July 19, 2018
Our second day in Thailand started early, which was not really something out of the ordinary; when we travelled to South Korea, our day begun at around the same time. As it was our first full day in Thailand, we want to get acclimated to the transportation system because we have to find our way to our meeting point. You see, to avoid the hustle of organizing our own itinerary, my friends and I agreed to join group tours instead. In opting to join group tours over personalized tours, we were able to find solutions to some of the concerns we initially had, such as the language barrier and getting around Bangkok and its environs.
From our accommodation, we rode a taxi in order to get to the nearest train station. Thankfully, our meeting area was adjacent to a train station. The Bangkok Mass Transit System (or BTS Skytrain in short, and no, not the Korean boyband) is one Bangkok’s primary mass transport system. The BST Skytrain somehow reminded me of of Manila’s Metro/Light Rail Transit (M/LRT). These subtle details kept reminding me of Manila. To those who are not confident of their communication skills, there are ticket dispensing machines available at the stations and yes, there is an English translation for the instructions on how to use the machines.
We reached our destination with time to spare. For our breakfast, we grabbed snacks at the first convenience store that we passed by. We were glad we went out early for we had a challenging time locating our exact meeting place. It was on a backstreet and was shrouded by the bedlam of urban life. We had to go around the block twice before we finally saw our meeting place, a quaint café. While waiting for the rest of our group, my friends and I had our first meal for the day. Once our group was complete, we departed for our destination for the day: Kanchanaburi Province.
As we get farther away from the pandemonium of Bangkok, the landscape started to transform. The towering structures were replaced by vast fields. As the urbanity was replaced by the vestiges of the rural, we finally reached our first stop. Lying on the western part of the country, Kanchanaburi is one of Thailand’s 76 provinces. Over time, Kanchanburi has become a haven for tourists because of its history. To devout cinephiles, the name would somehow ring a bell for it is the setting for the movie The Bridge over the River Kwai, the 1957 Academy Award for Best Picture winner. It was its historical significance that we elected to include Kanchanaburi in our travel itinerary.
Speaking of the award-winning film, our first destination was the titular Bridge over the River Kwai. It was originally spelled as Khwae before it was officially changed to Kwai to meet the expectation of tourists; it is just one of the many prices we had to pay to accommodate tourism. The bridge reeked of history. The bridge was part of a railway that connected Thailand with neighboring Myanmar (Burma), built during the Second World War. Construction begun on October 1942 and was completed a year later. About 200,000 laborers, comprised mostly of prisoners of war from various nationalities, worked on the railway. Unfortunately, several lost their lives because of the harsh environment they had to contend. They were also under the pressure of meeting a tight deadline, and had to deal with malaria. The loss of about 100,000 lives earned the railway the moniker “The Death Railway”.
In the contemporary, the bridge remains one of many symbols of the atrocities of the war. This remnant of history has now been developed into a tourist destination. Souvenir shops and parking areas have been built adjacent the bridge to accommodate the ever growing demand of tourism. Even though it was still early, the bridge was already teeming with tourists who came to witness a portion of history, dark its backstory maybe. Tourists can walk the entire stretch of the bridge, while taking pictures. Who’d have thought that in order complete this structure, blood literally had to flow.
After basking in history, we proceeded to Tham Krasae Bridge railway station. For the second part of our itinerary, we are going to actually experience riding the train that plies the Death Railway. The view at the railway station was breathtaking, as it flourished with the greenness of nature. This part of the Thai-Burma railway features a wooden bridge that slithers along the river and flanked on the mountainside. It was, in itself, a breathtaking view. Curious tourists can walk on the bridge and take picture, something we did while waiting for the train to arrive. Once it did, we hopped in for the ride. The idyllic view compensated for the shaky ride. Words are not able to capture the experience and the view.
Our destination was Mallika City, one of the newer tourist drawers. It is a “retro-city” that imbibes glimpses into Siamese lifestyle in the Chao Phraya River Basin during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V (1873-1910). The mini-city is open daily from 9AM to 8PM. However, in order for one to enter the city, one must pay the admission fee. For more information, you can check their website. The mini-city is a replica that aims to transport visitors back to history. To make it more authentic, it has its own currency which is the only currency accepted in the shops within the city limits. Thai baht can be converted at the city entrance.
A canal flows through the city and to enter, one must pass through the Saphan Han (Turnable bridge). It is a wooden bridge that dominates the view and is meant to evoke images of Venice’s famed Rialto Bridge. On both sides of the bridge are mini shops. Past the bridge is the ancient market zone which is divided into three zones: Prange Nara Road Zone, Yaowarat zone and Bangrak zone. The market is about with food shops that offer various dishes. The smell of food permeate the air, a salivating balm to our empty stomachs. As we were hungry, my friends and I had our first taste of authentic pad thai and also had cups of coffee. Looming above the city market zone is the city tower.
Outside of the city market, lies the Reuan Dieow, the house of the commoner; and the Reuan Khaha Bodi, the house of the rich. Both houses are elevated from the ground but the disparity between the house for the aristocrats and the commoner is glaring. The latter was brimming with color and opulence, whilst the former was bleak and dark. My favorite part, however, was the cooking kitchen area, which featured the rice production house, barn house, and preparing kitchen. One can also experience the manual process of winnowing, rice milling, and rice pounding. It was an immersive experience. Other attractions within the city are the Reuan Pae Floating House, the Reuan Hmoo and the Jasmine Garden. Mallika, I have learned, is the Thai word for the jasmine flower. Mallika City was a portal to the past that made me learn about Thai society and history; it was an insightful experience.
The last part of our itinerary was also the highlight of our trip. From Mallika City, we travelled to Taweechai Elephant Camp, located deeper in the countryside. Elephants are one of the symbols of Thailand. As such, visiting an elephant camp has become an imperative part of every itinerary. In these camps, tourists can feed the gigantic animals, can ride on them and can also bathe with them in the adjacent river. To be honest, my friends and I were apprehensive about the idea, especially with the history of animal cruelty attached to such camps. Wild animals should be left to their own devises in the wild.
When I tried to feed a banana to an elephant, I can’t help but notice the sadness that emanated from its eyes. It made an impression on me that I wanted to write a creative piece about the experience; I never did and it is one of many literary pieces that is now saved in my brain. As we walked around the camp, we also saw how the elephants tied by chain on tall tress. It was a place devoid of freedom. The air also resonated with the acrid smell of exhaustion as the animals are forced to cater to the growing demands of the tourism market. Although the camp was accredited by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, I still can’t help but feel sympathy for the animals.
The bamboo raft ride made up for the harrowing experience. From the camp, we travelled downriver through a bamboo raft. I enjoyed the tranquility of the ride as both sides of the river was lined up with greeneries that are pleasing to the eye. We were basking in the beauty of nature. To wash away the sweltering heat, we also jumped and dipped into the cool river. Thankfully, we were on a raft with fellow Filipino travelers so we had no trouble communicating.
Our second day in Thailand was packed with adventure, an antithesis to the urban experience offered by Bangkok. The countryside experience gave me deeper insights into Thai culture, history and society. I truly appreciated the experience. I do believe that to truly have an authentic experience of a foreign country, one must travel to the countryside and experience life there, even just for a fleeting moment. And that ends our second day!