Monday, 4 November 2013

Trains and motorbikes, a nerds dream.

Sunday 3rd November

Bangkok to Kanchanaburi

Woke up this morning after not enough sleep once again and with a stomach like a car battery, with little to eat and only fizzy sugar water to drink the pH of my stomach has dropped well below normal and I can now digest all forms of food, grazing animals, sea bound reptiles and recovered metals. Number plates are my favourite because in Thailand they are stamped out of metal.

Later today we catch a train to Kanchanaburi and our next stop on out tour of Thailand, Carol was this only morning watching clips on You Tube of the film Bridge of over the river Kwai, which brought her to an emotional release and a few tears, especially as we are going to visit the graveyard of the soldiers who died working on the project. Carol is a complex person for whom her passions run deep with in, I know that this part of the trip means a great deal to her and that she would lay a wreath on the memorial if she could.

So with only a few hours left in Bangkok for the next few days, we have decided to hire a taxi to the station, especially as since her massage yesterday, her damaged foot is really hurting. I will add to this list of damaged bits and state that my shoulder is horribly sore and I do not know how I am going to carry my back pack. Thankfully most of the weight will sit on my waist, but even so my shoulder is very tender today.

When we asked the hotel girl to order a taxi for us, she got us a good one and it was some one who they knew, probably a family member and he was lovely too. He was lamenting that he had recently had an accident in the car and the rear door and paint had been damaged, but not too badly. Carol and he engaged in chatting about the joys of Toyota ownership and she took great pleasure in telling him that she too has a Corolla, albeit a very old one. As we approached the station the road stopped and the track led into a building site and as we pulled over there was a huge pit dug and Carol nearly fell into it as she stepped from the car. 

On the platform once we found somewhere cool to sit we waited for the train and Carol started chatting to the locals, a taxi driver and a bike taxi rider, she chatted away about bikes and riding in the UK, which has so many more constraints that riding in Thailand. With in ten minutes of chatting though she had found new friends and was sharing cigarettes and talking about bikes. This is one of the things I love about Carol, she has such a open and honest quality that she can find kindred spirits quickly.

Our train was spectacular, it was probably built when bronze was being worked on Salisbury plain and that was roughly when it was last cleaned too. The water tank above the toilet was leaking and had rotted the wall too making the place look like a mobile slum, it was both the most liberating and enjoyable part of the day, just riding the rails, chatting to another Danish traveller and watching the countryside flow by. 

Once we were away from Bangkok, the beauty of Thailand could shine through and temples which in Bangkok look tasteless and chintzy, in the middle of a flooded field look like a place of light away from the sodden mud. 

No there was not any snoring!
I find sitting on trains to be incredibly soporific and spent moments dozing in a dream state as the warm wind ruffled its way by my hot and sticky skin. At each station that the train stopped, Bangkok became more and more of a distant memory as well as a distant place, I could feel it sliding out from the the pores of my skin like a slick tar, creeping out poisonous and dirty. 

The paddy fields and the industrial places continued to slide past the train as it wormed its way through the countryside and then from the flat lands came a glorious sight, hills, steep rocky outcrops that were covered in thick forest, the urge to jump from the train and explore hit both Carol and I in the heart. The thought of riding bikes up those hills was a draw that both of us were incapable of fighting and as we crawled past in the train from a museum, both of us were planning our next few days.

The Railway provides fitness equipment.

Our arrival at Kanchanaburi was rapid, the guard warned us that we had only two minutes to get our stuff and get off the train once it stopped and so we struggled with out bags and got them sorted just as the train began to slow at the platform. Once off the train a local Taxi driver watched us for a few seconds before offering his services. We dumped our bags into the back of his pickup and climbed in with them, the cooler breeze blowing through as we drove to the guest house was lovely, but better than that was our arrival at Tara Bed & Breakfast. The girl who greeted us was so happy to see us, she had two of the lads carry our bags up to the room for us and told us to shower and rest before worrying about a formal check in. We could have hugged her. The room was palatial, the bed was in contrast to the room in Bangkok was soft and gloriously big. AS I write this now, I am pining for a bed I am yet to sleep in. Back in the bar we ordered our first real meal of the trip, T-bone steak for each of us and it was so tender and well cooked that the flavour flowed from the meat with every tiny chew. 

There was no pea placed under this mattress!
So that is us, shacked up in Tara's, enjoying the ambiance in the bar and getting ready to find a shop so that we can get some milk so that Carol can have a cuppa! Today has been a day above all others and so far my face hurts from smiling. By the way, it does not stink here either...

A while later we left the comfort of the bar and found ourselves in The River Kwai Bookshop, run an English ex pat and lovely bloke who it turns out used to run a book shop in Bridgewater. We fully understand why anyone would want to leave there and move to Thailand, to be honest we can fully understand why anyone would want to move from Bridgewater...

Wandering along the streets of Kanchanaburi it quickly became apparent once again that the people who suffer most at the indiscretions of the tourists is the local people who get treated to rudeness, arrogance and hostility by the holiday makers who want unreasonable requests granted with in seconds of asking. Seeing the locals dealing with these people makes me feel ashamed to be a tourist in this beautifully friendly country, where the culture is so respectful of each other. Manner cost nothing and when given out are returned ten fold in this country, being polite and saying please and thank you hardly seem difficult tasks and yet so many travellers seem to forget the basics as they go in search of themselves. If they want to truly find themselves I know where they can look, up their own arsehole! 

Monday 4th November Kanchanaburi day out

So our first night in TARA was utterly divine, the bed was so comfortable that I curled up and drifted off to sleep in a matter of minutes, not waking up until six AM when the pain in my shoulder decided that enough was enough and I needed to be awake. A dose of heavy painkillers later and I started to drift off once again, did I mention just how comfortable that bed is? I snuggled into Carol and was asleep in a heartbeat. 

Breakfast was lovely, TARA style it seems is to make everything lovely and once we had had our fill we wandered off down the road to have a chat with the lovely lady who owns Yanee Motorbike Hire, her name is ofcourse Yanee. The Kawasaki ER6 street bike parked outside Yanee is available for hire at the price of 1500 Baht per day (about £30), not an unreasonable amount in the real terms of the UK tourist, but here in Thailand it has too much power and the roads are barely big enough to get it safely out of third gear. What we wanted gave her a smile as she said in her accented English "that is what Thai people ride." She took us passed the plastic panel covered auto-scooters and there sat in the dust were two elegant Honda Wave 100 semi auto scooters, just the ticket for two tourists who want to explore the town and enjoy some countryside. Ask yourself this question when hiring a bike, do you really want to go above thirty miles per hour in a country where the roads are covered with unsafe drivers, farm animals, dogs and drunken tourists?

The bikes were great fun, although the drum brake on my bike felt like it was made out of semolina when I am used to the hard power of twin disks on my gloriously lovely Suzuki. The rear brake although more solid felt like the shoes were nearing the end of their life and the semi-auto gearbox made changes feel most odd due to the lack of a clutch. However once my initial confusion had been removed riding along became a pleasure, although it is not something I would want to do in Bangkok!

Now that is how you wear the latest sexy helmet range to come out of the scrap bin!
So our first destination was the railway bridge on the edge of town, that crosses the river... Called the "Bridge over the river Kwai" it is a bridge that crosses a river that was called something else until a while back when it became apparent that tourists like this sort of shit! Sure enough as we pulled up, the theme music from the famous Alec Guinness film was playing and people were snapping photos like bored people will burst the blisters on bubble wrap! Carol had to get a couple of pictures though, but it is not often that so many people get excited about a piece of civil engineering! The truth though is a little more sad, the rail line itself is the one that was constructed by POWs from the allied forces who were forced to build the railway line along this area by the Japanese. Thanks to the workings of Hollywood though, it is only a bridge that is remembered by many folks. 

The Bridge over the river Kwai that is not the bridge over the river Kwai!
From here we turned around and headed back into town and picked up some shopping at... Oh yes, we found a Tesco and in that Tesco was a section for the local motorcyclists! Take that Mr Tesco back in Weston, no one here asked us to remove our helmets or checked our ID for our age before allowing us to buy items for a rider of motorcycles. So we had to buy a couple of Thai Tax Disk holders for our beloved bikes back home. Not sure quite how legal they will be in the UK, but it was funny.

It was then back to TARA for a couple of drinks while we worked out where we wanted to go. With in a couple of minutes though it had become clear that our route was the big oval that runs over the river Kwai and back again and looping into town. It was not so far, but the scenery had the promise of being rather pretty, which it was. I shall let the photo's do the talking, but the ride although not fast was great fun.

More Drink!!!

Younger riders may need help to reach the controls

We dropped the bikes back at Yanee's and had a little chat about how much fun we had had, we gave back the horrific helmets and headed back to TARA for a swim and then dinner. The pool was lovely and after a day heated by the sun was as warm as a bath. The water was just so refreshing that I could not but help it and have a huge...! 


NO, I did not wee in the pool, I had a float about and struggled at swimming in a similar way to that of a monkey with rabies and a fear of water! Carol could not let me flay about in fear of the water for too long before she started using technical terms to me like swim and tread water. A brief swimming lesson later and I was floating about with a little more confidence. What I need are a set of those inflatable arm bands that are given to young children!

Dinner this evening was sublime, with every mouthful my tongue reacted to the ecstasy of flavours and I swear that I became so blissed out I resembled a junkie. Dinner was a Thai dish of medium curried meats in a creamy sauce with a side of rice arranged into a heart shape. If you could judge nutrition on looks alone, this would have been the perfect meal. As someone who can be somewhat faddy in eating, trying something authentic was going to be a challenge for me, but what came to our tables was so beautifully cooked my mouth now lives in fear that I will never taste anything as good again and I may as well cut out my tongue! 

Food so good you may as well cut out your tongue afterwards because you will never find its equal.
Along with dinner Carol ordered a glass of Thai whiskey and got a little smashed, bless her! 

Me? Smashed on one drink? Never...
So that was day two in Kanchanaburi, I love this place, the people are lovely and while we had pulled over on the bike ride, so many people greeted us with warmth and smiles that I felt my heart lift. The most beautiful sight of the day was a little girl who was out with her mother and as she passed us waved. When we wished her a polite hello in Thai, she beamed so brightly I would put money on her out shining the sun. Even a cold stony heart like mine cannot but help but lift at such a happy smile. Thank you world for showing us so much beauty today.