After a brief stay in Bangkok we took a mini-bus to Kanchanaburi. The city is located two hours from Bangkok and is the home to the bridge over river Kwai and also near some great national parks. Of course our bus was late picking us up (pretty used to that by now) and we crammed in with seven other tourists.
Upon arrival we wasted no time getting settled in and renting some scooters. Our hotel was located next to the River Kwai, so we decided to check out the famous bridge first. After a short scooter ride we arrived at the landmark. It looks like an ordinary bridge, but it has an extraordinary story.
The bridge on the river Kwai was only one of over 600 bridges constructed along the death railway. This railway was built by the Empire of Japan during WWII to connect Bangkok to Burma (now Myanmar) in order to support their Burmese forces. Spanning over 250 miles, the construction required 180,000 forced laborers including many POW’s. Thousands of prisoners died during the railway’s construction and many Japanese military officers were tried for war crimes due to their extreme brutality. The movie The Bridge on The River Kwai made this particular bridge famous, although it is not an entirely accurate representation of real events.
Erawan National Park
Upon waking up, I noticed that I had developed a cold and was feeling low on energy. Regardless we proceeded with our plan and the three of us headed toward Erawan National Park. After fifteen minutes of highway driving through a typical busy town, we made it to the countryside. As we headed toward the large, tree-covered mountains in the distance, we passed a couple of elephant crossing signs, zigzagged through a forest and crossed over a dam.
Erawan is a large national park that is home to a diverse array of rare birds, Asian elephants, deer, monitors, snakes and gibbons. It is also known for five different caves to explore and a seven-tiered waterfall hike, which is what we decided to do first. Before reaching the first waterfall we hiked in about half of a mile. All seven waterfalls were beautiful and by the time we got done with the short two-mile hike, I was exhausted. Not feeling well, I decided that we should head back, so unfortunately we didn’t get to take advantage of the rest of the park.
The next day we headed out for another drive, this time to see a giant rain tree. A few minutes outside of Kanchanaburi we turned off the main road and drove along the Mae Klong river. To our surprise we ended up passing a strikingly large memorial site for Chinese POW’s from WWII. Each grave was marked with a matching, eloquently designed headstone. The Chinese cemetery was beautiful and we just stood there, staring at it for quite some time.
Giant Rain Tree
As every scooter ride seems to go, we inevitably missed a turn and drove a couple of miles in the wrong direction. But this time was different, we ended up pleasantly surprised as we found ourselves near a ginormous temple. The temple is huge and it looks even more massive as it was built on a hill surrounded by flat land. We didn’t have a ton of time to waste as we had to catch a two o’clock bus to Ayutthaya that day. So after briefly admiring the temple grounds we finished our drive to the rain tree.
Reaching the tree we expected to see a throng of other tourists gawking at the tree. Instead we only saw a handful of people, who appeared to be miniature next to the incredibly massive tree. It’s rare to see something so impressive yet free to admire. It takes ten people to encircle the trunk and it has a 150 foot canopy. Each one of the branches sprawling from the center are larger than most tree trunks.
We made it back in time to relax before getting on our bus. Enough time that I got a haircut, straight-blade shave and goatee trim. And it only cost $3, not to mention the haircut was superb!!
Surprisingly there were only two other passengers on our mini-bus to Ayutthaya. The extra room was useful, especially since our two and half hour trip turned into four. The bus was making some strange noises so the driver pulled over to check it out. After about fifteen seconds he jumped back in as if everything was okay.
Of course the noise persisted and instead of calling for assistance or a different bus, he just decided to drive slower. Luckily for us, the other two passengers were great people to have conversations with. Jolanda from the Netherlands and Ronan from the UK, who were both traveling solo, kept us occupied as we talked the entire way to Ayutthaya.
We were disappointed that we didn’t get contact info from Ronan. The driver stopped and quickly got Ronan off the bus, we only had enough time to say goodbye. At that moment we connected with Jolanda and made plans to meet her later in the evening for some dinner.
The next day we visited a few temples spread throughout the city. Starting with Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, Wat Phra Si Sanphet and ending with Wat Mahathat. Ayutthaya was once the capital of Siam (Thailand) and in 1700 it was the largest city in the world. Most of the city and temples were destroyed or burnt down when the Burmese invaded in 1767.
We saved some more sightseeing for the evening as we had booked a boat tour that stopped off at four more temples. Jolanda joined up with Tash and I to float around the city on a long-tail boat. After being dropped off at our boat pick-up point, we waited a couple minutes as the boat was collecting other passengers for the tour. As the long-tail boat came closer to the dock I was completely shocked at what I saw. There was Ronan, sitting in the front of the boat, smiling, ready to take the same tour as us. We were happy to meet up once again and have another friendly face to share our journey with.
Following some more temple gazing, the four of us ate some cheap dinner at one of Ayutthaya’s night markets. Later on Jolene met up with us after recovering from feeling ill. As a group of five we talked about meeting up again in Chiang Mai, while sampling different types of delicious Thai cuisine.
The next morning Tash and I caught a train heading north to Chiang Mai. Meanwhile, Jolene headed south to Phuket in order to take a break from the long amounts of travel. But we know she really just wanted to sit on a beach and soak up some sun! 🙂
We said our temporary goodbye’s and we would meet up again in a couple of weeks.