Traveling solo can bring a real sense of achievement. I felt this when I returned to Bangkok after 10 days of traveling along the Thai-Myanmar border. A route that people often do through organised tours from Bangkok and often ending at the bridge over the River Khwae or the beggining (or end) of the Death Railway. I sensed that not all was great at a town call Kanchanaburi, the location of the Bridge. There was a real divide between tourists and locals and part of Kanchanaburi was a place for ex-vets. The owner of the hotel I stayed at confirmed this to me, lamenting a time gone past. When he would have bookings for longer than one night. He blamed this on the many tourist bus in, tourist bus out types of places, where hordes of visitors come, take a photo, buy cheap souvenirs and leave. I also noticed how large hotel chains were eating up the river for wealthy tourists. I myself visited the bridge 8 years ago and came here for the same reason to see the bridge but I remember thinking what was further up the line, I also noticed that the place was like a border town. So this time I wanted to catch the train to the end of the line and continue on, first to Sangkhlaburi, (the last town before the one of the many closed border crossings with Myanmar) although not planned, then back to Thong Pha Phum.
I am glad I spent a few days in Kanchanaburi, not because I was invited to dinner with a lovely Malaysian couple whom I met in Bangkok or even chatting with ex-vets who wanted to dispel the stereotype. I’m glad I stayed mainly to educate myself about the history of the famous railway line and the people who were sacrificed and sacrificed their own lives for a better world. How apt in todays crappy war laden world we live in. What has changed in 70 years I ask? By visiting the museum and walking around the cemetery I learnt not just about soldiers from my own country but the realisation that 100,000’s of Asian prisoner of war peoples were slaughtered in the process. I am sure I knew about this and many diggers told stories about them but I had no idea of the treatment and how they came to such a killing field. The museum gave me the motivation of going to the memorial at Hellfire pass. Not easy to get to with public transport but to further understand about war in this part of world it was worth any modern day issue with transport. Visiting the memorial did give me the opportunity to talk to people I met who also visited the site and reflect on days gone past but also on events today. We all agreed that the sad thing is, as much as this memorial was an eye opener, why is it that we live in a world that refuses to learn from history? The events from the past are so short lived that the same issues that were faced back over 70 years ago continue today. It was reminder that it’s time we take a chill pill and learn how to treat people with respect and not to judge one culture unfairly compared to another. That messages of hate and fear are often led by people who fear losing their own power. So with these idealist thoughts in the forefront of my mind, I continued my journey to the border, as Hellfire pass was only a portion of the route the Japanese constructed. Unfortunately the railway isn’t in use any longer but the road takes the same route up to the border town of Sangkhlaburi.