River Kwai Cruise

5 Nov

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When our alarm went off at 5am we thought we were going to have to call the whole thing off. Neil had gone down with the dreaded Bangkok Belly and could barely stand. The thought of sitting on a coach in the heat must have been almost unbearable. How he managed to pull it all together to even attempt it I will never know. Thankfully, the coach turned out to be an air-conditioned people carrier with just a driver, a guide and only one other couple. Even so, luck and the timing of the frequent stops definitely helped.
The morning was given over to the events on the River Kwai during WW2 with stops at the museum, a reconstruction of the POW camp, the war cemetery and the infamous bridge itself. I don’t think anyone could fail to be moved.
This being Thailand there were also visits to temples. Three of them. I forget the names. One featured the corpse of a revered monk in a glass coffin which didn’t gel with my Methodist upbringing at all. And steps. OMG, the steps!
What we were all looking forward to, though, was joining the boat that would be our home for the next three nights. It turned out that we four were to be the only passengers, the crew outnumbering the clients. This meant we were able to take over the room adjacent to ours to store our largely unpacked cases. In fact, we could have had the whole starboard side!
What I hope will turn into the pattern for the next couple of days was established. Wonderful Thai lunch, a few drinks lounging on the deck in good company and a spectacular sunset before more food and an early night in an air-conditioned room. Neil couldn’t manage the food, of course. Or the drinks. But he’s definitely looking better.

Thankfully, Neil was fully recovered after a good night’s sleep. I wouldn’t rave about the rooms. They are pleasant enough but not where you would want to linger except to cool down and definitely could do with a bit of TLC.  The upper deck is much more comfortable with our pick of loungers which means we are able to keep swapping sides to stay in the shade as the river twists and turns.

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I’d thought mosquitoes would be a problem but it turns out that they rarely get them as the river is too fast flowing to allow them to breed. The riverside is still obviously jungle although it probably doesn’t stretch very far back now but the sudden glimpse of the mountains in the distance as the boat turns a bend in the river is enchanting while the sunsets are simply stunning.

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There is development along the bank, much of it floating accommodation for tourists- a bit like a cabin built on a raft. These and the other holiday developments seem mostly empty and the only people we tend to see are those working on the many fish farms and monks on retreat doing their washing. Other boats are rare as hens’ teeth. Of course, this means it is mostly all very quiet and peaceful in stark contrast to Bangkok.

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What we did see was a meteorite crashing into the earth’s atmosphere – a brilliant flash of light that had us running to the edge of the boat to witness the blazing trail as it burned itself out, an extraordinary and probably  a once-in-a-lifetime sight.

This cruise involved plenty of sightseeing, much of it related to the Burma-Thailand railway, of course, but also temples, caves with temples in them and ruined castles with, yep, temples in them. The highlight for both of us, though, was the two hour trip up the river to the national park in a longtail boat, an experience I wouldn’t normally have tried. So glad I did. All four of us decided against getting up at 5am to go to the market to buy food to offer to the monks. If you want me to get up at 5am it’s best not to have marched me up and God knows how many steps the day before!

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