I arrived in Thailand to teach at the beginning of the second semester of their academic calendar which is at the end of October or the start of November. Luckily for me, it’s a short semester with a ton of holiday time due to the late King’s birthday (Thai Fathers’ Day) and the extended New Year break. With a few days off before the big NYE celebration, two of my friends and I decided to head to Kanchanaburi, which lies to the West of Bangkok, close to the Burmese border. It’s infamously known for having the Death Railway and some bridge on a river called Kwai.
As somewhat of an amateur in travelling Thailand, I could add very little to the process of plan-making. But it was decided that we’d leave our apartments in the early afternoon and head to a bus station in the West of the city, where we could ‘easily’ pick up a coach or a minivan heading to our destination. We hit traffic. If you’ve ever been to Bangkok, you’ll know the traffic I mean. It’s as dense and humid as a rainforest with much more harmful fumes. Fortunately, the brightly coloured Altis that we were picked up in had functioning air conditioning and we sat in the gridlock for about an hour as we travelled 9 kilometres.
Once at the bus station, we managed through a labyrinthine series of passageways lined with vendors selling Lays and Coke, and we hopped onto a shabby wreckage of a (VIP) bus heading for Kanchanaburi.
One of my comrades Danny had been to the town before and highly recommended a river shack hotel called Sam’s River House or something to that effect. Joe had already booked it. We knew exactly what the plan was when we stepped off the bus at 7pm. We bustled through the gaggle of desperate drivers to get some breathing room and carefully selected the one who would take us to our hotel on the river. We answered his question of, “Where you go?”, with Joe quickly fumbling for his online booking reference and showing him the address.
“Oh, very far. Seventy Kilometre!”
No, no, no. It was improbable that a bus to Kanchanaburi would leave us 70km from the ACTUAL town. Nevertheless, we negotiated to pay one thousand baht (or twenty pounds) for this gentleman to take us where we needed to go. We climbed up into the back of his ‘song teaw’ (a pickup truck that has been converted into some wild taxi vehicle) and we were on our way. We spent an hour in the back of the pickup truck with what could only be described as a hurricane battering us. No-one had even suggested that Thailand got cold beforehand. Apparently it does outside the city in December and January, be warned!
Finally, we saw signs for Sam’s Jungle House and headed towards them. We silently slid down some dark streets, surrounded by dense jungle and menacing soi dogs. Wait, didn’t we plan to stay at the river house? There was no discernible river, no bars, no other tourists. We rolled up to what seemed like a deserted resort. There were no lights, no people, and no noises save the crickets. Fuck. We hastily blamed Joe for the mishap but began to laugh at our rookie error: never trust a Scouser.
Our trusted chauffeur called out something in Thai and was answered by the flickering of a torch peeking out from behind a doorway. An older man approached, looking rather startled by our appearance but after a phone call to Sam he confirmed our booking and showed us to our room.
It was now ten in the evening and we hadn’t eaten dinner or even brought bottles of water with us, so we decided to intrepidly venture back out into the wilderness on the search for provisions to last us the night. We would work out where we were in the morning, for sure, and make it back into civilisation then. For now, we just had to survive.
After a 20-minute trek into the forest we had returned empty handed. Chased into retreat by the dogs, which seemed to be guard dogs for the local farms. So we sunk, exhausted, onto our (separate) beds in exasperation. Were we already dead and waiting in purgatory? It certainly seemed like the logical answer.
As I previously mentioned, the winters in rural Thailand do get a bit chilly and I didn’t
even own a jumper or long trousers so I wrapped myself in a blanket from the bed that was moth eaten and itchy as we turned on the box television, where we watched a cooking show being hosted by some ‘sexy’ models. We did finally manage to fall asleep despite the restlessness.
All of a sudden, the walls began shaking violently and there was
an intense buzzing noise that sent me swiftly into mid-air. RIZZZZZZZZZZ. RIZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. This is definitely purgatory. The old man who let us in had decided that he would fit the new LCD televisions in the adjoining room directly onto the wall with an electric drill. AT TWO IN THE BASTARD MORNING.
Everything I had ever read about Thailand and its culture told me to be calm and level headed when dealing with Thai nationals, but I stormed out there about to assassinate the elderly man and politely asked him to keep the noise down.
This night will never end.
The next morning, we bothered not to shower and instead threw our belongings, unfolded, into our backpacks and headed for the main road that we came in from. We greatly underestimated the distance, it seemed. Luckily for us, a lovely couple stopped to offer help and we crammed ourselves like sardines into the backseats of the tiny hatchback, bags and all.
Five hours later, after a two hour wait for a bus and a three hour journey back to the town we had started in, we arrived in Kanchanaburi. A grimy tuk tuk driver welcomed us with his son at the station to briskly escort us to the riverside to find accommodation for the remainder of our trip.
We didn’t stay in Sam’s River House.