Thursday, June 23, 2016

Thailand Tour Part 7: Floating Markets and the River Kwai

November 29, 2015
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, 
the Bridge on the River Kwai, and Hellfire Pass

Our tour group departed the Evergreen Lauren Hotel and Bangkok early this morning and headed west toward Ratchaburi and Kanachaburi Provinces.  Our first stop was the famous Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Our language lesson on the bus this morning was designed to help us do our own shopping in the busy market:  "khob khun" for thank you, and "mai" for no.  (An important word to know for dealing with persistent vendors!)  The market consists of several canals cutting like roads through lines and lines of stalls of merchandise.  While I'm sure that it was once a village market where local people went to meet and shop for fresh produce and goods, the market has become a huge tourist draw and most of the stalls now are filled with tourist products like the cool baggy pants founds everywhere in Thailand, hats, trinkets, little statues, and postcards.
Tourist shops along the canals 
Items for sale at the Floating Market
After using the - ummm, interesting - restroom facilities, our tour members boarded several of the small wooden boats that fill the river and floated out from the covered docks into the open canals.  As we were among the earliest tourists to arrive, the first half of our visit was fun and fascinating.  Vendors on boats floated by, some cooking fresh food and meats right on their boats, others selling fruit to the tourists as they passed. Rob, of course, enjoyed his favorite drink of fresh coconut water.
Toilet facilities in Thailand were mixed - everything from elegant and modern to these "squat toilets."
The green bowl is for dipping water from the pool to flush the toilet.
Our tour members wait to board their boat.
Rob and our boatman
Some of our tour members explore the Floating Market
We could buy tropical fruits right off the boat.
Some of the boats had their own grills all fired up.
Coconut water, anyone?

Why, yes, please!
By the end of our excursion, other tourist boats filled the canals like a traffic jam on the L.A. freeways and there were times when we came to a complete halt.  I found it a shame that it had become so touristy - although, since I was part of the problem, I did not have reason to criticize.  This is one of the dilemmas of a world in which so many of us have the privilege of traveling.  You just have to look past the crowds and enjoy the experience!
Traffic jam in the floating market
As the morning got later, the traffic jam got worse!
After our boat ride, we had a few minutes to wander around the extensive "on-land" market that surrounds the canals.
Joan and Rob on the bridge over the Floating Market

Back on the bus, Yo described a variety of tropical fruits she had picked up in the market:  sapodela, lady finger bananas, egg bananas, rose apple, guava, and jack fruits.  As she described them, she handed out tasty samples of each.  We topped off the fruit with samples of a sweet and salty Thai "taco," and Ka-nom-sai-sai, a Thai dessert of tapioca and rice flour stuffed with coconut flesh and cooked in a banana leaf.

Yo often handed out Thai treats she had picked up for us.

We drove deeper into the countryside to the city of Kanchanaburi where we visited the War Cemetery.  This cemetery honors the memory of the prisoners of war who died while building the Burma-Thailand Railroad.  There are 6,982 POWs buried here, mostly Australian, British, and Dutch.  (Americans who died here were returned to the United States.)  It was very moving to browse through the cemetery and read the loving inscriptions on some of the gravestones.
Entering Kanchanaburi - pictures of the King and Queen were spotted
everywhere we went in Thailand.
Entering the city of Kanchanaburi

Plaque at the entrance to the War Cemetery

Memorial at the War Cemetery

Graves of the POWs who perished while working on the
Burma-Thailand Railroad

"To those who loved and lost you
your sweet memory will never grow old"

Our trip into World War II history continued through the rest of the day.  Our lunch stop was on an outdoor patio overlooking the famous Bridge over the River Kwai.  (Kwai, we learned, is pronounced to rhyme with the a in hat or quack, rather than with a long I sound.)  Lunch included one of my favorite Thai dishes, mee krob, a sweet crispy noodle.
Lunch on the banks of the River Kwai

Rob does a "low five" with a Thai youngster

Rob and Joan by the River Kwai

The Bridge over the River Kwai

Like the market, the bridge has become overrun with tourists, but Rob and I walked all the way across, past the big crowds, to a replica of one of the camps where it was much more peaceful and we could pay our respects to the prisoners who had given their lives to work on the ill-fated railroad.
Crowds on the bridge

Yo, Joan, and Rob on the bridge over the River Kwai

River Kwai

Replica of one of the prison campls

The far end of the bridge

A small herd of water buffalo was grazing on the far side of the river.

This collection of buildings stood on the other side of the river.  I'm not sure if it was a temple or a park, but I enjoyed the large statue and strange colorful pillar of serpentine dragons.
View across the river.

Pillar of dragon-snakes

The last stop of the day was the most emotional of all - a visit to Hellfire Pass.
Hellfire Pass Museum
The Japanese were determined to build a railroad from Burma to Thailand through mountains and almost impenetrable jungle.  Their prisoners of war were forced to do the labor on this railway, and the Konyu Cutting was one of the most difficult spots as the men had to cut a pass through hard rock.  A poster in the Hellfire Pall Museum tells the story of the worst part of this sad episode:
From April 1943 the work pace increased to a frenzy as the Japanese strove to meet the revised deadline for completion.  Prisoners of war and romusha were made to work punishing 15 to 18 hour shifts day and night, struggling to meet the demands of their captors.
At night, work parties continued by the light of bamboo torches and bonfires.  At Konyu Cutting, the eerie flickering light and the shadows of gaunt, starved men working in the cutting led to its infamous nickname, "Hellfire Pass." 

After visiting the small museum, Rob and I walked down the trail through a bamboo forest to the Konyu Cutting itself.  There were still traces of the doomed railroad visible in the trail.  Along the walls of the pass were plaques and remembrances of the men who had died there, including one showing one of the men who died here and his wife, who died many years later, saying "Reunited At Last."  I got a little teary thinking about the agony of the men who worked and died here.
Traces of the old railroad along the trail into Hellfire Pass

Memorial to a fallen soldier

Memorials placed by family members on the walls of the Konyu Cutting - Hellfire Pass

The end of the trail

Looking back through Hellfire Pass

Sarah and Aaron

Kim, Rob, and Joan

Our final destination was the Hintok River Camp, a compound of large tents on platforms above the lovely forested River Kwai.  Rob and I settled into our big comfortable tent and enjoyed the outdoor buffet dinner served under torch lights on the grounds of the camp.
The deck of Hintok River Camp overlooking the River Kwai

View of the River Kwai from the Hintok River Camp

Our tent accomodations
The inside of the tent was nice and homey...

...although you did have to zip yourself in and out of the open-to-the-air bathroom so no mosquitoes could enter the tent.  Happily, we didn't see any mosquitos!

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