Met Sally from the airport and we headed straight for Kanchanburi, about 3 hours west of bangkok by a very hot bus! Kanchanaburi is home to the bridge over the river kwai, part of the death railway to Burma, constructed by POW's under Japanese control during WWII.
Spent the night being rocked to sleep in our guesthouse which was actually floating on huge rafts on the river!
The next day we went to the Thai-Burma railway centre to learn more about the construction of the railway. Its one of the best museums i've visited on my trip so far, full of interesting information, models and exhibits, all brought to life through the moving personal accounts and anecdotes of survivors. Its this personal connection that can make or break a museum like this and it was this aspect which was missing in a lot of the Cambodian and Vietnamese museums.
Am typing this in a pub and a live band (including bad thai singing!) has just started playing so i can barely hear myself think so sorry if the rest of this post doesnt make much sense!!!!!
After the museum we walked to the bridge which is a reconstruction as the original was bombed during the war, evidence of which can still be seen on the concrete pillars. It a slight anti climax as its essentially just a bridge!!
Our second day was spent visiting Tiger Temple. Ever since i'd heard about it i'd been in two minds whether to visit.
The temple was founded in 1994 as a forest monastery and animal sanctuary and they took in their first cub in 1999. Over time they have been given several orphaned tiger cubs and over 21 cubs have since been born at the temple.
The unique thing about the temple is that the tigers are not caged during the day and are free to roam around the canyon area allowing the public to interact with them...obviously a once in a lifetime opportunity.
There is much controversy about the temple which many people saying the tigers arent infact orphaned but the result of black market tiger trading. Also some people claim they are drugged by the monks in order to keep them docile. The entrance fees are expensive in thai terms- 5 pounds per person, but this supposedly goes towards the building of tiger island which will allow the tigers to roam freely and not be caged at night. They have been planning it for years and its believed they are delaying the building as it will stop the interaction with the public and the number of people visiting might decline but when we visited they seemed to be doing a lot of construction so hopefully they are actually building it.
So deciding there was no other way but to see for myself, we went. There are lots of animals roaming around the temple grounds (no sign of a temple though!!) pigs, ponies, goats etc....think they might all have been dinner!
Heading down into the canyon we were unsure what to expect, turns out it is all very regimented, the tigers are in a roped off area and you are taken around them one person at a time while someone snaps photos. There are lots of thai handlers and western volunteers there to shove you in the right direction. Some of the tigers are chained and all of them are lying down dozing, i dont think that they are drugged though. It all happens a bit quickly so you dont get a chance to think - wow this is actually a tiger i'm stroking! from reading other peoples experiences I think it probably used to be a bit more relaxed with the tigers allowed more freedom but with the increase in visitor numbers they have had to make it more organised.
while we were there an irish journalist was interviewing one of the western keepers, i ear-wigged the tail end of the interview and he seemed to be interested in pinning down exactly where the tigers came from and if any dna testing had been carried out.
Overall i think the tiger temple probably started off with the best intentions, they were actually caring for the first tiger cubs but as so often happens it unexpectedly turned into a money maker and this means they have lost sight of the original aim and as a result the tigers are suffering.
It was time to head back to bangkok, as the sun was setting we watched the procession of bankokians jogging their way round Lumphini Park and ending in the hilarious techno aerobics session...of which our highlight was flip-flop man tripping over his box steps and star jumps. All warmed up it was off round the corner to Lumphini Boxing stadium for the Muay thai boxing!! we went for third tier tickets, much to the disappointment of the lady trying to flog us 20pound ringside seats, we were the furthest from the ring but we were in the action with the muay thai aficionados. Gambling is illegal in Thailand but you wouldnt think that from the amount going on in the third tier. Neither of us really had a clue what was going on in the ring and half the time it was more interesting to watch the men get more and more excited as the fight went on with the betting getting more and more furious. From what we figured out Thai boxing is similar to normal boxing but they can kick each other too! also they do a funny dance before the match in honour of their trainer which was possibly the most amusing part of the whole evening!! and seeing the bookies bribing the policemen on duty!!!!!!
Quick jaunt around patpong so sally could get asked if she wanted to see 'ping pong show?'....no thanks....'we have mens show?'....no thanks.....'ahh we have ladies too?'....no thanks...'sure no ping pong show???'
Saturday was the mighty Chatuchak Weekend Market- 35 acres of hustle and bustle under the fierce bangkok sun for which you need a map if you have any chance of surviving!!
We attacked early in the day and perused the jewellery, handicrafts, clothes, books, household goods, shoes, bags, dogs...yep i said dogs! and cats..and about every household pet you can think of! After 4 hours and frequent cold drink pit stops we were shopped out (almost) and headed for the air conditioned malls where we managed to put in another couple of hours bargaining- this time a bit less hot and sweaty though!!
Sunday we flopped into the cinema and watch the Zohan movie, very funny, and in the evening caught the bus down to Surat Thani where we boarded the boat to Ko Samui for some island adventures.