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River Kwai

Overnight in the battle between Man vs Mosquitoes, the Mosquitoes had definitely won. We were both up in the night admistering bite relief to our feet and legs. We had been careful the day but obviously not enough.

Today was a very early start as we needed to be out of breakfast and ready for the tour pick up in Reception by 6.30am.

Today was also a very important day for me as it would hopefully fulfil a long held ambition of mine to see and feel the places that my Dad had been held as a FEPOW all those years ago. Although he rarely spoke about it, I know how much it must have shaped him as a person and made him the man he was. It is now 27 years since we lost him and I still miss him every day. Today won't bring him back but I feel I am visiting in his memory. He never spoke of wanting to come back here or even leave the UK again and I understand and respect that. But I wanted to on his behalf. I tried to rationalise later in the day as I rode a train on track he would have been involved in laying what he would have made of me doing so. I'm positive at the time he would have never envisaged such a thing as he concentrated on just surviving. At the time he wasn't aware he had even become a Father to one child, alone another 4 to follow and that some 75 years his youngest (and the one who got all the brains and looks!!!!) would be riding through the cuttings he made. I hope the circumstances of our visit would have given some pleasure and pride.

Anyhow, the minibus picked us up and took up to backpackers alley which was a central point for people to switch to different minibuses depending on which trip they were doing. After about 25 minutes we were on our way to Kanchanaburi. The whole journey took about 2 ½ hours to get there and was hot (and sticky!).

We arrived outside the JEARTH museum but disappointedly were only given 45 minutes to look round this AND visit the actual River Kwai bridge (which isn't over the actual River Kwai or the actual bridge!). The museum was poor, apart from 2 exhibits. The first was a mock up of some POW's lying awaiting medical attention. It was pretty rubbish but I found I was moved to tears especially as next to it was the remains of the real track and sleepers for the original and real River Bridge. Over the other side of the river you could clearly see where the bridge went across to.

1 in 4 POW's died making the railway. 1 for every sleeper laid. I took a moment to compose myself and wanted to stay longer but I also wanted to see and cross the river on the not actual but famous for the film bridge.

We hustled through crowds and street vendors and after waiting for a train to cross walked across the bridge. It was hot and sticky. Apart from all the tourists, the view was surprisingly pretty. Karen only made it half way as it was not easiest walk with all the other people. I marched all the way across leaving all the other visitors behind. It got hairy near the other side as there was just rail on the bridge with nothing on the sides but a sheer drop. I even had to step over a stray dog lying on the track. I made it to a small rail box which was called River Kwai Bridge stop. I looked to try and see where the original crossing would have joined with the current line but couldn't make it out.

After this all too short a stop we got back with our group and were taken to Tha Kilen where we waited to board a train which would take us to Nam Tok which was the end of the line. It was pleasant but not memorable until we got to Wang Po where the train skirted high above the river clinging impressively to track hewn out the rock by the POW's.

We were then taken down to the river a few minutes away for a buffet lunch. It was supposed to be chicken, but both Karen & I decided it was preferable to go hungry than try it. Others on the mini bus tucked in but one chap did comment that it was a '4 hour lunch'. When asked what he meant, he said that in 4 hours he would know if it was actually edible!

Following this we were straight onto a bamboo raft ride. Hmm. Karen was a tad weary especially when we had to wear lifejackets. It consisted of a metal frame floating in the river with a row of bamboo poles tied across it. Not great and certainly not compelling with UK H&S requirements. I assumed there was an engine, but no we just were left to float with the river flow with some local guy using an oar to steer us. He took some photos of us and then said the day was hot and river was cool. Then without warning he proceeded to jump in fully clothed with jeans on. We were left to drift along not sure where or if he would ever resurface. Of course he did eventually but really bizarre. He got back on board as if nothing had happened.

We drifted until we arrived at the Taweechai Elephant Sanctuary. This appeared to have been built in someones backyard. Again quite surreal. Karen had some real doubts about climbing the frame to get on the big male elephant we were allocated and didn't like at all that she had to stand on him to sit down. He was lovely though. Although they are 'trained' as such to follow the keepers instructions (he rides with you sitting directly on them), they do have a mind of their own. We were reassured afterwards reading that at 4pm each they are literally left on their own in an enormous area to do as they please. This includes access to lots of mud, water and food. I believe that giving rides to tourists like us just covers the cost of maintaining the sanctuary and enables the rescue of additional elephants who have been mistreated. Anyhow again we were left alone when the keeper jumped off the elephant to take some photos of us. When the elephant started to wander off without him with us on its back, Karen's nerve started to go. However with a quick call from the keeper the elephant soon turned round and we went back to him.

After we bought one of the pictures (in a frame made from elephant poo), we were back on the bus to go to Say Yok Waterfall which is also the end of the Death Railway track and part of the Thailand National Park scheme. Looking on the map afterwards it seems the other side of the park would have taken us into what we would know as Burma. We were there for 45 minutes which was too long as I wished I could have had time elsewhere.

We then drove back to Kanchanaburi where we went to the War Cemetery. This has been kept immaculate by the Commonwealth War Graves commission. I was very moved by this place. It is very near to the site of the camp where Dad spent a lot of time in captivity.

The second memorial I read was for a 23 year old Private from the Royal Norfolks. I was in tears. It could have been Dad. It could have been his friend. It could have been someone who he had to bury. Their poor family, what did they have to go through. What was their back story. What were their life's dreams hope and aspirations. What impact would they have has upon the world. The vast majority of them were so young. They suffered so much. It was so cruel. It was so pointless.

I noticed there was a Death Railway research centre next to the cemetery. Upon investigation afterwards I regret we did not have the time to go into it. This may mean another visit is needed.

I wish we could have had more time here. I wanted to find all of the Royal Norfolks buried there to somehow honour them. I was the last person left wandering around. I wrote a note in the visitors book and left.

It was a long long long journey home. The whole trip last 13 hours, yet I wished it had been longer. We grabbed a pizza before going back to the room to collapse for the night. Norwich may have been playing on TV that I could have watched but there was no way I could have kept awake long enough to do so.

Karen's quote of the day was that she don't think we have ever been anywhere more foreign. This is true as on our journey not one sign was in English. The Thai script is difficult to comprehend and looks like squiggles to our untrained eyes. At least if it is in Spanish or French or something we know enough to sometimes make an educated guess a word. In Thai - not a clue. We didn't know where we were at any point or how far we had to go. We also speak literally no Thai and at times have to get by through sign language, acting and lots of bowing. I feel ashamed that lots of the world learns English to an extent but the vast majority of the people from the UK (including me) speak no other language.

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