A November 2001 trip
to Kanchanaburi by lcampbell
Quote: This journal covers the second week of our one month trip to Thailand with a company called Intrepid Small Group Adventures. We spent the second week in the Kanchanaburi area. For weeks 1, 3, and 4, see my journals about Chiang Mai, Khao Sok National Park, Krabi, and Bangkok.
I can’t easily pick out any highlights for this area, because I absolutely loved every activity that we did. When I look back on my whole trip to Thailand, my memories from Kanchanaburi always jump into my mind first. Don’t miss this great area.
Even though Kanchanaburi is a smaller city, there is still a good selection of guesthouse and restaurants. Internet service is available as well as Thai massage.
Kanchanaburi was also the only place that we saw samlors. Which are wheeled carts pulled by people on bicycles. They can only take one person per samlor, obviously because of the weight (you should have seen the drivers leg muscles!) One girl felt guilty taking a samlor, but the drivers seem to be having a good time and were super friendly.
The owners are Apple, who does most of the cooking and teaches a cooking class, and Noi, who waitresses and does a zillion other things to run the guesthouse. They also run a travel booking service on the property, so you can arrange day trips with them. Noi was our tour guide for a day trip to the Hellfire Pass Museum. Her brother, also named Noi, was our tour guide for a bicycle trip to Pha Tad Waterfall in Sai Yok National Park. They were both exceptional guides, some of the best we had in Thailand (and we had a lot of guides). The brother also works in the restaurant when it is very busy (which is often, because the food is EXCELLENT). When asked if the women were looking for husbands, they said that they weren’t, because they would be forced to give up their business, and they weren’t willing to do that. You can tell they love their work and care about their customers.
The Guesthouse consists of about 16 rooms in a bamboo bungalow. The rooms are set back quite a ways from the road, and the road isn’t extremely busy anyway, which makes for a quiet relaxing atmosphere. In front of the bungalows is a grass lawn (also not common in Thailand) with tables and chairs for relaxing. At the very front of the property is the restaurant and travel agency. The whole place is surrounded by trees and flowering plants. It is very beautiful and cozy.
The rooms are small but clean. There is no air conditioning, but there are fans. Cold water showers only. It is a 30 minute walk to the bridge over River Kwai, and a 5 minute walk to the train station. Beyond that, I didn’t get to walk around a whole lot. There was a great massage place about 5 minutes away and an internet shop also nearby. There are plenty of other restaurant choices close by, but really, the food was so fabulous at Apple’s that we didn’t venture anywhere else. All in all, I highly recommend Apple’s Guesthouse. They have such a great reputation, and I think they are in the most recent Lonely Planet guidebook, that they are quite busy so you may want to make reservations. Also, apparently there is another guesthouse trying to profit from Apple’s great reputation by also calling themselves Apple’s, so be sure to get the real Apple’s Guesthouse.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 9, 2002
52 Soi Rongheeb Oay 3 Chaokhunnen RD
66 34 512017
Our hostesses in Thammadue were Pa and Noi. They were the friendliest women, always smiling and wanting to practice speaking English. We slept on the upper floor of their home, where they had built bunk beds and had put in two bathrooms. They cooked us an amazing meal. After dinner, we walked down to a sort of community center. The village children, under the direction of their schoolteacher, performed some dances for us. The girls were beautifully dressed, with their hair and makeup all done up for the show. You could tell they had practiced long and hard, and it was exciting for them to dance for us. The boys played bongo drums in the background and also worked the stereo.
It was very nice, and afterward the teacher wanted us to teach a song or a game to the children. We taught them how to play Red Light, Green Light, which they LOVED. I didn’t do very well at it – I think one of the village kids won the game. From there everyone got carried away having a great time. One of the couples in our group knew how to swing dance, so they danced to one of the songs they kids were playing on the stereo. Then one of the older village girls taught us and her friends how to do a line dance. A line dance of all things! What a crazy night! Eventually we all got it down and we danced for 3 songs, until the teacher told us it was getting late and it was time for everyone to head home.
Hotel | "Barnchaidaen Guesthouse – Thong Pha Pom"
Very few foreigners come to Thong Pha Pom, so there is absolutely no tourist atmosphere, which I found wonderful. It also meant that I had to try out more Thai words and phrases. We went to a market area in the morning, before our bicycle trip. Again, not touristy at all. Good food and interesting shops with friendly people Later that evening, a couple of us decided to see if anything was going on in town to celebrate the King’s birthday. Often there are big parties and festivals on his birthday. But we only saw subdued lines of candles lit up in front of the homes and businesses. We did find a sort of flea market going on, with the same sort of things you would find at our flea markets – used clothing, cosmetics, some fake brand name cothing, etc. Not a tourist market at all. We wandered through looking at things for a while. During this time, my friends were distracted looking at clothing. One of my friends looks Thai and the other is also fairly dark complected. I, on the other hand, have long light colored hair and very blue eyes. As I waited for the girls to shop, I started to notice that I was getting stared at a lot. Not just an occassional glance, but all out staring by entire families of people. I know they don’t see many foreigners, but this was weird. I guess I didn’t really mind, I just thought it was funny.
We eventually made it over to the food section, and we sat down to a huge bowl of noodle soup. It was so delicious and very hot! In many tourist areas, the spiciness of the food is toned down automatically, but not here (like I said, it is not a tourist area). Again, I was getting a lot of stares. I asked my trip leader if I was doing something the Thai people would find strange or rude, and she said "no" and also thought it might be my hair and eyes. When we finished the meal, my lips were burning from the chile peppers, so of course I had to cool down with something sweet. It was a nice evening and we returned to our pampering guesthouse to finish out the night in style.
Thong Pha Pom
The river was incredibly beautiful and clean. It was the first time in Thailand that we were seeing a lot of birds. We saw undeveloped areas along the river banks, as well as fancy resorts with beautifully manicured landscaping. We did not see any other kayaks and there weren’t any other boats until we reached the area near the bridge, so the trip was very peaceful and relaxing. Whenever we felt we were getting too warm, we just slid off the kayaks into the river. The water was warm but still refreshing.
Partway down the river, our guide asked, "Do you want to jump?"
"Jump?" I said. I had no idea what he was talking about. "Sure! I’ll jump!"
As we went farther down the river, he asked again, and I asked "How high is it?"
He didn’t speak English very well, but he understood my question, and explained that "it" was about 15 meters high. I tried to ask what "it" was, but he didn’t understand me. Again, I said "Yes! I’ll jump!"
Finally we reached the famous Bridge over River Kwai. Yes, it is a real bridge, but it looks nothing like the bridge in the movie. It is a large metal, not wood, bridge. The two sections nearest the riverbanks were still the original bridge. But the center section, which had been bombed, has been replaced.
The guide pointed to the bridge. "Are you ready to jump?"
My friend and I looked at each other. Then we looked at the security guards at both ends of the bridge. "Is is legal?" Of course he didn’t understand our English and didn’t answer the question. So we followed him to the bank, and we walked up onto the bridge (past the securtiy guards). Some tourists who had seen us kayaking asked what we were doing. We told them, and they thought we were crazy, but got their video cameras out anyway. Maybe they wanted to catch our deaths on tape so they could send it in to the "Incredible Vacation Videos" program that is on television.
My husband had taken the kayaks from the riverbank out to the area where we were jumping so we wouldn’t have to swim very far (and for a quick getaway if needed). We wouldn’t jump until the guide went first. When he surfaced out of the water, we thought we better go for it, so we did! It was scary but fun – definitely an adreniline rush. The audience loved it!
Then we kayaked the rest of the way to our pickup point. It was a great afternoon, and we didn’t even get arrested!
Kayaking on the River Kwai
Attraction | "Bicycling to Pha Tad Waterfall,Sai Yok Nat'l Park"
We were off to Pha Tad Waterfall in Sai Yok National Park. It took about an hour to ride there. The ride started out fairly tame, with only very small rolling hills and some small villages to ride through to hold our interest. Great scenery too. But as we biked farther on, the hills got bigger and bigger. One of them was so huge, I couldn’t believe it. I tried as hard as I could, but I just couldn’t make it all the way up. We all ended up pushing our bicycles up the hill. If this sounds wimpy, then maybe you don’t understand the true scale of this hill!
When we got to the National Park, we were all quite sweaty and ready to cool off. We hiked about ten minutes to the waterfall. When we got there, my jaw dropped. This was definitely the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls. It was actually about 100 small waterfalls all cascading together to form one huge and interesting falls. Under some of the falls were small pools, perfect for dipping! There were quite a few people, mostly families, visiting the falls. Most were local people, and we didn’t see many foreigners besides ourselves. A bunch of us swam in the lower pools, then a couple of us climbed up to higher pools for more swimming. The whole falls was maybe 200 feet high. We didn’t hike all the way up, but there we some folks up that high.
After swimming, our guides made us a fabulous lunch, before we had to get back on our bicycles. The huge hill we had to go up was now one we had to go DOWN. As I rushed down smiling and hair flying, I tried not to think about what would happen if I hit a rock. Luckily, everyone kept the speeds down and nobody got hurt. After the hill, we headed in a different direction than what we came and biked for about an hour on flat ground. We went through numerous small villages where we got many "hellos" and waves. You could tell that some of the Thai folks thought we were a strange sight, as they do not do this sort of activity themselves. Glad we could entertain. This second biking portion of our day ended at Hat Daed Hot Springs. We were too warm to want to try the hot springs, but there were some folks in there. We relaxed a bit and then were picked up by our support vehicles to go back to Thong Pha Pom.
Bicycling to Pha Tad Waterfall
Sai Yok National Park
At the train station, Noi was very sweet and made sure to get us on the correct side of the train to get the good views. We took the train about two hours to Namlok (I think I got the name right), which was the end of the railway. The rest was removed to prevent the Burmese from using after WWII to get into Thailand. From Namlok we took a songtaew for about 25 minutes to Hellfire Pass.
Noi first took us on a short walk on the original railway bed which now looks like a trail. She took us to a site where the POWs cut through stone with handtools and dynamite to put in the railway. You could still see where bars were pounded into the rock. Then we walked up and saw the museum. It had displays describing the sequence of events in the area during WWII and the living conditions of the POWs. Especially touching was the video that was shown with images of the POWs and interviews with survivors. I don’t think there was a dry eye after that. Also touching were the photos and some drawing done by the prisoners.
We wondered if any Japanese people visit here and how folks felt about it. Noi said that there is still some anger, but it is not discussed.
Needless to say, the mood was very somber when we left. It was the one experience we had in Thailand that I would definitely not describe as fun, but it was interesting and touching, and I am glad that we went.
Hellfire Pass Museum
Attraction | "Biking with Population & Community Develop. Assoc."
The Thai government gives assistance to Thai people to start small businesses so that they can become self-sufficient. But the area we visited was about 60% Burmese refugees, 30% Karen tribe (also refugees), and 10% Thai people. The government is not as generous with their aid to refugees, so PCDA is a non-profit organization that fills in where the government falls short.
First we visited the school where they were cleaning up after a King’s Birthday celebration. Our guide showed us where the school raises alligators, fish, and chickens, which they sell to earn money for the school.
Then we biked to a small weaving village. I loved this village. Some little boys greeted me at the driveway with handfuls of fresh flowers. I was the only one to get them, which made me feel special even though I think I was only chosen because I was the last bicycle to pull in and was the only one going slow enough for them to catch! We saw two women hand weaving incredible pieces. They were sitting on a bamboo platform, with a strap going around their back and feet, and the string was stretched out between their torso and a bamboo pole. There were some pieces for sale. Two styles were evident, Karen and Burmese. I bought a great Burmese piece, but still haven’t decided what to do with it. I’m glad to know exactly where my piece was made and by whom.
I did embarrass myself quite grandly at the weaving village. I was showing off some of my newly learned Thai words and kept telling the women that their pieces were "beautiful." I realized later that I had mixed up my words and had actually been telling them their work was Delicious! Another memorable moment at this village was just before we left. I was approached by a grandfatherly gentleman who proceeded to put two flowers in my hair, one in each braid. Again, I was the only one to attract such attention – I wonder what was up with that? I felt honored and special again – I guess we have to take it where we can get it.
We cycled on to the next two villages where we saw Chinese noodlemaking and chile paste making. Both locations let us sample their goods – I ate way too much, it was so delicious (as opposed to beautiful). Our last biking stretch was about 45 minutes to a swimming hole on the river Kwai Noi. It was the perfect ending to the day!
Biking with the Community Development Association
Attraction | "Erawan Waterfalls"
The falls were gorgeous! Like nothing I’ve even seen. Crystal clear water that was an unreal aquamarine color. The falls actually consisted of about 100 waterfalls in all, but their were 7 main tiers spread out over maybe one mile, maybe more. Each tier was unique and beautiful. You could swim in the pools under all the falls except for the 6th tier. We hiked up to the 7th tier to swim. The hike took about an hour, since we stopped at each tier to look and take pictures. Since we had gotten an early start, we had the 7th falls pretty much to ourselves, at least for a while. You should definitely keep an eye out for the schools of carp while you are swimming, as they like to nibble on swimmers. They are kind of a "cleaner" fish, and like to clean dead skin off people. Scary if you don’t know ahead of time that it might happen.
After swimming for a while, someone in our group pointed out that there were some monkeys coming down from the jungle above the 7th falls, where there is no trail or people. We watched 3 or 4 monkeys come down, then they just kept coming! There ended up being approximately 25 monkeys, including many babies and one that looked like a leader. At first I was disappointed that they were coming down, because I thought that they were associating us with being fed. But when they got down closer, they kept their distance from us. They were primarily interested in the large quantity of fruit hanging from some trees near us. They had a feast while we watched, and to my delight, everyone watching kept away from them, only took pictures, and did not try to feed them. I heard that later, one rude man tried to walk closer and the result was that all of the monkeys left. Bad man! He ruined the fun for everyone. I hope these monkeys stay wild – so far, so good. There are signs up in the park about a large fine for feeding monkeys, but we never saw a park employee on the trails, only at the entrance, so I don’t know how the rule is enforced.
While definitely a tourist attraction, Erawan Falls is worth a visit. It is nature at it’s best.
Erawan National Park Waterfall
Erawan National Park
Port Angeles, Washington