Adventures in Thailand
Part Two: The River Kwai
By Gyn Gerhardt
I first viewed the River
Kwai as I descended the steps from the jungle lodge to my floating
thatched roof cottage. The
river is quite placid and about the width of a city block, lined
with bamboo, coconut palms and flowering trees. Jasmine filled the
air and exotic birds sang endlessly. In the distance I could see
a farmer with his water buffalo tilling a field. After settling
in, I joined the rest of the group next door on another floating
raft. As we were pulled down the river by a long tailed boat to
view the exotic birds, we supped on tempura made from fresh exotic
flowers and cold Thailand brewed beer.
This was not the picture
of this river during World War II. From 1941 through 1945, Kamchanburi
was home to many prisoners of war and 20,000 families lost their
sons here to the perils of the jungle and the hands of the enemy.
While those American soldiers have all returned to the USA, a memorial
cemetery here is the final resting place for many of our men from
Australia, France, England, and Holland, as well as Thailand. The
Australians host the memorial Jeath Museum to remind us what these
prisoners of war endured when they built the important railroad
through the jungle to Burma.
hiked into Hell Fire Pass, barely able to make it ourselves. A few
of our group couldn't and turned back even though we had concrete
steps to climb and were wearing boots. The soldiers had neither
and were clothed only in loincloths. Malaria, dysentery and lack
of food couldn't keep them from their forced labor, only a final
In the movie "The
Bridge Over The River Kwai," in the end the U.S. bombs the
bridge and the war is over. Today the bridge has been rebuilt and
the train does run on it for local use. We were able to walk over
the bridge and many locals and tourists do. Our guide warned us
to hurry, as the train was due shortly. However, there were bays
built into the sides of the bridge for us to scramble to when the
walked the bridge, reliving the scene from the movie where the bamboo
structure to support the bridge was "accidentally" destroyed
by our soldiers. My mind traveled back to the emotions of that time.
Suddenly, my arm was being pulled towards a bay. There stood a Thai
family of four beckoning me to join them. Hmmmm, I thought, the
train must be coming. No, they wanted pictures for the family photo
album. Each one, in turn, took photos, including me. I don't know
why, but it seems this happens a lot in Thailand. Thai people are
friendly to tourists and especially Americans.
kaa", I said with hands folded in prayer to my face. "Sawadee
kob" the family said as they bowed, returning the gesture.
This is the universal Thai greeting of respect. It means hello,
good-bye, have a nice day, or just thank you. It gently expresses
and warmth and respectful nature of the Thai people.
Later, we rode the ancient
train, swaying to and fro along the river's edge and through the
beautiful peaceful countryside. It seemed difficult to envision
the terror that once griped this area in the 40's. Now, nature has
healed its wounds, but never the sorrow of the families once torn
apart by the ravages of war.
After a delicious dinner
at the lodge, I climbed into my bed that lay upon the raft floor.
Sounds of the river and the jungle under a full moon wooed me to
sleep. I felt overwhelmed with the adventures of the day past, but
sleep called too soon.
Thailand is most interesting
in that while we traveled from the south of the country to the north,
over mountains and through the jungle, I never saw one pine tree
(I'm allergic). This is the first country I have discovered which
doesn't grow some form of pine. What the jungle does contain is
bamboo, teak, coconut palms, bananas, and numerous flowering trees.
They have but three seasons - winter, summer, and monsoon. Winter
is the best time to visit, as there is always something in bloom.
Summer is hot with unbearable humidity. Monsoon, well we all know
what that means and why the homes are raised; the country floods.
Part One: Bangkok
Part Two: The River Kwai
Part Three: The Golden Triangle
Part Four: Saffron Robes
Part Five: Reflections