Heather's Thairy

Heather's journey to Bangkok, Thailand: a year of adventure!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

They're Grrrreat!!!

Last weekend we went to Kanchanaburi for Louis' birthday. Twelve of us went in a school van; there were about 10 people from the other buildings there that weekend too, so it was a great turnout for Lertlah.
Stephanie and I decided to tour around the town on pedal bikes. I didn't have a bike as sweet as the Master Crocodile so I didn't bother taking a picture, but it was still a functional "mountain bike" of sorts, and it got the job done.
We wanted to see some of the historical sights and we started with the Bridge on the River Kwae.

The River Kwae runs through Kanchanaburi and the bridge is within the townsite. We thought it was further away but it was only about 5 minutes by bicycle. When we arrived we felt a little silly, since we could have walked, but it was nice to get there so quickly.


The area around the river is lush and green, and the river itself is wide and looks relatively clean. Some of the waterways I've seen in Thailand are not particularly sanitary; this river is quite picturesque.







We walked across the bridge, which is quite long (as the river is quite wide). There aren't any rails and there isn't really a proper walking path along the bridge- there's really only room for one person in the center of the bridge, when people pass you have to walk on these skinny planks on the side. I admit that I was concerned about falling to a watery death, but I was okay.

The far side of the bridge had a little marketplace set up which advertised itself as "Burma Market". Kanchanaburi is relatively close to the Burmese border, and tradespeople come over and sell handicrafts here. There are resorts and other places on the far side of the river, but we only looked at the market.

We thought it was sort of funny how there seemed to be a clear "right side" and "wrong side" of the tracks when we got across the bridge.

There is a display on the town side of the bridge that has a bit of history about the area and the bridge itself. It became apparent to me that my knowledge of the bridge and its significance is limited to what I remember from the movie.







After looking at the bridge, we went in search of the Jeath War Museum. On our way from the hotel to the bridge we had seen a sign for that said "Jeath War Museum", and though we had thought that the museum was on the other side of town, we headed for the sign. "Jeath" stands for the countries involved in conflict at Kanchanburi during World War Two: Japan, England, Australia/America, Thailand and Holland. The bridge and railway were constructed mostly by prisoners of war under instruction of the Japanese Army. Thousands of POWs were worked to death during the War. The tragedy of the bridge hit its peak when Allied soldiers were ordered to bomb it; in an effort to stop the attack, the Japanese ordered hundreds of Allied POWs onto the bridge- unfortunately, the Allied plane completed its mission of bombing the bridge, taking with it hundreds of comrades.

We learned more about the bridge, the war and the area in the World War II Historical and Art Museum, which was what the Jeath Museum sign led to. We went to the wrong museum! It wasn't too bad; we just ended up going to this strange, unkempt museum filled with random artifacts and displays with a central attraction of a diorama of the bridge disaster, complete with paper mache bloodied corpses. The museum is listed as part of "Quirky Kanchanaburi" in the Lonely Planet book. The real Jeath War Museum (which we will visit another time!) is, as we thought, on the other side of town.

Another part of the museum I found amusing were the life-size statues of various historical figures. None of them are particularly accurate, I don't think, but they're still fun to look at.





From the top left, clockwise: Stalin, Churchill, Hitler, Einstein.

I was also amused by the abundance of Thai proverbs scattered throughout this strange museum. One building has a roof covered entirely in gaudy, awful paintings littered with slogans like "Alcoholism can ruin your life" and "Strong fish devour those that are weak". Some made no sense. Others, like that shown below, seemed just a little too obvious...



After the museum fiasco we went to the Tiger Temple (ah ha- hence the title of this post!). The Tiger Temple is about 45 minutes outside of Kanchanaburi and is a refuge for injured or needy animals- like the name says, it is a functioning temple where the monks take care of animals, mainly tigers. Currently there are eight tigers residing at the temple, all rescued from dire situations of one sort or another. There are also deer, water buffalo, pigs, peacocks, chickens, and one extremely cute bear living there.

The Tiger Temple has a strict procedure for tourist visits. The tigers are brought out to a sort of natural arena from 3-5:30 PM each day, the only time for public viewing. You are led to the area under close supervision and stand behind a fence. When it's your turn, you hand over your camera to a handler and are physically led from tiger to tiger while the person with your camera takes pictures. It seems abrupt and sterile, but it really is the most efficient and safe way to allow the public to see what kind of work is done at the temple. The tigers have collars but are loose, and it only makes sense that people must be supervised and kept in contact with a handler to keep everyone involved as safe as possible. It probably also reduces the stress on the animals.









My favorite picture is the one with me and the monk, where he was telling me something like "And don't let the tiger bite your face off, because that's bad chi" while letting the tiger suck his thumb. Gold.

The tigers were great, but I think I liked this little bear even better. He certainly seemed to be enjoying himself, rolling around and trying to cover himself with the blanket. He seemed to be telling us "Look at me! Just because it's called the Tiger Temple doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to the cute bear! Come on, stick your fingers through the bars!!!". He kept posing for pictures. If it hadn't been pouring rain, and for the fact that we had to keep a fairly tight schedule, I could have watched the bear for hours.



Another fine weekend trip! Next up: Long weekend in Chaing Mai!

Until next time,
Heather

2 Comments:

  • At 11:58 AM, Anonymous snivel servant dad said…

    Good grief - when you said the bear was cute, I didn't realize you meant THAT cute! Get an export permit!! Buy it!!! Bring it home!!!

    Love, Dad

     
  • At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Mom said…

    Hi Heather,
    That has got to be the cutest bear ever! Yes, it is wise of you to listen to the monk and not get eaten. Love, Mom

     

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