What an awesome day! We started out at 7am and headed to the Maeklong Railway Market outside of Bangkok. Here, Thai vendors set out their fresh catch and vegetables in their small spaces to sell eager Thai consumers, not so much tourists. The fresh catch included of all sorts of fish, frogs, sting rays, mini crabs, mollusks, fish eggs, and more. Some of the fish were still alive. One flipped out of the bucket. Rat, my tour guide, bought it…not to eat…but to save it because it was so strong! She planned to let it out in the water at the floating markets, our next stop.
The train market was enormous. Each space was covered by a canopy about five feet high, thus it was easy to tell the tourists who were consistently ducking while the Thai people walked smoothly along the train tracks. The vendors placed their goods so close to the tracks, that there was barely room for two-way, walking traffic. When the train came through, the vendors moved their goods back behind a marked area and dropped their canopies. It passed by in about a minute and they set everything back up. The train nearly touched their food! I was busy taking pictures, but held my iPhone up to take a few videos as well. Sometimes I forgot about aiming, so I got the ground, but here they are:
Vendors moving their stuff (1:30 mins): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpzP68wryr0
Train coming through (1:30 mins): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uE5rFmiPNE
Vendors setting back up (12 secs): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7_zMckvzEs
After the train market, we visited the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. There are two types of boats that can by rented at the floating markets, one that is motorized or one that is paddled. I was unaware of this and not given an option. I got a motorized boat for 1,000 baht. The paddle boat is 500 baht. The nice part about the motorized boat was that we didn’t start in the markets. We started in other canals and got to pass Thai homes on stilts, many protected by spirit houses. If a Thai home is protected by a Spirit house, an offering must be presented every day and the spirit house is carefully placed so that a shadow can never land on the main house. Speaking of spirits, Thai people believe spirits travel along the ground, thus partitions run along the floor in the doorways between the rooms, in order to block the spirits.
The canals were crowded with boats once we reached the markets. There were three different markets. I didn’t notice the difference between the markets except it seemed like they were sectioned between souvenirs, clothes, and food and of course there was one area for a man with a python! Rat bought me some Pomelo that tastes like grapefruit and fried bananas that they prepare right on the boat.
Normally, after we visit the market we stop a temple and feed the fish, but we actually did this first so Rat could release the catfish she bought at the train market. The canal in front of the temple was a non-fishing area and the fish went into a frenzy when through food into the water, so maybe the poor guy will live, but it sure had to endure a lot of stress as she transported it in a plastic bag in the trunk of her car!
From the floating markets, we had a LONG drive to the Bridge On The River Kwae. The bridge was built by WWII POW’s as part of the Japanese project to build a railway from Thailand to Burma to support the Japanese troops as the waterways were now occupied by the US and considered dangerous. The railroad, known as the “Death Railway”, traveled through the treacherous Kwae region and the bridge crossed the Mae Klong River. The river was later renamed to Kwae due to the popular movie, making the bridge famous, even though the movie wasn’t even filmed in Thailand.
The Death Railway was built by 30,000 Dutch, Australian, American, and English prisoners of war as well as 200,000 Asian laborers. Of those, over half died due to the terrible living conditions, disease, the starvation diets, and mountainous terrain. The prisoners were covered in nothing but rags like “Tarzan” and were fed rice with no protein while they worked 12 hour days to construct a railroad in 16 months which was projected by the Japanese to take over five years and the English once determined it was too difficult to build.
The bridge was a target of multiple ally air raids and rebuilt twice before it was finally destroyed in the war. It was later rebuilt and is still used today. Tourists can ride the train from the bridge to the Nom Tok Sai Yok Noi station on the railroad, however, the railroad no longer continues all the way to Burma as it was considered politically undesirable and the tracks were removed near Hellfire Pass, one of the deadliest areas of construction.
At the Nom Tok Sai Yok Noi station, the Krasae Cave, once a POW camp and just yards from the track is now a place where locals go to worship a Buddha. This was really a beautiful area. It is sad to think so many people lost their lives here.
In addition to visiting the historical sites and enjoying pineapple fried rice at Keeree Tara Restaurant next to the bridge, I also visited the JEATH museum, which was made of thatch, the same materials of most the POW camps. JEATH is an abbreviation for the names of the six countries most involved in the railway project. The Japanese who controlled it, and England, America, Australia, Thailand, and Holland…the forced laborers. The outdoor museum displayed old pictures and newspapers articles about the railway and took about five minutes to walk through. I’m not sure I’d recommend it, though there was a statue that paid tribute to a Japanese commander that was interesting.
Commander Takashi Nagase was one of the officers in charge of the construction of the railway, who later was involved in the search party for graves and had a change of heart. He became an ordained Buddhist monk and created a charity that has provided several scholarships to poor students in Kanchanaburi.
Our final stop of the day was at Muang Sing Historical Park which I really loved despite not really understanding the history behind it at the time. Muang Sing and its Khmer temple, Prasat Muang Sing can be dated back to the 13th and 14th centuries. The city layout and Bayon style architecture indicates Muang Sing was once part of the Khmer Kingdom, ruled by King Jayavarman VII, a descendant of Jayavarman II, the founder of Angkor.
The ancient city of Muang Sing was almost square-shaped, surrounded by moats, ramparts and laterite city walls. Inside are a variety of monuments. The largest monument was a building complex including a Prasat tower, surrounding walls, gates, and gallery areas. The monument is laid out in the form of a mandala, a diagram of the universe. Mount Meru, at the center of the world, was represented by the Prasat, while the continents and oceans were represented by ponds, ditches, and dikes. Though very HOT, it was a neat place to walk around and explore. The steps up into the structure were extremely steep and narrow…luckily there weren’t too many!
So, after enjoying some of the history of Thailand, we took a long drive back to Bangkok. I grabbed a quick dinner at the hotel and prepared for a 3 am pickup from the hotel for my many flights home. A great trip! ETB