Day 37: We woke to an already scorching hot day. By the time we left the guesthouse at 10.30am for a visit to the Thai-Burma Railway Centre, it was pushing 32C and the mercury continued to soar as the day went on.
Walking along the street, we found ourselves jumping into even the tiniest patches of shade whenever we could, the sun was searing. We spotted the cheap drinks bar the English couple invited us to yesterday, somewhat imaginatively called “Get Drunk for 10B” – we’ve renamed it Hangovers R Us. The shots are 10 Baht, around 50c and not surprisingly, use very low quality local spirits. You also have to buy 5 shots at a time – hooly dooly – thank goodness we declined that invite.
We were super happy to get inside the air conditioned Railway museum – we paid our entry fee and then spent over two hours wandering around the exhibits. It was one of the best museums either of us have been to – lots of great content and information, in manageable and easy to read and view exhibits.
The Museum and research centre was established to present the story of the Thai-Burma Railway in a fair and balanced way. It was set up and funded by Rod Beattie, an Australian ex-army and engineer, and now a long time resident of Kanchanaburi. Rod spent over 10 years exploring the entire railway, uncovering the location of abandoned sections and former campsites, and meeting with a large number of former prisoners of war and members of their families. He wanted to build a true and complete picture of the Thai-Burma Railway story, and provide answers to those who lost family members during the railway construction. What he has managed to achieve single-handed is phenomenal.
At the start of the museum is an exhibit showing the Japanese expansion into Asia in WWII. The ambition of Japan in Thailand was to invade India via Burma. The sea route from Bangkok to Rangoon was treacherous due to allied navies so a rail route across land was conceived. The British had surveyed a similar route in the 1890s but had decided the cost both financial and human wasn’t worth the investment, but with the war in Asia in full swing, the route became critical for Japan. The following exhibits then took us through maps of the railway’s route, the camps, the appalling conditions and human misery endured through both rain and drought, and finally to some of the personal effects of the POWs, including personal diaries and artworks scratched on the back of cigarette tins. All incredibly thought provoking and emotional.
Afterwards we wandered around the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery across the street and next to an older Chinese cemetery. It’s the main POW cemetery in the town and as with the Chungkai War Cemetery we visited yesterday, it’s immaculately maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Once again, there were lots of little Australian flags in the Australian section of the cemetery. Scanning the rows and rows of graves, it really brings home just how many POWs suffered and died during the railway construction.
Then we walked back into town, past the River Kwai train station and across the bridge again, to explore the other side of the river. Jim clambered aboard an old steam engine that was sitting near the train station (there were no obvious signs saying not to, so he climbed up into the cab). There are lots of abandoned trains placed around the local area.
Our original plan was to rent bikes this afternoon to visit a big tree, however with the crazy heat, it didn’t seem like a great idea. So we headed back to the guesthouse for some down-time to read our books, and for Lil to start researching the next chunk of our trip. On the way home, we spotted an old English style phone box, except this one was blue instead of red – not sure if it’s a tourist-special ornament or not, but it was pretty cool regardless.
This evening we had dinner at a fab little restaurant in the main street. Jim chose a table on the street with traffic whizzing past. Risk-averse Lil suggested sitting in the seats closest to the pavement for fear we and our dinner ended up in a collision with some passing traffic.
It was one of our best dinners so far (and yes, there have been many many great meals) – we had pork belly with chilli and coriander; sliced chilli pork salad; spicy chicken penang; and a big basket of greens, mint and raw morning glory (also known as water spinach) with sensational side dipping sauces. Superb.
As we wandered back to our guesthouse, the ‘Get drunk for $10 Baht’ bar was going off – plus we spotted a $5 Daiquiri bar right next door to it – though at that one, you have to buy 10 drinks at a time. Oh my. Sore heads all round.
Tomorrow we’re hoping to get up earlyish and rent bikes before the day gets too hot, to cycle to a big tree.