Children of Laos, Burma & Thailand

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Thailand and Laos (and Myanmar if I can manage it)

Hello, Sawatdee kaa and Sabai dee,

My next trip will be Thailand and Laos, and this is all about the before, the trip and the after - similar to my Malaysia/Cambodia blog. I am putting together from start to finish - tickets, do's and don'ts, tours, where to stay, places to see, things to do, as well as useful extras like transport, good places to eat, what to wear, climate, tourist traps, tricks and tips and whatever else I can think of that will be useful.

If you have any tips or advice, please, feel free to leave a comment and add your bit - whatever you think may be helpful or interesting.

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Playlist - My Travel Videos

Friday, March 18, 2011

53. Hellfire Pass

Hellfire Pass ~ Honouring the Fallen
My uncles were in the war - PNG, Palestine and Burma. At Grandma's funeral and wake, after a few beers, my uncles began reminiscing about old times. They spoke of Palestine, sang a soldier's ditty. Then Uncle Bernie said, "Jerry was alright, you could deal with Jerry, it was those little slant-eyed yellow bastards I couldn't stand."
He had been in Burma. He could not forget.

I went to Kanchanaburi not to see the tiger temple or ride an elephant or bamboo raft down the river, I went because of its history. And a brutal and terrible history.

A Life For Every Sleeper

Above: Original track work of the Death Railway

One POW died for every 32.6 metres of track.
There were 424 thousand metres of track.
13,000 died and are buried along the way.

Over 80,000 Asian labourers died.

For every sleeper laid it cost one human life
120,000 sleepers where laid.

Japanese brutality at its best.

Hellfire Pass - Honouring The Fallen

Above: Information Sign

At the beginning of doing this walk this sign reads
The railway has been cleared for a further four kilometres but no improvements have been made to steep or difficult sections. Only those persons in good physical condition should attempt this part of the trail. Walking time from this point to the end and return is 3 hours.

Above: Hellfire Pass ~ Tree of Life
This self-seeded tree grew in the middle of Hellfire Pass. Where once cruelty and death lingered, the appearance of the birth of a new tree gives hope. Tree of life is a metaphor for the livelihood of the spirit.

Above: Railbed
As you walk along this track today, it is a peaceful place with the sound of crickets and cicadas singing and the stones crunching under your walking feet. No-one who comes here shouts or yells - something about the atmosphere begs for the listener to be still and breathe in the winds of today which have overcome the trials of yesterday. It is not until you reach the memorials that you realise it is not all it seems it is not a pretty walk in the country but a living memorial to thousands of men who lived, worked and died many still in their teens or early twenties. Young men who never had the chance to live and learn about the joys of happiness which we take for granted.

So... be still take a quiet time and sit and just do nothing but listen to the wind as it ruffles your hair and the sun beats down overhead as it did oh so many years ago on others who were here first.

Cuttings along the railway varied from shallow earth to deep rock. Konyu Cutting, or Hellfire Pass as it was known, is the deepest and largest on the entire length of the railway.

On 25th April 1943 - ANZAC Day - work commenced to excavate the cutting. A workforce of prisoners of war began the task of hacking back the jungle, removing the loose earth and drilling in rock by hand. Little machinery was available. Most of the drilling work was done by the "hammer and tap" men, a process whereby one man would hold and rotate a drill or "tap" while his mate hit the head of the drill with an eight to ten pound hammer.

Above: Sheer rockface - the hill was excavated by hand

'Pick up.
Carry 25 yards or more.
Up the bank.
Walk back.'

'On jobs such as cuttings, Nips stood overhead and threw stones all the time irrespective of whether you worked or not.' - Reg Holloway, 2/40th Infantry Battalion, Australian Imperial Force.

Above: In Remembrance

When the hole was deep enough, explosive charges would be used, the broken rock removed by hand and the process began again. The process was slow.

As work fell behind schedule and "speedo" was called, the work rate intensified. Work shifts lasting up to eighteen hours drilled, blasted and removed rock in a continuous operation. The men laboured under intense pressure from the Japanese engineers and Korean guards at the height of the wettest monsoon season for many years. Such was the brutality that 69 men were beaten to death by their guards.

Above: In Memory
Many prisoners-of-war died from cholera, beriberi, dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion. On starvation rations - a cup of boiled rice or millet three times a day - if they were lucky, malnutrition was a big killer.

At night, the cutting was lit by fires, lamps or diesel torches. The eerie light and shadows of guards and gaunt prisoners of war playing on the rock walls suggested the name the site was given - Hellfire Pass.

Above: POW - Original photo
An original photo of a POW standing beside the primitive tripod which was used for levelling the ground of the Death Railway Thailand - Burma

Above: Hellfire Pass, 1944
Original photo of Hellfire Pass (Konyu Cutting) which forms part of the Death Railway, was a particularly difficult section of the line to build, not only because it was the largest rock cutting on the railway, but also because of its remoteness and the lack of proper construction tools during building.

Above: Hellfire Pass today
These rails and sleepers are from the official railway and were relaid in Konyu Cutting in April 1989 by the men of "C" Company 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment.
They were relocated to the current position in 2006.

Above: Memorial
One of the most poignant memories is of a plain little wooden cross that said simply "For my Dad"

Above: Poppies of Remembrance
This humble litte poppy was known as the corn poppy because it flourished as a weed in grain fields. The Flanders poppy as it is now called, grew profusely in the trenches and craters of the war zone. (WW I)
The red Flanders’ poppy was first described as a flower of remembrance by Colonel John McCrea, who was Professor of Medicine at McGill University of Canada before World War One.

Above: The Australian Flag

Above: Hellfire Pass
The plaque on the left is dedicated to Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop (1907 - 1993) and reads ~

Patron of the Association of and Surgeon of the jungle whose ashes were scattered in this area on 25th April 1994.

From 1942 to 1945 Weary Dunlop and his medical colleagues, in the Armed Services of Great Britain, Australia, Netherlands, India and the United States of America gave devoted service to thousands of sick and dying prisoners-of-war and Asian labourers who were forced to construct and maintain the Burma-Thailand Railway.

These doctors provided leadership, helped alleviate pain and suffering and above all gave reason to live when all real hope seemed lost.

To them we all give thanks.

"When you go home, tell them of us and say we gave our tomorrow for your today"

Above: Hellfire Pass Memorial
Of the 1,000 Australian and British soldiers who took 12 weeks to clear the stretch of mountain, 700 died. They worked around the clock for 16-18 hours a day to complete excavation of the 17 metre deep and 110-m long cutting through solid limestone and quartz rock.
The Hellfire Pass Memorial and Memorial Museum were set up to commemorate these fallen.

Above: 352 Steps
This is the number of steps to reach Hellfire Pass. Many are steep and climbing down and then back up face running with sweat sun beating down I look back at what was once one of the most dreaded railways in history - the "Death Railway" and ask how could so much human suffering and atrocity be caused by one human being to another?

Above: Peace Vessel - Peter Rushforth
Peter Rushforth was a prisoner of war on the Burma Thailand Railway. In 1946 he commenced training as a potter with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. His work is represented in the Australian National Gallery and Australian state and regional galleries as well as private collections all over the world.

Above: Memorial Museum
The Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum complex is an Australian built complex decicated to the memory of all the men and women who worked and died making this railway.

Above: The Staff

Above: Grounds

Walk Through Hellfire Pass

In Remembrance of
All those who suffered
And all who died.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

52. Erawan Waterfalls

A long drive
It was a very long drive to Erawan, far longer than I had at first realised. I was very glad I had chosen a car over a tuk-tuk. The sun was becoming quite hot and it was nice to sit back and relax in an air conditioned vehicle while enjoying the scenery as we sped along.

Above: Sangchuto Road
These were taken from a moving vehicle so aren't terribly clear.

Above: The King
Everywhere in Thailand are photos and pictures of the King. This is just one example.

Erawan Waterfalls
Erawan National Park was designated in 1975 and covers an area of 550 square kms. Located 65 kms from Kanchanaburi, its major attraction is Erawan Falls named after the erawan, the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. It is said the seven-tiered falls resemble the erawan.

Said to be one of the most beautiful in Thailand, the falls are situated amongst rough jungle and there is an admission fee of 200 baht.

Be back by 12.30
We arrived at Erawan National Park and my driver said to please be back by 12.30pm because it would take an hour to get to our next stop.

Above: Visitor Centre
Walking from the car, the falls were to the left and then you sort of turn right and start your trek upwards. The visitor centre was on my right.

Above: Boy meets Girl
These quaint bamboo? elephants are to the left of the visitor centre and stand about 10 foot in height. I waited an interminable amount of time for this photo - two women were taking photos of each other draped in various poses around them. I have never understood why people have to stand in front of every object they see, whether it be a building, artwork, temple or just a sign post with a "Look, here's me in front of the tower/thing/whatever"!

Above: The 7 tiers of the Erawan Waterfalls
Each tier is shown on the information board by name and the number of metres it will take you to get there. It's really very informative, you can decide whether or not to skip certain tiers and go straight to the top or make a stop at each fall.

Above: Erawan Falls, 1st fall - Lai Kuen Rung
The first one seemed fairly shallow and there wasn't anybody else here. Pretty with good shade. After taking a few pics and a rest, it was time to head up to the next level.

Above: The 2nd fall - Wang Macha
The going was a bit more uphill and my head was wet with perspiration. Anyway, I reached the second fall but alas the photo is a bit blurry. Pity I didn't think to use the zoom button. As it was the dry season, the falls weren't as spectacular but they were lovely just the same.

Above: The 2nd fall - Wang Macha
This shot came out clearer. Surprisingly, there is a fellow on the right who appears to be fully clothed bending down under a shower of water. The colour of the water is deeper than it shows and it made a pretty picture.

Above: Erawan Falls - swimming in Wang Macha
You can get a better idea of the water colour here. The area was quite large and these two fellows seem to be enjoying their swim. If you look in the lower left hand side, you can see plenty of fish. Dinner chaps?

Above: Erawan Falls ~ Wang Macha
Another shot - this time taken further back and from a different angle. The sound of water is a refreshing one and had I had a lot more time, I'd have spent far longer exploring the scenic beauty of the place.

Above: The 3rd fall - Pha Nam Tok
By the time I made it up to this fall, I was worn out! Boy was it hot. I had sweat dripping down my face, so much in so that my sunglasses became foggy. I remember looking for and finding a spot in the shade on a wooden seat that looked like it had been a piece of tree cut down. I finished the rest of water and was hanging out for more.

Above: The 3rd fall - Pha Nam Tok
I'd love to have gone ahead and seen the other falls, but looking at my watch, I knew I didn't have time. Now I know why brochures and guide books recommend 3 hours to see all seven.

Above: Signpost
Going back, I spotted the nifty sign - strange that I hadn't noticed it on my way up.

Above: The Little House
Seeing this, I realised that I must have been coming back on a different path. It looks so pretty doesn't it? If it weren't for the signage, you'd never realise it's the toilet block. So beautifull maintained and well kept gardens.

Above: Picnic Tables
Woudln't this be a lovely place to have a picnic? Ah, if only I had the time, but time as they say waits for no man, so it's soldier on and off we go.

Above: Water!
Soon I was back at the beginning, and said to my driver that I needed to buy some more water. It's a funny thing you know how prices go up - the bottle of water from 7-11 in Kanchanaburi that was 7 baht was 10 baht here. Oh well. guess that's tourism for you.

After a wee rest, it was back in the car and off to Hellfire Pass.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

51. Kanchanaburi

Where Am I?
Ever woken up wondering where you are? It's dark and unfamiliar and you're not sure just where you are or what time it is? Well this is the state I found myself in. I woke, looked around, wondering for a minute where I was and then remembered I was in Kanchanaburi in my room at PLOY. I wondered what the time was - it seemed very dark, with eyes half shut I made it to my suitcase, fumbled around for my travel clock ($19.95 from Coles Supermarket, Darwin 2006) and squinted at the time. It was just after 1.30 in the morning which meant I'd missed dinner and slept for something like 8 hours.

I remember drinking water and went outside but had to be careful I didn't get locked out because I remembered they hadn't given me a key which I thought a little odd. Oh well, not to worry, I'll get one later in the morning when everyone's awake. Sitting outside on this wooden seat outside my room, it was quite pleasant as I sat and smoked.

Back To Bed
Back inside and it's off to la la land again, this time to awaken at around 4.30am, then back in the land of dreams. It was something like 8.15am when I finally woke and was awake enough to greet the day.

First Morning
After some enquiries of other guests, I found my way to the restaurant and sat at one of the tables facing the river - the photo below is my view. I metnioned to one of the staff that I hadn't been given a room key and they said I hadn't checked in! Apologetic I explained I had felt unwell and had thought to lie dow for a short time but had slept until morning. I filled out the form and was given a key.

Above: Swimming pool at PLOY GH
Isn't this a wonderful view to have when you awaken? I thought so and was so glad I had chosen this guesthouse rather than the other one (there were two I had in mind) - it was very quiet, peaceful and serene. But above all, it was the sort of place you could just sit and relax - no noisy party goers and pool splashing which I realised was just what I needed, especially after yesterday's fiasco of heat, head and nausea.

Above: Restaurant bar at PLOY
You could order drinks (read alcoholic) here and the staff were very friendly. A light breakfast was included - toast and tea/coffee. I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon plus orange juice.

Above: Cuppa
AFter my umpteenth cuppa I felt more human and wide awake - gone were the woes of yesterday and I was ready to face the day and begin my adventures.

Organising a Tour
As I had only today and part of tomorrow, I set about organising a tour so I could see the places I had come ot see. My original intention had been to arrive from the airport late in the afternoon, have a rest, a snack and book a tour the same day, but due to having fallen asleep straight away, that didn't happen. I asked the lady at reception did they do tours and she was happy to help. Bringing out a booklet for me, I knew which one I wanted to do but then realised it was no good - they all left at 8.00am in the morning and it was already 8.45 by this time. She was going to book it for the next day, but when I explained it had to be today as I was going back to Bangkok tomorrow, she spoke with one of the young chaps and said I'd have to have a driver (like a private tour).

The places that I really wanted to see were Hellfire Pass, Erawan Waterfall and I wanted to catch the train at Namtok Station and ride the train back to Kanchanaburi. She made a few phone calls, but the drivers were all booked. Consulting with her off-sider, they checked the train timetable and said the last train left Namtok ad 3.15. I was given the choice of a tuk-uk for 1,800 baht or a car and driver for 1,700 baht. I hadn't known it would be so expensive, but I chose the car and driver and very glad I did. The weather was very hot and the car was air-conditioned. Tuk-tuks are not.

Anyway, we made a time for 9.30 after I had a quick shower. My driver came and we set off. I asked him to stop so I could buy water, which he did - 7 baht for a small bottle and 14 baht for a large one. I bought two small bottles. The driver was very good too, he said it was better to go to ERawan Falls first, then Hellfire Pass because of where they were located. The drive to Erawan National Park was a very long one.

Above: Sidecar passenger
We stopped here as I wanted to have a smoke and stretch my legs (that's the beauty of private tours - you can stop where and when you want). This little moppet was in his father's sidecar which is used to transport vegies and other goods.

Above: Bad Driver
Just as we were getting ready to get back in the car, a driver started reversing and bang! hit our car. My driver was not amused. The other driver, a female and he held a rather heated discussion. I have yet to see drivers in an accident in Thailand exchange names and licence numbers. This is the car that hit ours.

Friday, March 11, 2011

50. Airports

Well I arrived at Tulla (local name for Tullamarine Airport here in Melbourne), had a quick smoke then dropped my luggage off. As I'd already checked in online and printed my boarding pass, it is so simple - and quick. No standing in a long line waiting to check your luggage in. I loved the colourful hue of the Chinese New Year lanterns which were adorning the place, it made it look so cheerful.

Above: Chinese New Year lanterns at Tullamarine
Some of the lanterns that were hanging overhead.

Which Duty-Free Shop?
I didn't make the same mistake as last year - no buying cigarettes from the duty free shop here, it's so much cheaper to buy them overseas. A difference of around $60! Now that's some serious money and not to be sneezed at.

Soon it was time to board the plane and then comes the rush of people standing in the aisles, blocking the way as they try valiantly to shove their 7kgs of carry-on luggage into the overhead lockers. I swear, if airlines introduced weighing every passenger's onboard luggage, there'd be many a passenger denied boarding. Honestly people, if you have more than the alloted 7kg, then why on earth don't you pay the money and check it in? It would make life so much easier - everyone would get on the plane, either put their little holdall/tote bag/whatever in the lockers or place it on the ground in front of their feet and the aisles would remain clutter free. Ah well, I don't make the rules.

Meals on Planes
Another thing I learned from last year is this - it pays to order your meal online when booking your ticket, not only does it save you around 15%, but when the trolley dolly comes around, guess who gets served first? Right, those who have pre-ordered. Trolley dolly asks to see either your passport or boarding pass, ticks your name off a list then hands you your din-dins. (Din-dins is Aussie slang for food, a saying usually used when speaking with little children aka 'ankle biters')
Those who didn't have the forsight to pre-order, get to buy meals when the second trolley dolly comes around. I'd chosen the International Meal and quite tasty it was too. Chicken from memory with roast spuds, veg and what proported to be gravy. Anyway, it was tasty and filling.

Lights Off
After we, the passengers had all been fed and watered and people had attended to their ablutions in the little room the lights are off and it's time to sleep. Fortunately no-one turned their private, individual reading lamp on...the plane had dimmed and only the sounds of gentle snoring could be heard. I pretty much fell asleep. After all - what are you going to do on a plane 40,000 feet in the air when you're in darkness and it's well and truly around two in the morning! ZZzzzzz.....nighty-night.

Above: Mr Sandman

This photo was taken some nine hours after the Chinese lanterns pic. As you can see, there are many sleepy heads - Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream, make him the cutest that I've ever seen...

Thou Shalt Not Covet The First Class Passengers
There didn't seem to be the huge divide between "Premium" and "Economy" passengers when I flew with Air Asia last year as there is now. Then again, the planes I was in in 2010 were newer planes - the "kitchen" area was in the front of the plane and toilets were up the front and down the back.
And the cabin crew didn't say you couldn't walk through the premium section to use the loo. Not so this year - got up to go to the loo only to be told very firmly that I wasn't allowed there and had to use the loo in the economy section. I couldn't see the point in this, not really - my seat was 8G - the loo in the front section was closer than the other one. I mean how much difference can there be in dunnies? They both have a bowl a seat and a lid. Perhaps the "Premium" toilet has a gold-plated seat and lid and they're afraid it might get nicked. Although I don't suppose there'd be much call for second-hand toilet seats.
And cabin crew were very firmly making sure that none of us poor people got the opportunity to even have a peak threw the wee gap in the curtains as is evidenced in the photo below...

Above: First Class only - do not enter!
I should imagine all those rich folks who paid extra to sit up in the pointy end need to be protected from the hoi polloi! I wonder how many more Oxford Scholars it is for the privelege of having a wider seat, a pillow and a free blanket - which you don't get to keep anyway.

Arrival in Kuala Lumpur
We arrived at LCCT in KL pretty much on time - one thing I have to hand to Air Asia's pilots, even if we're a little late taking off, we always seem to arrive on time!

It felt good to be back again, although I didn't feel the excitement of the first time I arrived here, probably a case of been there, done that.
Went through immigration, collected my luggage then went outside. I'd forgotten how hot it was in KL and I was dying for a bottle of water, so it was off to find water and re-hydrate myself.
I dropped my luggage off as soon as check-in opened and like ny earlier flight, had checked in online and had my boarding pass printed. So now I was "luggage free" except for my carry-on bag.

Lots of Red, Red, Red.
I hadn't reaised until I was uploading the photos that there was so much red - even in the pics above we have red, red, red!

Above: LCCT Kuala Lumpur
There were Chinese New Year lanterns and decorations everywhere. Last time I was here was in March so the displays weren't there, but this time around being early February they were everywhere.

Above: Gong Xi Fa Cai

The Chinese don't say "Happy New Year" like in western countries, instead they say "Gong Xi Fa Cai" which is Mandarin and means 'wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year.'

I loved this lovely picture of the red and white pandas and the floral display with its red lanterns and pink blossoms.

Above: Chinese New Year blossom
Close-up of the cherry blossom and red lanterns.

Water feature and flora
Another new feature at LCCT is the addition of this attractive water fountain surrounded by lots of greenery. I think it makes the airport look a little more scenic.

Above: Garden and water feature
I was quite taken with this, and admired the different shades of green. Seeing as LCCT has now removed all the seats that used to be here I suppose they thought this would make up for the lack of seating.

Above: Fountain at LCCT
As you can see, there are three fountains, the middle one being larger with water spilling over to the two smaller ones.

While waiting in the departure lounge, I met a Melbourne couple from Lilydale and it turned out their seats were next to mine on the plane to BKK.

Bangkok Airport
As with my earlier flight, I had pre-booked a meal. The only downside was the cup of coffee that came with it was that horrible 3-in-1 muck - dreadful stuff. Coffee/milk powder/sugar. I don't have sugar and asked for one without it. A firm "No" was the answer, pre-booked meals come with the 3-in-1 and that's it. Not very good PR on the part of Air Asia - apart from the fact that I dislike sugar, what about passengers who are diabetic and cannot have sugar? I was told by the trolley dolly if I wanted no sugar then I had to order it from the second trolley and it would cost me. I had to pay? For a cuppa tea or coffee because I don't have sugar? Evidently the coffee on the other trolley isn't included in the pre-booked meal deal. Pffft!

Above: Thailand coastline
This was taken on the plane - I had a window seat but alas the photos are not all that clear, must have something to do with smog.

Anyway, not having been to Thailand before, the couple (can't remember their names off-hand) offered to guide me through the airport (Suvarnabhumi Airport) - it's absolutely massive.

Above: Suvarnabhumi Airport
As I said, it's absolutely massive.

Above: Touchdown at Bangkok airport
Very nice design too. I had a migraine by the time I got off the plane and would have had no idea where to go without the guidance of the Lilydale couple. Finally, we were standing in line at the customs or immigration section - and there was a long. long, line at the counters. Our line seemed to be moving the slowest. We stood there about an hour. Everybody was feeling grumpy and my migraine had become full blown. If you've never had migraines, then you're very lucky, and if you have then you'll know what I'm talking about.

Eventually we passed through immigration and it had taken such a long time that the luggage carousel had been emptied and we had to walk off and find where it had been placed. I found mine among a few other pieces of luggage on the floor somewhere, started to wheel it along and wondered where the hell am I and where the heck do I go from here?

The Aussie couple came over to me sans luggage, asked where I had found mine and were understandabley upset they couldn't find their luggage. I pointed to where I'd found mine but they said the other bits and pieces weren't theirs. The last view I had of them was two people trying to find someone to ask about the disappearing luggage. It did make me think of THIS - it's a very funny Youtube skit called "Lost Luggage" I've posted the link rather than the video clip so it doesn't slow down the page load.

Taxi Scams
Having been warned already about the taxi scams I went to what I thought was the taxi counter but they didn't speak English and I couldn't find where to go. If only I'd printed out one of the many airport maps I have previously posted on the blog, I could have saved myself quite a bit of time and nerve wracking experience.

I was approached by a very "official" looking female in a navy uniform who had a booklet and would book me a taxi. At least I didn't fall for that one. After many "Could you please tell me where do I book a taxi?" questions of many people, finally I found it - downstairs outside. I booked my taxi to take me to the Southern Bus Terminal and was on my way. By this stage I was very hot, had a throbbing head and felt a little sick.

Taxi to Kanchanaburi
Rather than bore you all with the details, he didn't know where the Southern Bus Terminal was, offered to drive me to Kanchanaburi for 2,100 baht. By this time I was beyond caring, (as I said I was very hot, had a throbbing head and felt sick) so I said "2,000 baht", he agreed asked the name of my accommodation, I gave him the phone number and that was that. I slept on and off most of the way.

When we arrived, he took care of my luggage, I paid him and was led to my room. My last thought was, that's funny, they didn't give me a key. I'll just have a lie down on the bed for half an hour.

And so ended my first day in Thailand, a rather sorry beginning.
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