January 2017 – As we toured Kanchanaburi with Mellow Adventures, visiting Erawan Waterfall and Huay Mae Khamin waterfall, we got a huge kick out of the road signs we saw. Familiar signs like “Stop” and “Railroad Crossing” took on a whole new look in the pretty Thai script.
We asked our tour guide Mai what our names would look like in the Thai lettering, and she wrote them out for us. How cool!
On this second day of touring with Mellow Adventures, we started off by paddling downstream in a kayak while Mai followed us downstream in a longtail boat. We were mesmerized by the haunting calls of the birds in the trees on either side of us as we paddled.
We then made our way to Lawa Cave. The entrance to this cave sits at the top of a very long staircase, and just inside there was beautifully lit golden statue of Buddha with a rug in front of it for praying.
We descended into the cave following a well lit trail.
There were lots of stalactites and stalagmites that made exotic sculpted patterns on the cave walls.
When we emerged from the cave, our guide Steffan noticed a woman selling fruits. She had a huge pile of what looked like gigantic pale green grapefruits in front of her.
“You’ve got to try these,” Steffen said excitedly. He said they were called “Som-oh” in Thai and he asked her to prepare one for us.
She peeled back the rind to and then put the sections back inside. The sections were just like an orange or grapefruit, but so much bigger and very delicious. It was sweeter than a grapefruit and very tasty. I have never seen this citrus fruit before, but I found out it’s called “Polmelo.” Yum!!
One of the really fun things about the jungle in Thailand is the unusual animals. Back on the road, we saw a monkey sign.
And then we saw the real thing sitting in the middle of the road!
There was a whole pack of them — parents and babies — milling around the edges of the road. They were hoping for treats from tourists.
These were long tail monkeys, and Mai told us they have big teeth and can be pretty nasty.
Fortunately, none of them came after us, and viewing them from a little distance out the car window they seemed very cute!
Our next stop was at a wonderful little coffee bistro that is built on a series of decks overlooking a river.
It’s called the Rim Nam Cafe, and it’s owned by a young man named Oh. How wonderful it was to have a Hazelnut latte at this special spot!
Oh has created a wonderfully fanciful jungle retreat in the trees that is filled with unusual decorations and fun nooks and crannies that are perfect for curling up and reading a book or conversing with friends. Oh told us sometimes elephants come down for a drink at the water’s edge below!
The elephants didn’t show up while we were there, but we enjoyed roaming the grounds and taking photos.
Among the intriguing decorations we found two blue letters, an M and an E. What a coincidence that these are our initials. We just had to get a selfie!!
The city of Kanchanaburi is the site of the bridge that was made famous by the book Bridge on the River Kwai (also a popular movie) which tells the story of the horrendous Japanese WWII labor camps that built a 258 mile long railway to enable the Japanese to transport goods and troops between the coast of Thailand (then called Siam) and Rangoon, Burma.
In early 1942, the Japanese seized the colony of Burma from the British, and they needed an overland shipping route to avoid the many Allied submarines lurking in the sea. Between the fall of 1942 and the fall of 1943, the rails were laid and over 600 bridges were constructed. It was a monumental feat to complete the railway so fast.
Some 120,000 (or as many as 300,000) southeast Asians laborers and another 61,000 British, Dutch and American POWs endured horrific conditions in these camps. 20% of the POWs died while as many as 50% of the southeast Asians laborers (who had been enticed to come for “easy work and good pay”) perished. It came to be known as the Death Railway.
When we had first arrived in Kanchanaburi by train a few days earlier, we had passed the cemetery where 6,982 POWs are buried. Another 5,310 POWs are buried in two other locations on the railway route.
The “Bridge on the River Kwai” itself was a modest bridge that crossed a calm river, but the story of the starvation, forced labor and massive death toll that went into the building of the railway was gut wrenching to ponder as we walked across the bridge from one side of the river to the other.
The heat right now in the “cool” winter season was stifling. The sweat just poured down our faces. As we looked back across the river, the area was filled with buildings and air conditioned civilization, and a tall statue of Buddha looked out over the river.
I can’t even imagine what it was like to bush-whack the jungle to lay these train tracks in the middle of nowhere with almost no food and filthy, contaminated water.
There are two places to see parts of the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, and our guides Steffen and Mai took us to another location about 30 miles away.
As we were discussing the Death Railway, Mai pointed out that the correct pronunciation for the word “Kwai” actually rhymes with the word “way” and not the word “why” as it is most commonly pronounced by English speakers.
A tourist train runs on these tracks and passes both points. It is actually the same train that we had taken from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi a few days earlier.
Tourists hung their heads out the window and snapped pics as they passed us.
The train continued along a bridge and disappeared around the bend.
There is a cave near this part of the Death Railway, and like Lawa Cave we had visited earlier, there was a golden statue of Buddha inside.
It is not a deep cave, but it was fun to look around.
When choosing which places to visit on our trip to Thailand before we left, it was very difficult to narrow down the many incredible options of things to see and do.
Looking back now, our two days of tours of the waterfalls, caves and historic areas of Kanchanaburi with Mellow Adventures was one of the true highlights of our month-long trip.
There is more info in the links below.
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- Lawa Cave – Travel info from Bangkok Post
- Rim Nam Cafe – Facebook page
- Death Railway – Wikipedia
- An interview with a survivor of the Death Railway – A British survivor, age 95, in 2013
- Bridge over the River Kwai – 1952 book by Frenchman Pierre Boulle
- Bridge on the River Kwai – 1957 Hollywood Movie
- Railway Man – A 2014 movie on the Death Railway with a different twist
- Locations of Lawa Cave, Rim Nam Cafe and the Death Railway – Interactive Google Maps
- Mellow Adventures – Personalized, custom tours of Kanchanaburi, Thailand
(email Mellow Adventures here and see Tripadvisor reviews of Mellow Adventures here)
Other blog posts from our travels in Thailand:
- Snorkeling Ko Rok with Dive & Relax – Underwater Magic in Thailand!
- Cheow Lan Lake Tour in Khao Sok with Greenery Panvaree Floating Raft House
- Greenery Panvaree Floating Raft House – Khao Sok National Park… Wow!
- Huay Mae Khamin – Thailand’s Most Beautiful Waterfall – Mellow Adventures
- Erawan Falls – Jewel of Erawan National Park – with Mellow Adventures
- Train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi – A Ride Through Thailand’s Countryside
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – Bangkok or Disney’s Epcot Center?
- One Day in Bangkok – A trip on the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat!
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