trip, which seems like such a bargain considering this includes a comfortable van taking us all around 5 places to visit, and this includes lunch. However, there are optional areas we have to pay extra. JEATH Museum is 40 baht; train ride is 50 baht, and then the “donation money” at the Tiger Temple is 300 baht. You may choose not to get inside these sights although you'd feel like a big loser if you don’t - you’re already there! And what else would you do while the rest of your van-mates traipse along? Wait in the van with the driver? Therefore, you need to shell out a minimum of 1,100 baht for the whole tour. Still a bargain though. And yeah, if you do plan to visit the Tiger Temple, you have to avoid wearing colorful, eye-catching shirts – FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY, for Pete’s sake! Why? Read on!

United Nations cast: 2 Austrian guys, a young Malaysian couple (he: a University student taking plant biology – err isn’t it easier to just call it “botany”?), 2 Spanish guys (who I later learned were brothers, one was a tall lanky 17 year old, and a bulky guy); a really touchy-feely German couple (I am sorry but these two seemed made for each other, both looking toothsome and ... errr “homely”). Now, the good thing about this group is that no one wanted to mingle. It's the most quiet tour I've had in years! LOL. I was conversing with the Malaysian guy, but after a while, we ran out of interesting things to discuss, and I got sleepy. I slept the last hour of the trip.

Upon reaching the Kanchanaburi Allied War Cemetery, we went our separate ways. We were instructed to meet at the van. The Kan Cemetery (free admission) is an idyllic sight to visit. This is the Thai people’s gift to the allied forces who died during the war. Some 7,000 soldiers, mostly British and Dutch, were buried here, and just reading through the inscriptions gave it a somber, albeit wistful atmosphere. From there, we were taken to a Museum, just straight up the Th. Saengchuto. This was the JEATH Museum. The acronym stands for the participating countries found in the horrific torture chambers: Japan, America, England, Australia, Thailand, Holland. Poorly maintained, we paid 40 baht for the materials used to torture the prisoners. There were mannequins depicting the manner in which the prisoners were violently killed by their Japanese tormentors. No one else bothered with the nearby Jewelry Museum. I took several minutes to digest the scenic river view of Kwai River. From a distance, I saw the infamous bridge. There were a few boats on the river. From there, we took a walk towards the Bridge over River Kwai, which is a hundred meter walk from the museum, passing through restaurants and tiangge. It was a nice area. Clean river, rustic bridge, and a well-maintained park by the river.

Entrace, Kanchanaburi Allied War Cemetery.

Exit, Allied War Cemetery, Kanchanaburi.

Thatched bamboo hut at the JEATH Museum.

Phra That Kwai Yai, JEATH Museum grounds.

Replica of some of the soldiers who were tortured to their death by the Japanese forces during World War 2.

River Kwai

The Bridge over the River Kwai, taken from the JEATH Museum.

No comments: