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Thailand

We’re now in Malaysia having flown from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur. Here is a selection of photos from Thailand that didn’t make it into the earlier blog posts

 

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Whilst Bangkok has changed little in the time that we've been away our view of it has changed significantly. Culture shock has been replaced with curiosity as our experiences over the last three months have given much more confidence in our ability to deal with lots of different scenarios

Whilst we're yet to fall in love with Bangkok it's growing on us. Navigating our way around the city and deciding on the best mode of transport has become second nature and we've become much more adept at haggling as we now have some idea of what things cost

Bangkok remains something of an enigma with multiple residential and commercial building projects dotted throughout the affluent areas of the city. Much of the labour is provided by migrant workers brought in from outside the city and is made up of men and women in more or less equal numbers with the women working every bit as hard if not harder than the men. Other areas are dirty, smelly and squalid with no sign of any attempts to improve them

A trip on the Skytrain and a visit to Siam Paragon is a further reminder that Bangkok is very much a city of contrasts. It's almost certain that you'll pass beggars on the walkways leading to the king of malls where every luxury brand is represented including Lamborghinis and Bentleys on the second floor

We're due to visit Bangkok at least once more before we head home. It'll be interesting to see if our impressions change yet again

 

Today we took a scooter up to Hellfire Pass. For once the scooter was new, fast and a joy to ride. Going faster is a mixed blessing. Yes, you get to your destination faster but anything flying above the road poses a hazard. Hitting a butterfly at 60 mph was painful but I guess it came off worse

An Australian museum at Hellfire Pass pays fitting tribute to the POWs of all nations that worked on the Death Railway that ran from Thailand to Burma

Having successfully invaded Burma, Malay, Thailand and Indochina, the Japanese were keen to secure a more effective supply route to Burma than the sea route through the Malacca Straits which was heavily protected by the Allied Forces. Their answer was to resurrect a route for a railway line initially proposed and subsequently rejected by the British several years earlier

Work began in June 1942. Labour was provided by 60,000 Allied POWs transported from occupied territories in Malaysia and Singapore supplemented by 180,000 indigenous workers from across Asia. The conditions under which the work was carried out were some of the most arduous ever suffered and became worse still as the deadline for completion was brought forward. During the period of construction around 16,000 Allied Servicemen died alongside 90,000 workers from Asia

The tools available for construction were virtually non-existent and almost all of the work had to be carried out by hand. Hellfire Pass became notorious as the most difficult stretch of railway to be built as it involved carving a cutting 73m long and 25m deep through the most inhospitable jungle

The Japanese were unforgiving taskmasters, providing the workers little if anything by way of shelter and food and insisted on labour quotas being met even though many of the workers were suffering from dysentery, cholera and malaria (In many cases leave of absence was only granted if one's stool contained 80% blood; 50% was deemed healthy enough to work)

As the railway neared completion, work took place around the clock. The fires that were lit and the shadows they cast of the workers and their brutal Japanese masters gave the cutting its infamous title

Further south at Kanchanaburi lies the River Kwai Bridge, immortalised in the David Lean film (although the bridge used in the film was actually in Kitulgala in Sri Lanka!)

 

The railway was operational for two years before three successive allied bombing raids put it out of commission. In his book 'The Railway Man' Eric Lomax gives a harrowing but excellent account of his experiences during the construction of the railway. The book is being made into a film and filming in Kanchanaburi has already started with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. Sadly they'd packed their bags and left before we had chance to volunteer our services as extras!

 

On our way to Kanchanaburi and the Bridge Over The River Kwai we stopped off at a place called Nathon Chai Si where we stayed at a place called the Hidden Holiday House. Sure enough the place was aptly named as we had our usual challenge finding it. The big appeal was not so much sightseeing as staying on the banks of the river and experiencing life in a Thai village

Each morning around 5:30 a.m. loudspeakers dotted around the countryside broadcast the market prices and local news. Fortunately the one nearest the guesthouse mysteriously stopped working some time ago and has yet to be repaired. That said an early rise is rewarded with a fabulous sunrise

The market is a hive of activity with all sorts of fresh produce for sale. For once we were the only tourists in sight!


Each day follows a similar weather pattern with clear blue skies gradually clouding over in the middle of the afternoon followed by a heavy downpour around 5:00 p.m. Rather than being an inconvenience, the rain cools the temperature nicely making the evenings much more bearable as well as providing the opportunity for the locals to practice their 'Singing in the Rain' skills!

 

On the recommendation of some friends we sought out Uncle John's in Sathorn District in Bangkok. We'd heard that you could eat top quality food at a very cheap price

Armed with an address and map we set out from the hotel. After an hour and a half of searching we finally found it, tucked away down a side-street not far from the local market. It was a sight for sore eyes, not only because we'd finally found it but also for the promise it held

Uncle John's is run by a chef who learnt his trade at the Sukhothai Hotel, one of the top 5 star hotels in Bangkok. He quit his job at the hotel and opened up a restaurant with the ultimate open kitchen in that it's outside on the street!

The menu reads like any top restaurant with a range of choices from French, Italian and Indian to Local Thai dishes. We ordered Pork Fillet Mignon and Beef Tenderloin followed by Mango Crepe Suzette, all washed down with a bottle of Malbec. It was delicious!

Uncle John's has got to be one of the best kept secrets in Bangkok. Whilst we wish him every success in building his business there's a little part of me that hopes it stays just as it is!

 

The other day in Pai we stumbled across a school sports day at which teams competed at football (soccer), volleyball, pétanque and a game called Takraw which is the game of ‘keepy uppy’ taken to a different level.

Basic rules and scoring are similar to volleyball. Each team is allowed a maximum of three touches of the ball to get it back over the net to the other side without letting it touch the ground. The big difference is that the ball can’t be touched by the hand or arm

At the highest level this makes for some spectacular rallies with the top players demonstrating amazing agility and technique. Even at village level they’re not too shabby!