The idea was to tour parts of Kanchanaburi, with the climax to spend New Year’s Eve in a boathouse on the large man-made lake known as the Sinakharin Lake. Driving there was going to take some time, we calculated that it would be a four-hour drive, taking into consideration the New Year traffic. Annie had stayed on the lake some years ago when she was a university student and spoke highly of it.
So, we set off, we drove through the town of Kanchanaburi, the home to the ‘Bridge on the River Kwai.’ But on this adventure, this was not the attraction.
We eventually picked up the 3199 road. A single carriageway, with forest land on both sides and with low cloud dusting the tops of the mountain range. Eventually, we picked up the sight of the southernmost point of the lake, between the trees, which happened to be part of the Erawan National Park. Annie I could tell was excited about it all if only to trace her footsteps from when she was a student.
The lake, however, was not our immediate stop off point, we had other plans before we would stay on that. We headed further west towards the Vaijiralongkorn Lake. This was near the Burmese border and was inhabited by the Karen and Mon people, and it was the Mon people that were the main attraction.
We stayed at the Tong Tawan Resort at the northernmost point of the Vaijiralongkorn Lake. We took our bicycles with us, enabling us to take advantage of the idyllic scenery and explore the surrounding area.
While Annie rested, I took up the challenge of exploring the local vicinity. To my amazement, I found the world’s second longest wooden bridge, apparently all hand-built, being of 400 metres long.
The bridge was known as the Mon Bridge or Uttamanusom Bridge. Annie had mentioned something about this bridge, but not much, but at night it came to life with the Mon people, children mainly, trying to cash in on the tourist trade with their faces all painted up in Tanaka. Some of the children looked like worriers as if waiting to go into battle.
I got the feeling that they were being exploited, but I suppose this might have been the only way their families could make ends meet. Some of the children showed off their skills of balancing objects on their heads, even some of the older women were exhibiting their techniques.
Later on, on our trip, we set off for the Tenasserim Hills, to be more precise the ‘Three Pagoda Pass.’ This linked Sangkhlaburi, in the north of Kanchanaburi, Thailand. To the south of Payathonsu in the south of Kayin state, in Myanmar.
The place was busy. I had heard so many stories of this place from friends that had been here. The area had three distinct pagodas shrouded in gold plastic sheeting. The rest of the area was being used as a market area. I presume many of the traders had come from Myanmar to trade. The scenery like much of the landscape in Thailand was stunning and with the blue sky, what more could you ask for?
It is said that the Three Pagoda Pass, is the point in which Buddhism entered Thailand during the 3rd Century. More recently, during World War II, the infamous ‘Death Railway,’ that the Japanese were constructing, using forced labour ran through the pass. To which there is a memorial to commemorate the British, Australian and other Allied POW’s who died building the railway.
We stayed there for about an hour or two before setting back to where we’d come from. On the way back I saw a sign, to which I couldn’t resist taking a photograph of. I was probably more curious as to who would go there, as opposed to what they might do there, hasten to add, we didn’t venture anywhere near the place.
We decided to try another route if only to get a different view of the Mon Bridge. It was indeed an impressive structure, sturdy and all that.
Later on, in our travels, we visited the beautiful Wat Wangwiwekaram, which was also known as the Uttama Temple, if only because it was constructed to keep the body of the abbot of the same name in. It is by far, the most important temple in Sangkhlaburi and built in a unique Mon style. To me, it was undoubtedly one of the most impressive temples I have witnessed in Thailand, and one that if only by its looks and colour stands out as being remarkable in its own special way.
In the evening we headed back to the Tong Tawan Resort, for our last night. We decided to venture down once more to the main attraction in the area, that being the Mon Bridge. And yes, it was busy with the locals and tourists. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people gathered on a bridge before. In fact, I was amazed that it could take the strain of the weight, considering what it was made of. Surely it wasn’t constructed for this many people.
The next morning while we still had time to kill, I ventured off cycling and bumped into the ‘woman who lived in a shoe.’ Well, not exactly, but by the look of the place, all her children had grown up and had fled the nest. The place was indeed different, and by the look of it, it was a resort.
Our next leg of our journey was to head back to the Erawan National Park, to where the Sinakharin Lake could be found. It was here that Annie had hired a houseboat for us to spend the New Year on.
The lake certainly looked beautiful, as it had when we came, but finding a suitable place to stop to take photographs was problematic, especially on such a narrow road and in a stream of traffic.
We decided to capitalise on time, so we ventured to the Huay Mae Kamin Waterfalls. We knew from our research that there was a series of impressive waterfalls. We parked up, paid the fee and venture up through the tropical forest, not really knowing what we’d encounter. Well, there were certainly a lot of tourists, but many of them had come ill-prepared. Paths in these forests can at times be tricky and difficult underfoot, certainly not suitable to walk barefooted through or wearing flip-flops, but many did, and many suffered as a result.
The waterfalls were impressive, in some places you could even take a dip, as many did, but I was glad to see that they had made provisions so they wouldn’t slip.
The forest certainly captured my imaginations with its trees, lianas and strangler figs not to mention other plants. Although even for an experienced walker, I found the going somewhat tricky at times. Many Thais, however, found it overwhelming and turned back.
Once our epic jungle walk was over, we headed back for what should have been the highlight of our trip. Annie was gurgling with excitement. It was now the 30th December. We queued at the dockside for ages for our houseboat to arrive. When it did, I wasn’t too sure what to say. I certainly questioned its suitability, having seen houseboats in much better condition. Annie reassured me that it would be an experience that I would always remember, and wasn’t it just.
We boarded the vessel along with all our provisions, food and water that would last us the last couple of days that we had left. Annie insisted that we wanted a place that was well away from anyone else, knowing that with tomorrow being New Year’s Eve, anything could happen especially with celebrations and fireworks.
We were towed far out. The lake was gigantic with a water capacity of 17, 745,000,000 cubic metres. They anchored us in a small bay and secured us with ropes to the shore. My only concern was that the wind had picked up somewhat, and we were in the shallows. The water had become choppy. The houseboat rocked from side-to-side frantically. Annie complained, but the man in charge suggested that he was now working over-time and there was nowhere else for him to take us to.
‘That’s rubbish,’ I said. ‘There’s not a houseboat in sight. He simply can’t be bothered. We’re never going to be able to get any sleep here. The water is far too rough.’ Annie agreed, and after making an evening meal with everything rolling about. We attempted to get some sleep, but to no avail, we simply couldn’t. Tomorrow being New Year’s Eve, was undoubtedly the last thing on our mind, but as the night progressed, the waves got worse and we both began to feel ill due to sleep deprivation.
‘If they had been better prepared for the influx of tourists and kept to their promise of the time they wanted us to arrive, then they could have secured us in deeper water long before they did. Which would have enabled us to get some sleep and then we would not have been in this problem.’ Annie stated.
I tended to agree with her, but we knew that they had limited motorboats, to take us out, and well, they merely didn’t care.
As a result, neither of us got much sleep, this had indeed not materialised into what Annie had envisaged as being an experience to remember.
The following morning we both looked squirmish due to the lack of sleep, we requested to be towed back to the harbour, cutting our experience short by a day. We decided that our best option was to head back to Bangkok if only to get a decent night’s sleep.
Overall, Kanchanaburi had been a good experience, one should not let a floating experience upset a New Year’s holiday, Kanchanaburi, like the rest of Thailand, is a fantastic place to visit. A country that I know won’t disappoint you. It’s a place that’s got something for everybody.