Kanchanaburi: Hike to Waterfalls and Caves
December 20, 2015
Clear and Cool
OMG! OMB! Oy vey!
Plinio’s legs are “sore.” Howard “blew out” his ankle. Jan has a painful left hip and aching thighs. Even with his walking stick, Jan can barely limp out of his apartment today to buy breakfast.
Here’s the story:
Last August, I met Plinio on my trip to Svalbard. Plinio, from Trieste, Italy is also a “traveler.” Plinio is visiting Thailand this month before heading up to Harbin, China. (-25C)
Last Friday, I met Howard here in Bangkok. Howard hails from Montreal, Canada. We “connected” immediately. After Bangkok, Howard will travel to Cambodia, Vietnam and Bali, Indonesia.
I organized the group and we decided to hire a car and driver and head out west to Kanchanaburi Province for three days.
We stayed at the River Kwai Resort Hotel, on the banks of the River Kwai. A delightful hotel with attractive grounds (Balinese statuary), comfortable and modern guest rooms (firm mattress and enormous flat screen TV), a huge buffet breakfast (eggs cooked to order), and a good a la carte menu. Best of all, the staff is most helpful and hospitable.
We spent our first evening telling “stories” and recalling our “adventures.”
Plinio, single, a retired electrical engineer, has visited more than one hundred countries, many of them more than once. His favorites are Indonesia, Botswana and Cuba.
Howard, a successful entrepreneur, has sailed to almost all the islands in the Caribbean. Perhaps a bit more conservative in his choice of destinations, yet as a devotee of skiing, Howard has had many adventures around the globe.
After listening to Plinio and hearing a few of Jan’s travel stories (Jan is just a few behind Plinio), Howard remarked, “You guys are amazing.”
Howard need not be envious. He has his own unique life story, replete with close friends and acquaintances in the arts and government and the business world.
In fact, we all … all of us … have our own unique and enviable life story.
Here’s the rub:
On our first day trip, we stop at the Erawan National Park with its multi-levels of waterfalls and pools. In the pools, slim and shy Thai girls bathe wearing tee shirts and shorts or jeans; the not so slim Russian ladies choose bikinis.
Plinio, just three years younger than me, scampers up the mountain to level five. Howard, a year younger than me, follows Plinio but only to level four. I hike slowly to level three. Halfway up to level four, I decide, “Enough is enough.”
But, enough was not nearly enough.
After lunch, our twenty-something guide takes us to the Phatat Cave. The sign at the entrance reads “600 meters.” Little do we know that the 600 meters comprises a series of irregular stone steps and dirt paths that go almost straight up the mountain to the entrance of the cave! (600 meters or 656 yards, 1968 feet, or a little more than a third of a mile.)
At the entrance to the cave, I squeeze sideways through the narrow slit in the rock. Our guide carries a lantern into the dimly lit cavern. There's just enough light to view the agonizing shapes of the formations and to spot the small bats perched atop the cathedral-height ceilings.
On the way down the mountain, I count the steps. (This activity draws attention away from the ever-growing pain.) Five hundred and ninety five. The security guards confirm my count (595). How many stories did we climb? You do the math. (TG for my handy supply of extra-strength Tylenol.)
Our last stop is the Saiyoknoi Waterfall and the now defunct Tham Kra Sae railroad station. The waterfall is “noi” or little. The station lies at the end of a long wooden trestle that runs high above a small tributary of River Kwai.
On the way back to Bangkok the next day, we visit the “The Bridge” in Kanchanaburi City and also the Prisoner of War Cemetery (1939-1945). Hundreds (thousands?) of British Commonwealth POWs are buried here, victims of disease, abuse, forced labor and starvation. Plinio declined to visit the cemetery. Howard stayed for a moment. I lingered and strolled along the carefully maintained grounds and memorial plaques.
A tall stone Cross guards the expansive gravesite. The Cross is gleaming white. Embedded in the white cross is a long … black … sword.
Christians and Jews lie side by side. Young boys and young men were sacrificed for … ?
One bronze grave marker is particularly moving. There is no name on the plaque. The inscription reads:
“A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War. Known Unto God.”
Since 1945, on every continent, how many more young men and young women are sacrificed and “Known Unto God.” Unlike the stone steps I climbed yesterday, the count is impossible and known only unto G-d.
Our last stop back to Bangkok is the city of Nakhon Pathom and its most important sight - Phra Pathom Chedi, one of the tallest pagodas in the world. Inside the temple, Thai pilgrims surround the serene standing gold Buddha. Devoted pilgrims pray quietly.
Pilgrims … determined to celebrate Life.
The Buddha reaches out to us in Peace.
Finally, to all my friends and fellow travelers,