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Worst bloggers ever

Hello everyone,

Please accept our humble and sincere apologies for letting our blog go un-updated for so long.  We appreciate the support and connection to you all that it provides.  We will do our best to stay more up-to-date.  In the near-future we will post some stories about the latter half of our trip to SE Asia, including the 3+ months we lived in Cambodia.

But for now, on to the present.  Today we find ourselves on the island of Roatan, just off the northern coast of Honduras.  Roatan is a world destination known for its diving.  The reef here is the 2nd largest on the planet.

We arrived here on Wednesday, 2/18 (after snow canceled our scheduled flight a day earlier – we don’t miss the snow).  It is a beautiful island with tons of diving, and our goal was to find jobs working in the dive industry.  I am very happy to be able to share with you that so far – so good.  We have hooked on with a new dive shop in Sandy Bay called Blue Island Divers (blueislanddiversroatan.com).  We are incredibly excited about this opportunity and look forward to sharing more with you all soon.

Until next time, please enjoy this screen shot from a short video we took a week ago on one of our fun dives.  Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 7.36.39 AM

Settling down in Cambodia

Apologies for the lack of posts. We still have much to catch you up on from our recent travels. After roaming around Asia for the last several months, Lee and I re settling into life working and living at a dive shop on he rustic, beautiful island of Koh Rong Samleom off the coast of Cambodia. We sleep and rise to the sound of the ocean, spend our days in turquoise waters, have electricity only in the evenings and internet only on the rare evening on the mainland. We are doing well and are loving the island/jungle life.

Laos

Just before Christmas, when Erin’s folks got here, we crossed the border into Houayaxi, northern Laos via Chang Rai, Thailand. We were set to take a slow boat down the Mekong River. This is the #1 thing to do in Laos and is a 2 day journey. There was a cold front that had moved through Eastern Asia the day before, so we experienced our first cold weather of the trip. We gathered all the warm clothes we had (or essentially layers of our warm clothes) and set off. The roughly 450 km trip is absolutely gorgeous with stunning surroundings. After about 8 hours of motoring and 1 stop at a local village, we arrived in Pakbeng for the evening. The next day we set off for the 2nd half of our journey. We stopped at another village, were educated on the production of sticky rice, and then continued on to a temple that had been built in a large cave. We explored the cave and then got back on the boat, finishing our roughly 10 hour journey to Luang Prabang, the ancient capital and a UNESCO world heritage sight (the entire city). Here are some photos from the slow boat trip.

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Sunrise on the way to Laos

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The Mekong River

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Our ride

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Erin on the boat

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Traveling down the Mekong. Don’t drink the water…

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Morning of day 2

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Entrance to the cave temple

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Erin, Anna, Earl from the top cave overlooking the Mekong

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Out of control incense fire

Goodbye Ko Tao

With Christmas around the corner and our families coming to town, our time on Koh Tao had come to an end. With my parents (Anna and Earl) flying in to Bangkok late at night on Dec. 18, we needed to leave Koh Tao on the afternoon of the 17th. Booking through a travel agent again–man these guys are helpful–we made arrangements to take the afternoon high speed ferry to Chumpon, a bus from the ferry dock to the train station, and night train to Bangkok. Catching the Lompraya high speed ferry for the third time, we thought we knew what we were in for. After checking our bags, we headed straight up to the top deck, slathered on some sunscreen and laid back expecting a similarly smooth journey as the return from our visa run.

Well, in the few days since we’d been back, the seas had shifted from a glassy calm to rough water bringing a cold front into the region. Immediately upon leaving the dock, we knew we were in for a rough journey. Waves came spraying us all the way on the top deck and we had to hold on to keep from sliding off the metal benches. About fifteen minutes into our 2 hour ferry ride, several members of the crew came up to shutdown the top deck and send us all down below.

Not interested in repeating our first experience by joining the sickies inside, we opted for the benches in the aft of the second deck. While we may have gotten sprayed by waves on the top deck, we got drenched on the second. A combination of water streaming off the top deck and sea spray whipped at us by the wind left us soaked through and through. We spent the next hour and a half clinging to our seats and watching the rolling seas.

We arrived in Chumpon looking like we’d swum over from Koh Tao and hopped a very air-conditioned bus to the train station. Fortunately, we had a few hours to kill in Chumpon before our train arrived. We grabbed some dinner and took advantage of the Thai-style bathroom that generally includes a handheld shower nozzle for a quick fresh water rinse. Mostly, we were glad we had on quick drying clothes!

We caught our train around nine, finding our way to our assigned sleeping berths, and made it to Bangkok around 7 am. With all of our belongings on our backs, and not able to check in to our hotel at the airport until the afternoon, we did what every logical person would do and headed to Bangkok’s largest shopping mall. MBK offered free bag storage, about a million shops in a very confusing layout, a famous international food court, and a movie theater! After meandering the shops, we caught the matinee of Hunger Games.

Now, you wouldn’t think that going to the movies in Thailand would be very different from home, but we got tripped up by a few surprises. First, movie theater seating is assigned and you pick your seats when you buy your tickets, not knowing whether you’ll be sitting next to a friendly Thai lady or a row of chatty kids. Also, the popcorn comes in a variety of flavored none of which is hot and buttery. They don’t let you into the theater until time on the ticket (we were shooed out with another western couple). Most importantly, between the previews and the beginning of the film, you must rise for video tribute to the King and the King’s Anthem.

After the movie, we made our way to the airport hotel and waited for my parents to arrive so we could begin our next adventure. More on that next time.

Visa Run

Having stayed on Koh Tao longer than we expected, we quickly came upon the end of our first month abroad. With the close of the first month came the end of out 30-day tourist visa. The Thais are tourism geniuses and created an entire industry to pry a few more dollars from travelers pockets. Upon arrival in Thailand, they give you a stamp allowing you to stay for 30 days. When your 30 days come close to inevitably running out, have no fear – travel agents are here.

They send you on a visa run. You can leave Thailand, check into another country for as long as you want, and then come back for a new stamp. A simple enough concept, but what if you’re in the middle of finishing your instructor update and have just one day off in the last 2 weeks? Turbo-charged visa run. Here’s the breakdown:

10/12/13
– 19:00. Take a taxi (back of a pickup truck) from our cosy end of the island to bustling Mae Haad, the economic center of the island.
– 20:30. After wandering around the town (a place we traveled through frequently on our way to/from the dive boats) we post up at a nice little restaurant on the beach.
– 22:00. After finishing a beer, we head to 7/11 to grab provisionals (chips & M&Ms) for the journey.
– 22:30. Check in with the ferry operator. Feel an extra sense of gratitude for our travel agent as a couple in line near us have tickets for the wrong ferry and are instructed to try again in the morning. Yikes.
– 23:00. Find our bunks on board the overnight ferry. It’s a retrofitted WWII landing craft that now transports cars/building materials/goods etc from the mainland to the island.
11/12/13
– 04:30. Arrive in the transport hub Chumphon. Groggy from a few hours of sleep, we await a minibus.
– 05:15. After a couple of mini-busses come and go, another pulls up and tells us to get in. Why not? We hop in with 10 other brave, sleepy souls. Armed with the knowledge that the minibus trip is the scariest part of any of our travels, confidence is not inspired upon seeing the driver and business operator kick the front-driver side tire, shrug, and press on.
– 05:17. Driver is driving with his head out the window to stare at his tire. He is obviously somewhat concerned, but we press on.
– 05:45. Driver is driving with his head out the window because that is much easier than using the defrost and windshield wipers.
– 05:46. Erin decides its best sleep through the terror.
– 05:47. Lee wishes he could sleep through this Cole Trickle inspired driving performance. This guy has a schedule to keep and he’s gonna keep it.
– 09:15. Checkered flag. We reach our destination of Ranong, Thailand. We go through immigration and check out of Thailand. See you again soon.
– 09:30. Load onto a long tail boat with our 10 new friends (and 1 random catcher-on) and take a slow boat ride to Burma.
– 10:30. Arrive in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Proceed directly to immigration.
– 10:45. Collect passports with shiny-new Myanmar stamps. Entrance and exit.
– 10:47. Re-board the long tail. Burma was lovely.
– 11:45. Finally, back to Thailand. Get a new stamp (or 4th of the day) and another 30 day hall pass in Thailand.
– 12:00. Board the Days of Thunder bus and head back toward Chumphon.
– 14:30. Arrive in Chumphon, with all 4 wheels. Immediately locate some Pad Thai because, hey, we’re in Thailand.
– 15:00. Board the Lumphraya speed catamaran and go straight to the sun-deck. We learned from our mistake last time (no sea-sick seat mates this time!)
– 16:00. High-five for not being in the galley with the sickies.
– 17:00. Arrive in Mae Haad hoping our dive shop taxis may still be around for a free ride. Alas, we decide to walk back to our end of the island.
– 17:35. It takes an hour to walk that far? No problem, be there in 35 minutes.
– 17:36. Good to be home. Time to make sure the bar is where we left it. (You know, yesterday)

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We’re still here…

My my my, has December (and the beginning of January) flown by! Sorry that we haven’t blogged recently. December started as a pretty slow month, but quickly sped up as our families came to visit. We have lots to fill you in on, so stay tuned for more updates in the next few days.

We spent the end of November and first few weeks of December on Koh Tao, or “Turtle Island”–named for its shape, not its turtle population. A small, rocky island about 65 km off the east coast of Thailand, Koh Tao hosts one of the densest SCUBA diving communities in the world. The island is surrounded by shallow reefs in relatively calm water, making for not the most interesting diving in the world, but a perfect location for dive education. After taking several years off from teaching diving, I needed to take a instructor update course to be able to teach diving along our travels. After a bit of research on diving schools in Thailand, we decided on Koh Tao, because it hosts monthly instructor courses and its dense dive community keeps prices competitive. After emailing nearly every dive school on the island, we decided on Buddha View because they seemed to be one of the most experienced IDC programs on the island and we like the location on the quiet southern tip of the island. An added bonus was that we were able to book our travel from Bangkok to Koh Tao through Buddha View’s travel agency.

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20140113-221128.jpg(View from Buddha View’s beach. Can you make out the Buddha Rock?)

After our week in Kanchanaburi, we returned to Bangkok for a day where we stocked up on some much needed supplies–contact lenses and some swim gear. From Bangkok, we hopped a night bus to the seaside town of Chumpon, arriving in time to make Skype calls wishing a happy Thanksgiving to our families, before hopping on a ferry to Koh Tao. We had heard the high speed ferry could be rough, but didn’t realize the treat we were in for until the crew started passing out barf bags to 70% of our fellow passengers before we even left the harbor. We spend the next few hours periodically changing seats to get away from our sick seatmates. If only we had known then that there was a sun deck above us where we could sprawl out with the wind in our hair and actually enjoy the ride (we didn’t find the sun deck until our visa run–more on that later).

With me stuck in the classroom for a couple of weeks, Lee signed up for his open water and advanced open water dive courses through Buddha View. In addition to our training dives, we squeezed a few fun dives in together as well. Despite poor visibility from the recently ended rainy season and barely missing the whale shark migration period, we were able to see some really interesting marine life, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. On almost every dive, we saw Blue Spotted Stingrays sleeping under rocky shelves with the iridescent blue spots shining bright–Lee even saw one swimming on a night dive! During skills workshops, my class was regularly joined by three very friendly and curious Giant Pufferfish nearly a foot long. We saw several Titan Triggerfish, though fortunately neither of us accidentally intruded in their “zone of terror” as they’re very territorial and dangerous fish willing to take a bite off you if they think you’re threatening their nest. On our deep dive, we saw mountains of pink and purple anemones and huge schools of everything from Barracuda to Butterfly Fish. We even dove a (purposefully) sunken WWII landing craft.

We stayed a bit longer on Koh Tao than we had originally expected–fun diving and great company will do that. Since leaving Koh Tao, we’ve travelled to Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. More on these adventures to come!

Some shots of the terrestrial fauna on Koh Tao (sorry no underwater casing for our camera):

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Erawan Falls

For our last full day in Kanchanaburi, we went on a journey that not only did we absolutely love, but made me proud of our willingness to step out of our comfort zones. We rented a motorbike, myself at the helm, Erin clinging on for dear life, and made a 65km ride toward Erawan National Park. Upon arrival, to say we were a bit sore from the sometimes bumpy ride and heavy water bottles would be an understatement. But Erin is a trooper and we were excited to see the Erawan Falls, regarded as the most beautiful falls in the Kanchanaburi Province, and possibly in all of Thailand depending on whom you ask.

The falls have seven different tiers and we were determined to climb to the top. The first level was very beautiful and it just got better the higher we climbed. The trail was fairly simple all the way to about level 5, including paved paths and stairs (402, Erin counted). After this point, however, the journey truly became a hike. The higher we went, the fewer fellow tourists we saw. We climbed over large rocks, under low hanging trees, higher and higher. Upon reaching level 6, we thought we may have reached the end, but, after walking through one of the pools, saw what appeared to be a trail and continued on, strategically maneuvering our way through the rocky jungle, all the while keeping an eye out for the infamous King Cobra (no sightings, something we were happy with). We finally reached the 7th level; a 2200 meter climb from the bottom. I’ll give you a minute to do the conversion. (1.3 miles – I got your back).

Looking from the 7th level up to the very top, the origin of the whole series of falls, truly gave meaning to the expression ‘took my breath away.’ If ever there was a time when we were both speechless, this was it. All either of us could muster was a humble “wow.” The pictures we took do it no justice, but I hope you’ll enjoy them all the same. We spent some time swimming in the pools, cooling off under the chilly waterfall and just marveling at the beauty. Something funny is that all of the pools have small fish living in them that absolutely love eating the dead skin off of feet. It is not harmful, but its a very odd feeling all the same. Eventually, we had to leave this paradise and slowly worked our way back down, stopping at each level and exploring the pools, swimming again here and there.

It was time to start heading back, so after a short rest and last admiring look at the first tier, we walked back to the bike. Empty water bottles and wet towels for extra cushion, my much-more-comfortable passenger and myself climbed on and started our 65km journey back to Kanchanaburi. The ride was very pleasant and felt as though it was going faster than before. I even elicited an exited “Woooo!” from Erin at one point on a slightly downhill straightaway (topped out at around 90 km/hr there – but don’t tell Anna).

We were greatly enjoying ourselves but not everything can be perfect – upon rounding a corner we spotted quite a large section of black sky settled directly ahead of us. About 25km away from home, the sky opened up and just dumped rain on us. With poor visibility, possibly slick roads, and surprisingly annoying stinging rain, we pull over at a restaurant for some shelter. After about 15-20 minutes, we lied to ourselves that it had lightened up, re-adjusted some of our gear, and set back off on our increasingly memorable journey. We shared our body heat and did the best we could to maintain a safe speed that also wouldn’t take forever. Another 15 minutes or so passed before the rain really lessened, and shortly thereafter we reached the city limits. At this point we were free to enjoy watching other bikers ride while holding umbrellas and any other interesting sights (my favorite was a recurring highway caution sign – for elephant crossing). We even “did as the locals do” by completely bypassing a long line of car traffic waiting at an intersection (bikes are awesome).

We returned the bike to the nice lady holding my passport (who simply laughed at us on account of how soaked we were) and headed back to our guesthouse to take the first-needed hot shower of the trip. Up until this point we had no idea why anyone would want/need a hot shower in this tropical climate – it’s good to learn something new everyday! We both agreed that this day had easily been our best, most fun day of the trip thus far.

Editor’s note: We apologize for how long it has taken us to post something new. We are currently on an island called Koh Tao and have limited access to internet. We will fill you in on our time here when we can, but for the sake of a teaser, I will tell you that this island is the Scuba Dive capital of the planet. Stay tuned…..

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1st tier

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1st tier, complete with pedicure fish

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1st tier

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2nd tier

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2nd tier

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3rd tier

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3rd tier with natural ‘water slides’

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4th tier

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4th tier

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Eastern euro preferred hiking footwear

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5th tier

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5th tier

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5th tier, covered in tourists

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5th tier

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Awesome lookout, and great place to catch your breath (or smoke a cigarette for the eastern euros)

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6th tier

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6th tier

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We made it!

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7th tier

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7th tier

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7th tier

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7th tier

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Erin swimming in the pools

The lighter side of Kanchanaburi

We spent about a week in Kanchanaburi and as much man-made history as there is to experience, there is plenty of beautiful God’s Country too. So, between the times we spent exploring historical WWII sights, we did some more recreational exploring as well.

We traveled by train from the Thonburi station in Bangkok to the Kanchanaburi station. It’s an older, slower train that makes several stops along the way but there’s no better way to travel. The train even has vendors walking through the cars, selling fruit, Thai meals, beverages, and, of course, beer. It’s an eventful ride as the track goes through overgrown vegetation that hits the windows and explodes into tiny green leafy pieces. We thought it was a riot and had no problem simply brushing ourselves off. The ride took about 3 hours, after which we walked a fairly short distance to the riverside neighborhood.

The historical and backpacker section of Kanchanaburi lies just on the east side of the Kwai River. We visited a few temples (Wats) on the south side of town right near the river. They don’t compare in size to some of the Wats in Bangkok we have previously posted about, but their aesthetics are just as pleasing. Many of the intricate ceramic designs are made from recycled dish ware, which seems to be a common theme. We also came across some boyscouts and girlscouts doing some activities including a small zipline. The kids were all very friendly and outgoing – Thailand earned the name “Land of Smiles.”

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Another day, we decided to join up with an affordable group tour. Every traveler wants to take the “road less traveled” and we are no exception, but, upon weighing out the costs, we decided that it was a worthwhile endevour. We climbed aboard a Toyota van with several new European friends and set off for a big days’ adventure. Our first stop was the Soi Yak falls, a very pretty waterfall close to the original Death Railway. Along with the waterfall, there are some other Death Railway exhibits and caves to explore. From there, we traveled to Hellfire pass where we walked a small part of the trail and checked out their excellent museum. After an excellent lunch, we continued on to do something very new to both of us: Elephants.

Erin and I, along with 4 Polish kids, hopped in the back of a truck and took a bumpy 15 minute ride to a compound. The compound is the home to several large elephants whom invited us to take them for a spin. On our way to climbing up to the elephant “dock,” we were tickled to see an elephant hounding its trainer for a drink of his Coca-Cola. The trainer poured some into its snout and, after a few seconds, the elephant sprayed it into his mouth. Noticing that the bottle still had some soda, our new large friend politely asked for the remainder, drawing a chuckle and compliance from his trainer. We decided this would be the best one to ride – the one all hopped up on caffeine! The elephants wear a saddle with a small, 2-person wooden platform attached that we sat on. The trainer (all rather small Thai man) sat on its head to “steer” the animal with a series of grunts. I’m not sure how one learns to drive an elephant but it seems to require deep vocal chords.

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After about 15 feet of bumpy ride, the elephant was ready for a snack to top off his soda. He reached his trunk out to grab some vegetation and no deep grunt in the world was going to stop him. After chomping some leaves for a minute or two, he finally gave in and continued the short journey up and over a hill towards a stream. I don’t really have words to describe what its like, aside from bumpy, slow, and exilherating. With each step, the four quadrants of the elephant seem to move in different directions, forcing the riders to hang on. This is especially true going downhill. Once we reached the stream, the elephant got excited for a drink of water (soda does leave one feeling a bit dehydrated) and he sped up a bit, putting our platform at roughly a 45 degree angle. We did the best we could to hang on, let alone take any steady pictures!

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20131128-191410.jpg(we’re on an elephant!)

Upon reaching the stream, (this section is not intended for an immature audience – or a mature audience for that matter) we saw the elephant in front of us seem to brace himself. The next thing we know this elephant relieves himself with the force of a fire hose. I mean you could hear this tinkle from Laos. We were speechless and in total awe, until plop plop, he relieved himself in a #2 fashion. Size of a basketball, I swear. He left his member out for a nice walk in the stream, like he was using it to troll. I can only imagine how refreshing it must have felt. Once everyone was feeling springy again, we continued our journey for another few minutes until we came upon the second elephant dock. We disembarked and the trainers took our elephant and the trailing elephant off to the jungle, while the lead (and recently relieved) elephant stayed back to preform a bit. He walked over to a banana tree and laid down while our Polish friends fed it bananas for its troubles. It really was amazing to see such an incredible and large animal acting just like our family dog. After a bushel of bananas and a nice photo-op, he was off to join his friends in the jungle. Hope he doesn’t forget us.

From there, we climbed onto 2-person rafts made of long bamboo shoots and slowly floated our way back down the river to camp. This seemed a tad disconcerting to us considering what we had just witnessed in the same stream, but I think it qualifies as “off the beaten path.” We swapped emails with our Polish friends in hopes that somebody got a decent photo, and soon joined up with the rest of our tour. The others had chosen to spend time relaxing at a hot springs while we were riding elephants – I mean really? Well, to each their own. We headed back to Kanchanaburi, spent a little more time at the River Kwai Bridge, and then back to our hostel, tired yet ecstatic from a busy day.

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Kanchanaburi Wats:

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Soi Yak waterfall:

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Elephants:

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The Death Railway

After spending several days in Bangkok, it was time to move on and explore new places. We decided to head west to the city of Kanchanaburi, the capital of the Kanchanaburi province. The area is a mix a beautiful rivers, mountains, and jungle. There is a great, very low-key backpacking community along the riverside, and the locals couldn’t be more friendly.

The most noteworthy part of this beautiful area is its anything-but-beautiful history. This town is the home to the River Kwai Bridge, made famous by the 1957 film ‘Bridge over the River Kwai.’ This infamous landmark marks the beginning of the Death Railway, also known as the Thailand-Burma Railway.

In 1937, 2 years before the official start of WWII, the Japanese Empire was ambitiously trying to colonize its surrounding Asian neighbors, and had invaded China. By 1940 they had occupied all of coastal China and had invaded French-controlled Indochina (Vietnam) as well. In 1941 they joined the Axis powers and attacked Pearl Harbor (on December 8th local time), declaring war on the US. Simultaneous attacks of several European-controlled Pacific territories, including Indonesia and Thailand, soon gave the Japanese full control over Southeast Asia and much of the Pacific.

In 1942 the Japanese empire had taken control of British-controlled Burma, and had their sights set on India. They found great difficulties supplying their front lines by merchant ship, as Allied Naval forces had a large presence in the Andaman Sea. So the decision was made to build a railway linking Thailand and Burma (via Bangkok to Rangoon). There was a reason no such rail line had exisited – years earlier, while still under British controll, surveyors mapped out such a line, but decided that the mountainous jungle terrain protected by crisscrossing rivers was too brutal and dangerous of a landscape to begin the work, and gave up on the idea. But the Japanese were ambitious and determined, and in 1942 set out to build the Thailand-Burma Railway.

Such a project was going to require a great amount of manpower, so the Japanese brought 60,000 Allied POWs to Thailand and Burma to begin this impossible task. The prisoners were transported by boat and train in miserable conditions; conditions that only got worse and worse upon arrival. Brithish and Australian troops made up the majority of the prisoners, while there were notable amounts of American, Dutch, Indian, and Canadian soldiers as well. Construction began during 1942 on both fronts, with the idea that they could build it faster if they started on each end and worked towards the middle. The Japanese soon realized that they would need many more laborers, and employed another 250,000 asian workers. At first they recruited willing indigenous workers with the promise of good pay, safe conditions, and even a promise that they could bring their families. This of course was not the case and once word of the brutal conditions leaked back to potential laborers, the Japanese employed a new method of recruitment – slavery.

Laborers would work up to 18 hours a day, cutting their way by hand with inadequate tools through mountainsides and dangerous jungle, while extreme heat or unrelenting rain, depending on the season, as well as brutal guards trying to meet an unrealistic deadline, made life unbearable. One particularly unimaginable stretch of the railway, known as Hellfire pass for its brutal conditions and the silhouettes of the men working by torchlight, saw an incredible loss of life in a relatively short amount of time. POWs and Asian slaves alike would die from malaria, cholera, malnurishment, and being beaten to death by cruel gaurds.

Fearing death yet despising their captors, many brave POWs set out to secretly sabotage the efforts. They had to be crafty to not be caught or risk more loss of life by simply having to redo the work. Such methods included using hollow/weak timber, filling in already-inspected post holes with soft dirt, or my favorite – leaving termite nests near wooden bridges. Despite these efforts and the massive loss of life, the railway was actually completed in 1943, only 18 months after construction began.

The Japanese thought they had their key to success in Asia, but constant allied bombing resulted in the railway being repaired more often than actually being used as planned. In 1945 the famous River Kwai Bridge was bombed by RAF and US planes. This campaign also saw the first successful use of a new radio-controlled bomb by the US – our first “smart bomb.” In August of 1945 Harry S Truman ordered 2 well-known attacks against Japan, eventually culminating in surrender onboard the USS Missouri, ending WWII and dismantling the Japanese Empire.

The atrocities committed during construction of the railway resulted in the world’s first warcrime trials, seeing several death sentences and even more prison sentences handed out to high-ranking Japanese officials. In total, of the 60,000 Allied POWs, 12,399 lost their life – 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans and a smaller number of Canadians and New Zealanders. Thousands of these fallen soldiers are buried in WWII cemeteries in the Kanchanaburi area, while the rest were taken back to their home countries. Of the 250,000 Asian workers, it is believed that more than 90,000 lost their lives. In one final act of inhumane cruelty, the Japanese did not keep any records whatsoever of these deaths.

Control of the railway, which had been heavily damaged, passed over to the British. They dug up the railway on the Burma side, and sold the remaining Thailand section to the Thai people, who still use it today. There are several museums and other related sights around the Kanchanaburi area, and the cemeteries are among the most well-kept I’ve ever seen. Additionally, as friendly as Thai people are to tourists, I have noticed a heightened sense of comradery between the local Thais and tourists/expats from Allied countries. This was a horrible time in human history, and despite how painful the stories are, we found the museums and memorials to be very powerful and moving.

Thanks for reading, and I promise our next post will be much more lighthearted!

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River Kwai Bridge

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Up-close look at a train crossing the River Kwai Bridge

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Still-visible blast marks from Allied Bombing. The round trusses are from the original construction, and the larger squared trusses are the rebuilt section.

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Hellfire pass. From this angle you can get an idea of how much rock men had to dig through – by hand.

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Hellfire pass

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Original tools/materials from Hellfire pass

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Hellfire pass

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Tools workers used to dig through mountains and clear out jungle.

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Prisoner transportation

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Wooden truss bridge on the Death Railway – still used today.

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Riding a very crowded train on the Death Railway

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Japanese word-burning locomotive used to transport ammunition in WWII

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Original bomb fragments from WWII

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What a run we’re on! (Wat Arun)

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. We’ve been on quite a run over the past week or so (thanks to Louie for the punny title). We’ve left Bangkok and headed into the countryside along the Burma/Myanmar border, but more on that later. Before we left Bangkok, we headed over to west side of the city to checkout the stone pillars soaring into the sky. We hiked over from our hostel near Kan San Road (about 6 miles round trip), wandering through the Thonburi district’s canal lined neighborhoods. We tried to check out the National Barge Museum, but sadly it’s closed for renovations through the end of the year. We did get to peek through the gate to steal a glimpse of the incredible golden ships (sorry, too dark for photos).

20131124-204224.jpg(view of Wat Arun from across the river)

Wat Arun Ratchawararam, or Wat Arun, is a Buddhist temple honoring and greeting the dawn. The grounds consists of the iconic 250 foot tall prang, or spire, surrounded by smaller prangs one such of the cardinal and ordinal points, a beautiful temple surrounded by a peaceful courtyard, and the surrounding gardens.

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The main prang has a four very steep staircases (only 64 steps!) leading up to incredible views of the city. While it was difficult battling the hordes of tourists, the sweeping panoramas were well worth the climb.

20131124-205940.jpg(check out that height!)

The prangs are made of white stucco intricately decorated with inlaid ceramic. While the walls were originally white, Bangkok’s smog has taken its toll. You can see the black pollution stains in some of these detail shots. There was a repair team working on two scaffolded pranks scrubbing the stucco back to white. Many of the flowers are made of donated dishes that have been broken and formed into petals. Each prang is topped with a delicate wind chime.

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In the shadow of the towers is a small market with stalls selling woven handbags, refreshments, and trinkets. The best, perhaps, was the stand renting out traditional clothing and accessories for ladies (and a dude or two) to play dress up for photos below the monument.

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Through the gardens scattered with stone statues and past the replica Emerald Buddha, we managed to lose most of the tour groups in the courtyard surrounding the temple. On the exterior, the entrance was guarded by two comically fearsome guards. The interior was lined with rows of golden Buddhas.

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The temple itself was built with incredible with pediments and column capitals intricately decorated with gold and gems. The interior was plastered with detailed murals depicting historic Bangkok. While we were admiring the murals, a saffron robed monk came in and settled down on a long platform for a prayer session.

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When we were done exploring the grounds, we decided make the 20 minute walk back to the public commuter ferry, which drops off a block from our hostel (only 15 Baht or $.50 each). The alternative was to pay six times as much to join the crowds on the tourist ferry shuttling between Wat Arun and the Grand Palace/Wat Pho sites across the river.

More photos below.

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20131124-204521.jpg(view from above)

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20131124-204648.jpg(me at the top of Wat Arun)

20131124-210059.jpg(selfie with Lee)

20131124-222347.jpg(view of Wat Pho across the river and downtown Thailand behind)

20131124-222401.jpg(view of downtown Bangkok)

20131124-222939.jpg(Thailand’s tallest building)

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20131124-210149.jpg(entrance to inner courtyard)

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20131124-204945.jpg(statues within courtyard)

20131124-205040.jpg(lily growing in a pot in the courtyard)

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20131124-205858.jpg(Emerald Buddha replica)

20131124-210115.jpg(you made it to the bottom, so here’s a cat for you)