Ahhhhh, Bangkok! We plunged into Thai hospitality with complimentary “jet lag” half-hour Thai massages at our hotel, the Grand Millennium in Sukhimvit – the same place we stayed on my trip in October. We had drinks and appetizers in the lounge on the 24th floor, and then decided, after the 9-hour flight from Sydney, two in-flight meals and a five-hour time change, we’d pass on venturing out for dinner tonight.
Sunday, February 24
This was one of the best days of my life. John laughed when I told him that, remembering Lizzy’s relatively frequent use of the phrase, “This is the best wine I’ve ever had!” on our trip to Italy.
The long tail boat at the floating market
But it was a wonderful day because John was not working (not even Kohler-obsessive on his iPhone) and we had a driver from the hotel take us, in a BMW, to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and the Bridge on the River Kwoi. Our driver’s name was Wit – easy to remember for his lack of it. (We thought he was supposed to be a guide, but it turns out he knew very little English. It didn’t matter.)
The floating market was fun, even though I’d been there before and despite that it’s for tourists. The ride in the long tail boat is such a kick, and the views of houses, boats, people and the random crazy things you see as you speed through the canals (or as you worm your way through boat traffic jams) keeps your eyes glued to a 360-degree extravaganza. If you were a kid, or a kid at heart, your jaw would be dropped.
Oh and the smells! Garlic is pervasive – and delicious – but mix in the jasmine and flowering trees, the curries, the incense from the Buddhist Wats and shrines and you have paradise of the olfactory. The sounds are wonderful too: bells tinkling in the temples, humongous modified automobile engines revving on the long tail boats as they speed through open parts of the canals, vendors chattering from one flower-and-fruit-laden “sampan” boat to another, and the gentle voices of Thais as they press their hands together and bow to you saying the musical “Sa-wut dee Ka.”
Next stop: the Bridge over the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi. This visit told the story of the Thailand Burma railway, built by the Japanese using prisoners of war and enslaved civilians.
Between 1942 and 1945, an estimated 16,000 Allied prisoners and 100,000 Asians lost their lives during the construction of the railway. The Japanese saw this link between Thailand and Burma as essential in their occupation of South East Asia. After the Japanese surrendered, the British tore up the track and the rail line was never established. We did see tourist trains crossing the bridge, though.
Wit took this picture of us on the bridge on the River Kwai.
This museum, although unprofessional in its presentation (for example, the type-written descriptions of artifacts are poorly translated), has quite an emotional impact. This area was a jungle during war time, and, according to the museum’s narrative, POW’s and enslaved civilians battled tigers, bears, poisonous snakes and malaria-bearing mosquitoes in addition to malnutrition as they labored day and night on the bridge.
Here’s the entrance to the Thailand-Burma railway center
When the allied planes finally arrived to bomb the bridge, the Japanese, hoping to stop the attack, forced the POWs to line up on the bridge and wave. The allied bombs fell anyway, and hundreds of men died, turning the River Kwai red with their blood.
This trip made us think about both of our dads and what they experienced in the war. it’s chilling.
Tom Yum – there’s a reason they call it Tom YUM!
Back on a lighter note, when Wit returned us to the hotel, we had a one-and-a-half hour couples massage at nearby Health Land , a really upscale, busy spa center, and we had snacks at our hotel lounge.
The images of the day will linger and provide thought for days ahead – the beauty of this country and its people, and the shadows of tragic events on the River Kwai.
Posted using BlogPress from my iPad