By Charles McKinney
Thailand’s Wild West is a region of the country to be experienced. I had the neat treat of touring, for my recent birthday, a small, rustic town in the West known as Kanchanaburi. The town is approximately 20 kilometers from the Burmese border, and attracts a number of tourists every year because there is so much to encounter both historically and naturally. My complimentary birthday adventure occurred through my volunteering efforts with TFU Educational Services Ltd. (more about this company later). Foreign exchange college students and their group leader from Japan composed the tour group that I accompanied on behalf of TFU. TFU provided private van service from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi (two hour drive) and continued service for the duration of the trip. The Japanese visitors and I explored the following destinations over a three-day period:
Bridge at River Kwai (Death Railway)
Our first stop on the itinerary was Death Railway at the River Kwai because no visit to Kanchanaburi would be complete without it. A memorial plaque [positioned near the entrance to the bridge] dedicated to the approximately 700 American servicemen, who as prisoners of war of the Japanese during World War II, were moved to Thailand and Burma, interned in prison camps and forced to work on the construction of the Thailand-Burma railway project. Tourists had the option of taking a train across the bridge, but we crossed it at our own leisure. We were experiencing world history in the flesh, information that we may have read about in textbooks during our secondary school years. A seafood restaurant rested on one side of the river while a stunning temple situated the other side.
Never before had I gone to a temple cave, let alone heard of one. But we visited one called “Tampuwa” (i.e., “tam” is Thai for “cave”and “puwa” is the name of the temple) after leaving the Bridge at River Kwai. Apparently, the temple was built around the cave, which has been a local natural marvel for eons. The Buddhist monks inside greeted us with smiles and conversation. One of them presumed me to be Thai, initially speaking to me in Thai. (Since I’ve been living in Thailand, this was the third instance in which a local told me I look partially Thai). Then when I told him that I can’t speak Thai, he proceeded to chat with me in English, which was quite impressive. The deeper we journeyed into the cave the darker it became; its flawless cleanliness partly attributed to the shoeless policy common for temple visits in Thailand.How much of a perfect place this would be for meditation, a primary purpose for temples in orthodox Buddhist philosophy.
Day two of the sightseeing tour began with a morning visit to Hellfire Pass Museum, an indoor and outdoor back to the past quest that encompassed life as a prisoner of war during this grim period of history. The audio headsets given us by the staff enhanced our museum experience with each part of the tour having a distinct explanation (in English, Japanese, etc.) of the historical importance. Once we got outside after perusing the artifacts inside, we walked the trail of the area where the workers toiled day and night. The emotions I felt down in what seemed like a natural dungeon almost seemed akin to my sentiments at the concentration camp I visited in Germany nearly 10 years ago. Since we were on a schedule we didn’t have time to walk the entire trail, which would’ve taken two or three hours in the sweltering humidity. A whole day could practically be spent at this particular site. Upon leaving the museum, visitors could sign the guestbook (a customary practice at such places) and could donate foreign and/or local currency for the upkeep of the facilities.
Sai Yok National Park
Subsequent to lunch on the second day of the trip, we ventured to Sai Yok National Park (located opposite the restaurant where we dined) where the main attraction was the waterfall that contained a sizeable pool into which frolicsome children plunged during the afternoon heat of the day. Parents hovered around the edge of the pool, supervising the playful youngsters. People were hiking and picnicking throughout the park while others could be seen sleeping in the shade of numerous trees that blanketed the woody landscape. Small cooking vendors were set up that had traditional snacks like banana chips and Thai jerky. The pleasant merchants let us sample the snacks in hopes that we would patronize their business.
Japanese Garment Factory
The trip concluded with a visit to Yamaha Japanese clothing factory en route to Bangkok. The Japanese managers gave us a tour of the facility, explaining that some of their customers have included famous Thai entertainers, some of which whose pictures were posted on the company bulletin board in the hallway. We observed the hardworking factory workers in action, sewing, ironing and arranging the clothes. They were focused, quiet, and receptive to our photographs. Toward the end of the field trip, each Japanese student asked a question to the managers, taking notes as they listened intently to each response. Then we were taken to the in-house store where freshly manufactured accessories, shoes, and clothing could be purchased at the finest rate. This was probably the best part of the factory tour.
My three-day sightseeing nature getaway as a TFU volunteer assistant to Japanese tourists ended in new friendships, a warm welcome to visit Japan (as an English instructor), and a treasured birthday agenda that provided me a balanced mixture of education, natural communion, and R&R. Indeed, it was a fun way to spend my third consecutive birthday abroad. For more info about TFU, see the description below.
TFU Educational Services Ltd. is an educational tour agency, which focuses on both domestic and international educational tours. No leisure trip is arranged at the travel agency. It sends students to the UK, USA, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, and so on. The company wants to expand its educational network around the globe.