Thursday, January 03, 2013

Thailand Trip - Kanchanaburi

Once again, it's time for a year end vacation overseas to beach holiday and what's there for the Xmas and NY countdown! It has kinda become a ritual for me, having NOT spent the past Xmases and NYEs since 2008.  This year, it was a really last minute mad rush to get my destination decided and tickets booked.  I only decided on the locations 2wks before I plan to fly off and booked my flights 1 wk before!  Still I managed to choose - Kanchanaburi and Koh Tao.  Idea being I need an island for the NYE countdown (alot more fun on an island counting down), and I need a non-island before that (too much island can overkill) where I can do a bit of exploring and hiking.  So the closest was Kanchanaburi and Koh Tao.
So begins my journey to Bangkok first to meet my "God Mum" for dinner and an early morning train at 750am the next day to Kanchanaburi.
 The train to Kanchanaburi departs from Thonburi Railway, not Hua Lumpung.  Although there are tourist trains on weekends to Kanchanaburi on a day trip basis (means return train tickets for 120B i think).  THe normal train costs 100B, and took me 3.5H instead of the publicized 2H.  The ride was alright, I just slept most of the way through..
Checked into Sugar Cane guesthouse upon arrival, choosing their cheapest hut for 150B per night.  It was alright, cold shower (hot shower costs twice as much), a double bed with good toilet.  Though the walls are extremely thin, means you can hear when your neighbour returns (when they open/close the door) or when they are doing their business (as in you can hear the flush, not the act of doing).  If you whisper soft enough, you are fine... But the view from the dining area is quite nice!  Wanted to check into Bluestar guesthouse but they were out of the cheapest room.  The lady at the reception of Sugar Cane was not friendly at all, gave me wrong info and not helpful.
Upon settling down, instead of a nap I went to explore the Bridge over River Kwai.  It was a 30min walk from my guesthouse to where all the tourists flock to.
 Under the 35 degrees blazing heat, it was kinda warm and really sticky walking that stretch.  The bridge was just that - a bridge.  The view was pretty alright though...

 There is a tourist train that rides only that section of the railtrack.

Went to the night market for a walk near the train station, but nothing much there.  I was expecting a lot more food stalls but only a small stretch...  Surprisingly, maybe tourists don't come to Kanchanaburi, I only saw a handful.  And mainly families if not old balding farangs with their Thai ladies..
 The next day, I embarked on a train journey to Nam Tok and to walk the Hellfire pass.  So I woke up at 5am to catch the 6am train.  Again a 2H train ride became a 3H ride.  The ride was pretty boring at first but the scenery came after about 2H...
 At Nam Tok, I walked to Sai Yok Noi (2km from the train station), only to be greeted by a small rather uninspiring waterfall.  EH, well kinda expected it...
 Attempted to find the cave by following the road signs, only to be chased by a dog upon arrival at the ranger's station and then finding out that the cave was closed.  Good job!  But alright, the walk there was rather nice with the mountain views.
 Then waited 1H for a local bus that supposedly departs every 30min (8203) to get to Hellfire Pass, aka Chong Kao Khad.  Another 1H pass and when we arrived (another US couple was in the same bus), we found out that it was CLOSED for Xmas!!!  WTF!! Apparently nobody knows much about it being closed!  THe night before a lady was trying to sell me tour tickets!  Another couple who drove from Bangkok arrived at the same time and we hitched a ride from them back to Kanchanaburi!  What a day! I woke up at 5am for nothing now!
Went for a short walk @ the war cemetary.  NOt really a fan of these musuems and stuff so spent the rest of the day sleeping in and walked to the bridge again for a sunset!
 The next morning, walked to the bus station for the bus to Erawan Waterfall.  Apparently, I discovered that walking 3km to the bus station took me 30mins as well, while walking to the Bridge of 1.5km took me the same 30mins!  How strange! 
The journey took 2H (50B) and we paid a 200B entrance fee.  And the last bus out of Erawan is actually 430pm!! Instead of the widely known 230pm which I read from the internet.  Phew!
So it was time to tackle the 7 levels of waterfalls, although not all levels are beautiful but you can take a swim or dip anywhere you like!  And, you have to pay a deposit of 20B/bottle of water you bring into the national park.
 Pretty easy walk, not at all as adventurous as Khao Sok National Park.  Every trail is well posted, with nice steps and arrows and there are just loads of people there so you will not get lost!
Level 2 was the most beautiful in my opinion.  It is wide, and has a big pool for swimming and makes for a good photo!

 Took me about 1H to get to level 7, stopping along the way to take photos and rest a little.  Easy going really!  After what I had been through in Khao Sok (what with the leeches, the barely there trails, the "is it left or right, up or down", the signs being nowhere in sight or misguided, and getting lost and not finding the waterfalls), there is easy-peasy!
Took a dip at level 7, just letting the waterfall fall on me while I sat on the rocks.  So refreshing!  Another hour to hike down when my sandals split!  Tore off the sole and walked with just a thin piece of fabric between my foot and the ground.  Perfect!  Took the 230pm bus back to Kanchanaburi and wasted the afternoon away doing nothing.
At night, went to a crowded restaurant for dinner, when the next table of uncles asked me to join them for dinner!  3 thai uncles, speaking really little thai and trying to make conversations.  One of the wives joined in later and we just started talking, gesturing and stuff..  Started out quite alright, and we started to drink Thai Whiskey mixed with Soda.  Can't remember how many I drank, but it wasn't strong anyway.  Tok, Pok and Di were their nicknames.  One of them, Tok, probably had too much to drink or something and just started to be alittle touchy.  Still alright, but I didn't like it as much.  The others did stop him from going overboard and the aunty also chipped him.  Nothing happened, though he did buy me 2 stalks of roses and asked me to give him a peck on the cheeks, which I politely declined.  Managed to leave shortly after 10pm when the aunty offered to drive me back to my guesthouse.  What a night!  And I thought I would just have a quiet night, getting some rest...  Fun story!
Kanchanaburi is really a quaint, quiet, small little town.  Bars?  Yes there are, but they are those sleazy bars at the back street where all the accomodations are, and frequented by the older farangs.  At times, I wonder, where are the younger backpackers?  Where are the tourists during the day? I guess most people do a day tour out from Bangkok.  But if you want a quiet, peaceful stay, Kanchanaburi is a pretty good place to be.  And it is soooo cheap!!! Pad Thai in a restaurant for 40-50B, internet for 20B/hour, laundry for 20B/kg or gorge on the food @ the night market for less than 30B!  A Magnum ice cream costs only 40B. 
Took the minivan back to Khao San Road, Bangkok for 130B (2.5H) to catch my next trip to Koh Tao.  There are other cheaper options like the train for 100B for the bus from the station for about 100B but that stops at Northern bus terminal in Bangkok.  Since I had to be in Khao San, might as well just take the minivan.  Not so much more expensive.
Back in Khao San, my first time ever to really shop and walk along!  Really vibrant place and not at all the super duper cheap backpackers haven! I mean yes accomodation can be cheap (I stayed 1 night for 280B, still more expensive than Kanchanaburi) but there are alot more restaurants along the road then cheap eateries.  Of cos, you can always eat the roadside Pad Thai for 40B.  But I did shop a little and bought as always - Earrings and Bikinis!
Then it was off to the 12H journey (bus+ferry) to Koh Tao for 1000B.  If I had known earlier, I might have taken the flight option between Bangkok-Chumphon (probably around 2000B), saving loads of time.  Or fly to Samui and ferry to Koh Tao (2H ferry).

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