Caught a minibus to Kanchanaburi Friday morning in front of The Royal Embassy Hotel which is essentially across two streets and a rotary from the entrance of the catacombs. It took fifteen minutes to navigate my way to the hotel which is really only a stone's throw away, due to the continuous flow of buzzing motorbikes, buses, cars and tuk tuks. Bangkok certainly earns its well-deserved reputation for its high traffic volume. The concierge at the hotel offered me the two and a half hour minibus ride to Kanchanaburi for 2,000 baht. I graciously declined opting to board the bus with the local crowd which scored a dramatic difference of 150 baht. So, that would be a difference of 65 dollars verses 5 dollars.
Being the only pale face on the bus squeezed in amongst bags of rice and linens, I befriended a Sergeant in the Thai Army who was seated next to me. He was returning home to Kanchanaburi after spending his week in Bangkok at the military school learning English. I spent the next two and a half hours reviewing the weekend homework with him in preparation for his final exam on Monday. My only reprieve from offering instruction was a stop for gasoline (thank goodness...was feeling pretty queasy). Upon stopping for gas, the driver made everyone get out of the van and started physically rocking the vehicle while the petrol was pumping. We had seen this done by our driver in Chiang Mai. Apparently it allows for the intake of more petrol?
I was dropped at my prearranged destination in Kanchanaburi and was so pleasantly surprised what 35 dollars per night was able to offer. Although a block from the river, the friendly open air boutique lodging was perfect; and oh my, a quiet, comfortable setting with soap, more than one towel for a couple days, hot water and enough space so that I didn't have to back up against the wall to get around the bed. I immediately opened the windows which viewed a luscious courtyard, water fall and swimming pool. Finally a place to practice yoga!
a twenty four hour bike rental for 80 baht, I lost myself in the
rural countryside. And I did literally get so lost! I kept riding
further and further drinking in the sights; groves of banana trees,
rice and tapioca fields, and the breathtaking mountains! Enjoying
this get away from the bustle of the city, I realized that I hadn't
really paid much attention to my route and thought given my keen
sense of direction that I would loop back around and towards the town
center. Hmmm...I really hadn't been making much headway, so I stopped
at a few road side stands where I tried desperately to
communicate the name of the town with a bit a Thai tone. After
rerouting a few times, I made my way back just before the valley was
engulfed in a cloak of darkness.
There is this lovely yet modest resort on the river behind my accommodations, known as Camila's. The setting is spectacular offering views of the river and jungle against a majestic mountain range. I've enjoyed very peaceful late morning teas and tranquil evening dinners (excepting for the occasional passing of quick long boats with Karaoke loving tourists ;). Saturday morning as I enjoyed my ritual tea, I spied a lone kayaker and almost immediately asked the waitress where and how I could jump into this activity.
An hour later, a friendly local fellow met me with a kayak hanging out of the back of his pickup truck. We drove about 15 kilometers up the river where he dropped the kayak and me in the river. His final words before he smiled and drove away were, "three hours up river, after second bridge turn left, look for blue roof where I meet you, but don't go far past second bridge because two rivers meet and then we say bye bye." Although this did not instill much confidence, I had no choice at this point. Besides, it could be worse like a brewing storm or something and the weather at this point had been beautiful.
It was a wonderful and peaceful trek as the river wound through untouched jungle and revealed what could not be seen by land. Three hours can be quite a bit of time when weather dependent, and remember winter is the rainy season in Thailand...and so. The last forty minutes I enjoyed cooling off to a torrential downpour. When I heard thunder, I thought for a fleeting moment that my guide might try to find me, but if he was going to say "bye bye" as I made my way into the current of two river, I couldn't rely on false hope. So, I persevered and chose to enjoy my ride. I made the mandated left after the second bridge entering a small shallow tributary inundated with lily pads, trash and massive beds of seaweed. I squeezed my two and a half foot wide kayak through narrow passages of broken down house boats, and finally under a low bridge while ducking to avoid the wooden support beams and dangling electrical wires. I obligingly tied the kayak to the pathetic piling where it appeared it should be moored at a pier extending from a house with a blue roof, but of course i never saw the guide again. And then with my Buddha on, I made my pedestrian one mile journey back to the hotel in the pouring rain. After all, it was about the adventure, right?
A few dozen mosquito bites, sunburned, cuts and bruises on my legs, I felt painfully like ten years old again. Although, I never saw too many cyclists...solo at that, i enjoyed riding my little beach cruiser bike with a handlebar basket sporting a map, book and sketch pad up and down the river town exploring new roads and niche neighborhoods (don't so much enjoy trying to out pedal the crazy barking packs of roaming stray dogs though...almost worse than the alligator).
Today I embarked on a physically challenging excursion cycling towards the base of the mountain range on the outskirts of Kanchanaburi (felt like a trek to Everest's base camp for all I knew...ooolala). Wat Tham Khao Poon has the largest and happiest Buddha belly I've seen yet. He's perched on the edge of the river conveying the illusion of overseeing with obvious pleasure and contentment, but then again maybe it's not an illusion ;)
Wat Tham Poon is home of a limestone temple cave which has rooms housing multiple manifestations of the Buddha and Ganesh. I was the sole tourist in the cave under the guide of a six year old Thai boy who would lead by throwing rocks into each cavernous room before we would entered. I didn't understand why this ritual was a part of the tour, but very quickly discovered that it involved the light flapping of hundreds of wings a few inches above my head upon each entry, and they weren't butterflies! I wasn't so sure this was necessary though.
This was my last evening in Kanchanaburi. The thought of heading back to Bangkok was not settling well, but one more evening in the old familiar alleys before a Tuesday departure would be secure and fitting. And besides, it's nice to have had created a life time of memories in such a short time. As Bec so eloquently summarized it when she got home last week from Thailand "it's such a drag to understand the conversations going on around you." It really is like a reversal in sensory overload!
See you soon!