Three Pagodas Pass
A long weekend visiting Sangklaburi, in the West of Thailand, with the Fabulous Four.
Fabulous Four [Tim, Koen, David & Ray] embarked on a long weekend road-trip to the Burmese border at Three Pagoda Pass, where the infamous WW2 Death Railway crossed the border.
This picture is the first of a series that follows the road-trip.
The road-sweeping lady is already busy.
I am waiting in the dark for Tim, and we will share a taxi to the place where we will meet up with Koen and David. Once again, David has offered his car, and will drive us for the weekend. One benefit of this arrangement is that David will not drink alcohol until we reach our overnight destination, so we all abstain as a courageous act of mateship...we will make up for it when we arrive!
Tim and Ray meet exactly as planned, but their taxi takes a different bridge over the river than the one Tim envisaged, and then Ray chats on a bit too enthusiastically about everything that comes into his head [it having been a couple of weeks since he last spoke to a person whose primary language is English] and spoils Tim's concentration...Tim gets us lost, despite his very good mind-map of Bangkok, and so we are subjected to considerable derision by Koen and David when we are eventually united.
We finalise our itinerary...a) Three Pagodas ...b) Stay first night in or near Sangklaburi town ...c) drink lots of beer!
Koen is a Travel Agent, but he seems to be "on vacation", so there is an expectation that Ray will provide innovative itinerary material on-the-fly...this in addition to his tacitly accepted role as principal photo-documenter.
We quickly settle into our accustomed seating arrangement...the tall youngsters up-front...the wise [I think the real word is wizened] little guys in the back.
"What's the first thing on the itinerary?", asks some wit. Without hesitation Ray offers "the first place we can find some decent hot coffee!"
And so we make our way along the 6 hour journey to Sangklaburi.
Here I illustrate this leg of the voyage with samples of some interesting flora I noticed at our occasional stops.
Soon enough...Sangklaburi! Its the only large town in this isolated NW section of Kanchanburi Province, near the border with Burma.
The countryside here is hilly, verdant and pretty. A river runs through the town...it has been dammed further down, and so the water can rise 10 metres or more from the height you see in this image. The Death Railway route is actually underwater near here since the damming.
Sangklaburi region is a melting pot of ethnicity, with several "suburbs" of various hill-tribes...Mon, Karen, etc...who have squatted here partly because they get hassled less by the Thai government than by the Burmese government.
There are a number of "resorts" with lake views/frontage. We select "P.Guest House"...rooms with 2 single beds, air-con, lake-view and hot showers for US$30.00 per night...mainly because it offers modern Canadian-style canoes for hire. On learning we intend to canoe tour at 0600 tomorrow, the resort manager says we must sleep with our paddles as he has no intention of getting up so early to arrange them for us.
As Itinerary Master, Ray suggests we drink a couple of tins of cold beer to pre-hydrate us for the afternoon walking tour of the town, but is over-ruled by the others who insist there will be plenty of beer vendors along the route...
So...off we go on our freestyle three hour walking tour of Sangklaburi.
Our main focus is the #1 Tourist Attraction of the town...the Mon Trestle bridge...of which we have distant glimpses from our resort rooms.
The bridge is in two parts...the first is about 200 metres long, and has concrete piles...its not in great shape, and evidently vehicles are no longer permitted to traverse it.
There is a tourist-type kiosk at the end of this section, where we should be able to sit, savour the scene, and suck down a tin or two of wonder-juice...aka Beer Leo. Nope! Run out of beer, they claim, and so we will have to seek it at the end of the wooden second section.
This wooden section is a Wonder...and, the wonder is that it doesn't fall over! Its about 400 metres long, constructed entirely of logs, and with a rough-sawn wooden vehicle deck...both ends are barricaded, though, so only walking traffic is permitted. The deck is about 15 metres above the current water-line, but there is a water-mark that indicates water can reach up about another 10 metres by the end of the rainy season.
We stroll across the bridge to the other side...then, half mad from lack of fluid [well...lack of beer, more likely] on this very hot afternoon, embark on a search for the elusive, sacred, tinned beer.
Eventually we are successful...an elderly, sleepy lady, who is napping in the shade of her house verandah, indicates "yeah...sure...I have icy cold supplies of that elixir" and so we buy one each and assure her we will return soon to lay siege to her fridge.
[Note: beverage-free narrative today...]
Within the city of Sangklaburi there are several villages of floating dwellings. The buildings float on bundles of bamboo, plastic pipe rafts or purpose-built steel pontoons.
There are floating restaurants, floating hotels, floating fish and vegetable farms, floating karaoke/entertainment bars, as well as floating homes.
I am guessing something like 25% of the population of Sangklaburi live in these places.
I believe, also, that many of the residents are Hilltribes people...they lack land title, and the means to acquire land, so they live on landless sites, and can easily float away if they encounter issues or float up when there are floods.