Tourists walking over the famous “Bridge of the River Kwai”
Well, just a short time back feeling rather bored with the repititiousness of my weekend holidays here in Suphanburi I decided to head out of the province and go relax elsewhere for a couple of days.
Suphanburi’s location for onward travel isn’t exactly the most ideal as apart from getting to Bangkok the only other means of inter-provincial travel is by the dreaded ‘rot wan yen’ or ‘non air-conditioned big red looking buses’ as we say in English. Just having had a shower before you got on you’ll be completely covered however in dust from head-to-toe by the time you get off.
Well, not having too much choice, i yet again chose Kanchanaburi as me destination for a few days. Asking me why i still like it, i can only say that most of the tourist areas there haven’t really changed over the years and some of the guesthouses are still looking exactly the same as they did when i first went there back in ’91’. There’s just one strip down by the river that has begun to blossom into the Khao Sarn Road of ‘Kan’ with a steady influx of travellers and ex-pats but certainly nothing to the likes of other busy touristy destinations in the country.
Living in Suphanburi, your blogger friend here ‘Steve’ has to make the unenviable voyage to the immigration authorites of Kanchanaburi every three months to sign a form that reads to the likes of “I Stevesuphan, as an alien in Thailand, declare forthwith that i am not dead but in fact still alive and residing at that same darned-address as before and shall continue to do so for the next three months”.
As you could well have imagined, our Immigration buddies in the provinces aren’t exactly the most over-worked of folk and enjoy passing the days playing match-a-card on their computers and should any Farang appear at the door for some visa regularities he or she will be delayed as long as possible so that the officers in charge will actually feel like they are doing some work. While enjoying your company of course. Should you feel perplexed to why the immigration officials need to ask you so many questions to the likes of ‘Why you come Thailand?’, ‘When you go home your country?’ or ‘You can eat spicy food?’ they are in fact just being amiable, getting a freebie English lesson and are totally oblivious to any kind of proper answer you may give!
Kanchanaburi has more than its fair share of tourist attractions including a few museums, a couple of wartime graveyards, a few shady rickshaw drivers and a bridge. There are also a few more attractions with absolutely nothing to do with the second world war and one of them is the ‘Terrifying Tiger Temple’.
Just a few years back, one of the province’s temples decided to look after a sick tiger and when it was seen that this feline was bringing the temple some attraction a few more tigers were brought in to boost tourist arrivals. Only after a few Farangs were seriously maimed and almost killed by a couple of the temple’s hungry tigers was the temple forced to implement safety procedures and hang up a sign outside which read something like ‘Enter at your own risk. The temple takes no responsibility if one of the tigers has an attitude problem and springs for your throat’.
Then, until a few years back, if tigers weren’t your taste and you prefered a more tranquil sight, Kanchanaburi had its own ‘Floating Nun’. For an entrance fee of just 20 baht the tourist could view one of the temple’s nuns who spent her afternoons miraculously floating while meditiating on the temple’s lake or whatever you want to call it. She passed away a while ago but a disciple of hers is apparantly keeping the ‘foating fad going’. Once upon a time Kanchanaburi was also home to Thailand’s most popular monk a handsome ‘Phra Yintra’ or something like that. But after it was discovered by the country’s media that he had fathered a couple of children and spent his guest-trips to Australia boggying away in Sydney’s discos rather than meditating at the temples he fled the scene for his own safety and now resides in cozy California.
When you are tired of visiting the sights of ‘Kan’ or anywhere else one can just do what i did a while back and get into some conversation with a few of the frivolous Farang ex-pats. I have to disclose a little secret of mine and that is i enjoy playing the ‘Dumb Farang’ at times ie. i can’t be bothered telling any of the expats or local Thais working with the tourists that i’ve been living here for goodness knows how long and able to speak the Thai lingo. So, this time in Kanchanaburi i got chatting away to a couple of the expats there who proudly afforded me an insight into their triumphant business ventures in the province. Of course, they thought i had just arrived in Thailand as an ignorant traveller and so they enjoyed completely exaggerating their knowledge of the Thai language, people, culture and ways. I couldn’t help but laugh under my breath at one of them who was sure his idea for a ‘Turkey Farm’ was great business in the province. “All the Thais will be eating my turkeys within three years”. Sure, man!
I then asked their well thought-over opinions on this question “Since i just come to Thailand but you’ve been here for a year now, please tell me all about Thai women as you must know everything” My questions were answered with such wally wisdom that i almost fell off the seat in disbelief and dismayed to think how many ‘real travellers’ had been on the receiving end of such nonsense.
After these couple of ex-pats had downed a few too many beers and returned home drunk at the fine time of 6 in the evening I had the pleasure of next diguising myself as a ‘English teacher wanna-be’. I was soon in conversation with this English teacher teaching in Samut Prakarn province which is co-incidently Richard’s province. I asked him ‘What do think of Samut Prakarn?’ to which i had to listen to a barage of comments along the lines of ‘Samut Prakarn is the most boring place in Thailand. The food is disgusting, the people are all unfriendly and that school of mine is like a prison’. Sounded like the guy hated the place, couldn’t help but ask ‘Don’t you feel your comments are rather self-opinionated?’.
Bored of having to listen to such bar-stool Farang ex-pat talk i soon asked for the bill. And darned, they over-charged me! the cashier on listening to me for the past couple of hours had really believed me a ‘Dumb Farang’. Could have seen the look on her face when i gave her a ‘telling off’ (in Thai) when i left.
Backpackers sunning themselves at the Jolly Frog Guesthouse
Kanchanaburi is great for one thing and that has to be it’s dirt cheap worthy accommodation down by the river. Just before the main strip before you go up the hill(as mentioned above) there are lots of really quiet places where you can get a room with a view on the river for less than 300 baht a night if you want. You have to be careful though of the hellish disco boats that have plaqued the River Kwae for years on end. A few years back, having not listened to the warning of ‘Don’t stay too near the main bridge’ i was forced to put up with these incredibly loud ‘disco boats’ that sailed past my hut ’til 6 in the morning. Of course i was absolutely furious, on having had a sleepless night, that the guesthouse staff had failed to inform me of such noise-pollution before I had checked-in. But i guess that’s business.
Such discos boats still exist today but they’ve been banned from going up near the ‘main’ tourist accommodation area cause of the innumerable complaints received from elderly Farang visitors along the lines of “By jove, these owners have nay respect fir human life!” Probably even worse now has been the arrival of ‘Karaoke Boats’. So, if you are incredibly unfortunate in choosing your riverside hut for the night you may have to tolerate an entire night of loud Bangkokian tourists blaring away into their microphones singing the likes of “And… I… did it Myyy way”
*Since I wrote up this blog a couple of friends asked me for for my advice on places to stay. I stayed at the newly renovated VN Guesthouse on the river run by the friendly K. Natdina (all the rickshaw/motorbike-taxis know it). In fact everyone knows it as it’s been there for years and years. Great place and very clean and a bargain at just 250 baht a night (non air-con)