Friday, March 19, 2010


We got off the train in Kanchanaburi at the river stop, right next to one of the famous sights: the Kwai River Bridge. This bridge is part of the Death Railway that runs from Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma. It was built by Japan during WWII using the forced labor of about 180,000 Asian people and 60,000 POWs. The “death” part of it's name comes from the fact that about 90,000 of the Asian laborers and 16,000 of the POWs died during construction of the railway. And in fact, we had arrived in Kanchanaburi via the Death Railway. I believe the town holds a remembrance day of sorts once a year, honoring the forced sacrifice that went into creating it. After a few photos with the bridge in the fading sunlight, we went about figuring out how to get to the hostel we were going to stay at. With a sinking feeling I realized that the only form of public transportation were motorbike taxis. I had vowed I wouldn't be getting on one of those things because accidents are not uncommon by any means. I heard that in Bangkok 80% of traffic accident deaths were motorbike drivers. Or something like that... However, if I wanted to get to the Jolly Frog (the hostel), it looked like this was going to be the only way. Chuck haggled a deal with two motorbike taxis while I tried to figure out how I should sit with my giant backpack on my back. I usually see women riding side-saddle on the back of motorbikes, making me feel that straddling the machine behind the driver might be a little too intimate. On the other hand, I might just fall off with my backpack weighing so heavily behind me if I rode sideways. I had to make a split second decision, and in the end I chose to go side-saddle. It turned out to be a short ride (thank god), but I was so conscious of my frail mortality the whole way. There were so many things for me to focus on: don't wobble the bike, keep my feet out of the wheels, keep my feet off the ground, hold onto the seat and don't fall off, etc. I was just glad I arrived in one piece. The reception desk at the hostel was in the outdoor restaurant. While we were checking in we spotted some other travelers we had met in Bangkok having a bite to eat and drinking a three liter tower of beer. Friends, yay! We got a room for the incredibly cheap price of 290 baht a night (just under $9 US), dropped our bags off and joined the group: Tim, Kelly, and Sean. They were halfway through the beer tower and we happily helped them finish that off. And got another. And probably another... It was a good night.

Chuck woke feeling slightly sick the next morning and I chalked it up to a mild hangover. He wasn't so sure though. He thought perhaps he was actually sick - like a flu or cold. But we had made plans with the Texans (Tim, Kelly, and Sean are all from Texas) to go to the nearby Erawan Waterfalls and he pushed through and decided not to bail. First step was actually getting there. The falls were almost an hour away so we would need to hire a taxi for the day. We split up in three directions and each asked a taxi stand how much they charged. The cheapest one was 1000 baht, so that's who we chose. The taxi was a pickup truck with a wooden bench running along each side of the truck bed and a tin cover on top to block the sun. The drive was uneventful and after a boring hour we had arrived. The Erawan Waterfalls are kinda cool because there are seven tiers of falls making for a lovely hike up to the top. On our way to the first tier we saw a sign warning us of the monkeys in the area: "Beware a monkey steal your belonging." We had heard about this back in Bangkok. People said that if you weren't careful, monkeys would climb down the trees and make off with your stuff. This was hilarious to me, so I was hoping we would get to see some monkey thievery while there. At the first tier we changed into our swim suits and Chuck and I dangled our feet in the water while Kelly, Tim, and Sean all dove in. The water was chilly and filled with fish. Some were almost two feet long, but those ones left us alone. The smaller six inch ones liked to eat our feet though. Like the monkeys, I had been warned about this already and was prepared. In fact, there are spas throughout Thailand that use fish just like this for beauty purposes. These fish spas have tanks of fish that you stick your feet into and they gnaw you dead skin away. Supposedly. And the fish at the waterfalls did the exact same thing. If you're squeamish you'd probably have a hard time sticking you feet in the water because you may have ten fish at a time chewing down the length of your foot. It's an intense sensation that tickles, but it's kinda fun once you get used to it. While we were beautifying our feet, a monkey was planning a sneaky attack. We were smart and had stuffed all our stuff in my bag and tied the strap around a root that was sticking out of the ground, so there was no way he was going to run away with it. Regardless, when I noticed him creeping down the tree I got up to protect our stuff in case he decided to riffle through. He redirected his attention to a small pile of someone elses stuff. I tried to stop him with a stern finger pointing, but he darted down the tree, grabbed one of the plastic grocery bags amongst their stuff and bounded up another trunk. Looking smug, he proceeded to empty the bag - which was basically empty to begin with - and in the process dropped a keychain to the ground. I picked it up and gave it to the Thai girl that was waving her arms and shouting at the monkey. She thanked me and we laughed. After all, it was pretty funny. After we had had our fill of the lovely first tier waterfall we moved on to the next one. And the next and the next. Each one was lovely with a mix of small, smooth falls and splashing longer falls. The water was a chalky turquoise color that contrasted prettily with the thick surrounding jungle. The fourth tier was the most fun! There were two large, round rocks which the waterfalls spilled over on their trip down the mountain. We climbed up the rocks and slid down them like a waterslide. Tim was crazy! He went down feet first, head first, and even just ran and jumped off. I was inspired by him to not only try the traditional feet-first slide, but also try the head-first version. Lots of fun! Although I did get a nose full of water. We eventually made it all the way to the seventh and last tier where quite a few people were milling about enjoying the waters. I noticed that the Thai's tend not to wear bathing suits. I mean, maybe they have a suit on underneath, but they wear a pair of shorts and a shirt while swimming. In fact, i don't think I saw a single Thai person in just a bathing suit. Guys and girls both, were covered with shorts and a shirt! I felt pretty naked walking around in my two-piece bathing suit... I hope I didn't offend anyone too much. They're probably used to our Western debauchery at the waterfalls since they're a popular tourist destination. After a relaxing soak we made our way back down to the first tier with only a stubbed toe on my part and changed back into dry clothes. Out in the parking lot we were happy to see that our taxi hadn't abandoned us. In fact, I was impressed that he had stuck around for four hours waiting for us. Impressed, and grateful. Back in town Chuck went straight to bed since he was still feeling sick. Turns out he had been trekking around the waterfalls with a temperature of about 100 F, poor guy. What a trooper! I grabbed dinner while he rested, and luckily a few hours later he was feeling well enough to eat something of his own. I guess he had some sort of 24-hour bug. Luckily it was only 24 hours.

On the 29th we had breakfast at the hostel's restaurant. I had me some pork rice porridge which was listed under the "Thai Breakfast" section, which was a very, very small section. I guess there's not much in the way of Thai breakfast food. I had another tooth-pain attack while eating, although not nearly as bad as when I had been woken up by it a few nights prior. I began to worry that I might have an actual tooth problem. It faded though, and I went about my day. Although there's a lot of stuff to do in Kanchanaburi, we decided to do none of it and just relaxed in the green garden area at the hostel. I got some pictures of the plants, rocked in the hammocks, tried some seaweed flavored potato chips. Just after sunset we came across a huge swarm of flying ants on the wall just around the corner from our room. They were attracted by the lone light that was hanging over the stairs leading to the second floor rooms. Looking closely we saw a herd of geckos clinging to the wall, snapping up any ant silly enough to fly too close. There were about 15 small geckos and two huge ones - at least six inches long. They were very cool and we were spell bound as we watched them feasting for ten minutes. Finally deciding we'd had our fill of gecko-feasting fun, we headed back to our room where we were met by a horrible, horrible sight. Darting erratically around the lights were hundreds of the flying ants. Apparently, we had left our door cracked just enough for them to find their way in our room and hover around the lights we had left on. What a nightmare! There was even a sign posted inside our room warning specifically against leaving the door open at night. I really wanted to avoid the embarrassment of admitting to the hostel that we had allowed a bug infestation in our room, so I wracked my little brain and immediately had an idea that I thought sounded rather ingenious. We flipped off the lights and cutting through the dark, I shined our handy little flashlight on the ceiling. Holding it there for a few moments I cringed as the bugs swarmed, bumping into my hand in their unnerving bug-like way. I motioned for Chuck to open the door as I slowly moved towards it, finally dragging the light of the torch past the threshold. The ants had no choice but to follow the mesmerizing glow out into the night. We quickly shut the door before they figured out they had been tricked and stood in the darkness for a few moments, amazed that it had actually worked. When we turned the lights back on the swarm had been reduced by more than half! We repeated the process a few more times and then took to just smashing them with wads of toilet paper. Within 30 minutes we had cleared our infestation down to the last ant! I was rather proud. Meanwhile the geckos had done quite a good job of clearing up the swarm around corner. All was right again in the world. Except my tooth. It started hurting again - hurting really badly. We had to go to 7-11 and buy a bottle of whiskey to help dull the pain and get me to sleep. I might have gone to a pharmacy instead, but it was late enough that they had all closed and I really needed some chemical help if I was going to get any sleep. I ended up waking up around 4:00 AM anyways, and couldn't get fully back to sleep afterward. Yeah, I would definitely have to do something about the tooth once we were back in Bangkok. This really bummed me out.

On the 30th we breakfasted at the hostel again. This time I got french toast that wasn't even close to comparing to my Mom's. What a disappointment. I fought gentle tooth pains throughout the day as we traveled by bus back to Bangkok. The tickets were 100 baht each and the bus was air conditioned. It was a much nicer ride - and shorter - than the train had been.

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