Thursday, June 5, 2008

A day by the river kwai...hotels with old people in them!

it had been a while since i had been planning a visit to the river Kwai. Having seen the movie, and since Billy Joel referred to it amongst a world of other things, in his 'we didn't start the fire', and having seen a documentary too, it really was a serious entry in my to-do list.
Getting through work all week, trying to learn Thai, and trying to teach English, so that some semblance of a notion known to mankind as communication could take place, i booked my self on a day trip to the river Kwai with the travel agency just out side my hotel. the lady at the travel agency though trying to be really polite, as most Thai women are, was amazingly repugnant, you see I cant stand armpits that have hair creeping out of them, and she had locks. Regardless, I booked my self for a visit to the cemetery, journey on the death train, bamboo rafting on the river and elephant trekking through the mountains, woo hoo!
The bus was supposed to pick me up at 0630 in the morning, I got up at 0600, knew I'd have to leave with an empty stomach since breakfast only opens at 0630. When i got to the lobby, there were several other people there, mostly old people, and this is some thing that i will touch in another post, why do i stay in hotels where there are only old people? The concierge asks me to take a seat, evidently my bus hasn't arrived, yet. There are buses leaving for Ayuthaya, and Pattaya, and where not. Finally at around 0640 my bus enters the hotel driveway, only its a Toyota Hiace kind of a breed. The driver stepped into the lobby, looks at my ticket that the travel agency armpit lady had given me, nods for me to step in the van.
As i got in the van, and the driver put the pedal to the metal. While we were speeding away, as the van passes by the grand palace, apparently heading towards Khao san, I suddenly realize; I had put my camera's batteries for charging last night in the charger, and never recalled to take them out, could that be a reason i stay in hotels where old people stay? So i ask, beg, plead the drive to turn back, but he just lingeringly mumbles, saying 'no time'; he insists that i will be able to buy some batteries at Kanchanburi, I know he is just saying that.
The van reaches Khao san, a lady takes my ticket, and hands me a purple sticker, asking me to put it on my t-shirt, I get out and get myself something to eat from the 7eleven, as they gather around more people. This takes a while, and more people start pouring into the bus, and then when im really glad to be sitting in a nice seat, the ticket lady comes back and tells me that I need to change my van, you need to sit in another van, with a different group; shoot!
When i enter the new van, its all full, and i have to sit right at the end, good thing is, at the last seat, its just me and this other guy, at the far corner. The van starts moving, and turns a few corners as i sip on my coffee, stops at a point, and these two surreal hippies board the van, and they come and sit right next to me, hair all over, including the armpits, but what was most disturbing was the body odor. I turned my head, asking myself what else could go wrong?
If i dont find batteries for myself, all I would have would be my cell phone, good thing they make cell phones with cameras, good thing they made cell phones, could this be another reason i'm staying in hotels where old people put up?
The ticket lady is seated at the front, and she says, now we are on our way to the cemetery, this is going to be a two hour journey, two hour, only she says it rather lingeringly, very soft, very Thai.
The smell fades away, either I'm getting immune to it, or it just really fades away, either way, the atmosphere got a bit better. I keep looking out side the window, one of the hippies reaches into his bag, and takes out a book, it says in spanish, the history of psychology, the other hippie also has a book in his hand, Freud - the man the concept. While both of them are reading, I doze off. We have reached the cemetery, the lady's lingering voice wakes me up, you have fifteen minutes to walk around, don't step over the tombstones please, blah blah blah. I step out, take a walk though the cemetery, would have taken more photos, but I'm holding a digital camera in my hand, and taking a photo with a cell phone, somebody needs to take photo of me doing this.
I saw some shops across the road, one of them said batteries, was a long shot, but i quickly hopped over to have a look see, the lady tried to sell me a disposable camera, and I almost bought it too, only I really didn't want to carry around a cell phone, a digital camera, and a disposable camera, so I just walked away.
The herded us into the bus again, we got to sit on the same seats again, these guys in the seat just in front were sort of bonding together, a lady from new zealand, who had legs that pleaded not to wear shorts, but she was wearing shorts, a guy from Newcastle who was her boy friend apparently, and this guy from Canada who they had met on the van.
We will stop in five minutes at a museum, the entry ticket is forty baht, you will have to buy it yourself, not included in your package, im too used to the lingering, its been 8 days in Thailand already.
The museum was pretty much like all museums are, there was a huge bazaar outside of it though, and they tried to help me get my batteries in the bazaar, but alas, to no avail, good thing they started making cell phones that had cameras in them!
The museum was located on the bank of the river Kwai, and there was bridge right next to it, only this was a reconstruction of the original bridge, they said that the original was actually bombed by the allied forces during the war. It's ironic that the bridge had been built at cost of the blood and lives of 45,000 allied soldiers, yet it was the allies that bombed it down. I crossed the bridge on foot, hurriedly, there was a train scheduled to pass in three minutes. One of the guys from the van was walking right next to me, he smiled at me, i nodded. Where are you from he asked, Pakistan, I said, his expression was one of confusion, I'd ask you from whereabouts in Pakistan, but I wouldn't know, he smiled. Where are you from, Bristol, he said. How long have you been in Thailand, three days, he says. We talk about the premier league, he supports Bristol City, which I have never heard of, and he doesn't think too much of Arsenal, so I look at him with disgust, but agree that Arsenal need to do somethings to put it right.
On our way back to the other side of the bridge, we meet up with another guy from the van, who is from London, and supports Tottenham. We talk about the end of season and transfers till we get to the van, what are we going to do now, Andrew, the Tottenham guy asks me, I think there is the train ride now, I say. Andrew was with the army, served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was relieved of his charge on Thursday, and arrived in Thailand on Friday. Was planning to go around for the next three months, with no plans of what he is going to do after he gets home. I wish I could take time out of life like that. Could this be another reason why I put up in hotels where they have old people.
We board the van again, our journey to the train station is going to last fifteen minutes, lingering continues; The two hippies are sitting between myself and Andrew. We keep talking about how ManU have had a great season, there are some people in the van eaves dropping on our conversation.
At the rather cramped train station where the train was late by twenty minutes, i met this couple from Holland. The guy, Mark was in the flowers business, ah, flowers I said, every thing in Holland is about flowers, of course, he said, so what kind of flowers do you deal in, I deal in roses, I import them from Kenya and Ethiopia, and sell them to the middle east and south east! Imagine that, roses are no longer seeded in Holland. His wife worked for coke, and she was hot and friendly. The train arrived, the left side seats were over looking the river, a vendor passes by selling beverages, Mark and Andrew and me had a singha each, the local beer, drinking Heinekken by the Thai is considered lame.
The train crosses the wooden bridges lethargically slowly, these are actually the bridges that were built by the POWs. A one hour journey later. we get off at our destiny. The same van was there to pick us up, and to take us for lunch.
The journey is going to be half an hour from here, her lingering continued. We crossed over to the other side of the river, and drove along the river, I could see several rafts alongside the river bank. Our van stopped in front of one such raft, and we were guided into the raft. This was actually a floating hotel, there were people staying at the hotel, overnight, as were some of our compatriots planning to do so. I saw a fat Australian in his shorts sitting in a corner, he had a tripod and a rather slick looking camera affixed on top of it. He was accompanied by a rather aged Thai girl, the kind that you can get in Sukhumvit to act from well your travel guide to your fatigue instiller. Taking her photos seemed to be his past time at the raft.
We were served Thai food, I was sitting next to the hippies. We got talking again at lunch, mark and andrew and myself. The hippies were apparently from Chile. Very interesting, both psychology students had taken a year from college and were just traveling around. Staying in the same room on the raft, well, whatever works for them.
While we were eating, I noticed the river surface being sprinkled with rain, Its raining, I said, yes it is, said John who was from Wigan, but supported Liverpool, yet didn't know that there was talk of Torres leaving for Chelsea, such a shame. However, raining was an understatement, suddenly it started pouring like I had never seen or heard of before. The lady said we have to wait till the rain slows down to go on the bamboo raft. So we got talking about the Bangkok nightlife and drank some more Singha, well a lot more Singha. the rain kept pouring and wouldn't stop. Finally, Mark suggested, we screw the rain, and get to the raft. I'm game, let's buy a bucket full of Singha, and take it along, I said. That sounds good, mixed voices replied. So we bought a crate of Singha from the Hotel, boarded the launch and headed for the raft. Aboard the raft, while it was still raining like crazy, Mark took his shirt and shoes off and jumped into the river. The temptation was too high, joanna, kitti (this girl who is an english teacher from Korea) and Andrew followed. I was wearing Jeans, and really didn't jump in. Andrew yelled, I have a spare pair of shorts in there! The six Singha added up, I stripped naked on the raft, took his shorts out, either the girls were whistling, or the wind was blowing, I couldn't make out...
As I jumped into the brown waters of the Kwai, it felt like heaven, floating on the Kwai, water pouring down on me, playing like a little kid, swimming drunk in a river that seemed rather deep, I should not be staying at the hotels that I am staying in right now!
I could barely see beyond my arm, we swam across ahead of the raft with the current of the river, and got to the shore. There was a wooden / rope bridge that we crossed to get back to the other side where our van was waiting for us.
The elephant trekking was rather boring, I was yearning to get back to Bangkok, it was Sunday night, and Kitti had suggested this Karaoke bar that we should all goto. And well, the story at the karaoke bar has little to do with the river Kwai, but all the swimming did, they boarded us back on the van, I took little or no pictures of the entire adventure, given the rain pouring down, I dont think anyone else was taking any pictures either, I had had a checklist item marked out, and a day well spent, a day past, a day less, a day closer, I'm more confused which hotels I should be staying at...