Friday, January 21, 2005

We got up and had breakfast – this time it was slightly better because of the inclusion of some fresh pineapple. We noticed we were heading the opposite direction from the night before, so we thought the observation car might be in the front of train, making for some great views. It was in the front, but not really, as sometime during the night another engine had been added, on the back (now front) of the train, making the observation car second in line. We noticed that it was either very smoky or very smoggy, or possibly both. The towns we passed didn't have near the breaks in between that they had the first two days – there were developments all up and down the track. There were also dogs everywhere – almost as many as people.

After a bit we stopped in Kanchanaburi, where the bridge over the River Kwai is. There is some famous movie about the bridge over the River Kwai, but neither one of us have seen it. The movie was based on a book and also real events. The bridge was constructed as part of a couple hundred mile stretch of track known as the Thailand-Burma railway or the “Death Railway.” It was constructed in 1942 and 1943 by POWs and civilians under Japanese orders during World War II. 130,000 people lost their lives building the railway, which the Japanese wanted to help them invade India. The railway was actually completed on time, but shortly thereafter the Allied Forces, which had begun to peck away at Japan's areas in the Pacific, starting bombing the railway, including the bridge over the River Kwai, making the railway largely useless. Also, we found out that Kwai is pronounced “Quay,” not to be confused with the Quays in Singapore which are pronounced “Key.”

We got off the train and onto a ferry that went under the bridge and down the river, seeing some kids giving 3 elephants a bath in the river. We got off the ferry, then took a short bus tour around Kanchanaburi, stopping at a museum on the Death Railway. After making our way through the museum, we walked across the street to a large cemetery that was put up to commemorate all of the soldiers and civilians that had lost their lives during the construction of the railway.

We got back on the train and had lunch. The duck was very good, probably one of the best meals on the trip, right up with the Italian food at the Banyan Tree and the Chinese food at the Mandarin Oriental in KL. We packed up our belongings and waited the last two hours for arrival at Bangkok . Both of us liked the train just fine, but after being so out and about for 10 days it was frustrating to be cooped up in a train for 2 straight days. Given the cost of the train, and the lack of routes that the Orient Express offers, it may be awhile before we make another train ride, but at least this one was fun.

When we got to Bangkok it was kind of a zoo. On the flights and ferries on our trip, we were one of the few couples to have someone waiting there for us. Well, with the clientele of the people on the train, everyone had someone waiting for them, and all of the helpers were clamoring to help their clients the most. We weren't in that much of a rush, so we enjoyed the show. We got into our van and headed off to the Oriental Bangkok, usually rated one of the best if not the best in the world.

On the ride over the lady who picked us up was trying to figure out our return arrangements. She saw that we were supposed to go the airport 3 days later, but had no time or flight information. We told her we weren't actually going to be getting on a plane – instead someone from our next hotel (the Amari Orchid in Pattaya) would pick us up at the airport and take us to that hotel. This really messed her up, and it took her a good 5 minutes to figure out what we were saying, if she ever grasped it at all. We told her we'd set up a pickup time with the Amari Orchid and get back to her.

We got to the Oriental, and its location was a bit of a surprise. We were going through some rather ordinary looking streets and then a shabby looking alley, and then the hotel just appeared. The main lobby was very nice, with many more people sitting in it than any of the other hotels we'd been at. We didn't even check in, they took us straight to our room (901) to check in there. The view was of the Chao Phraya river, which is heavily traveled in Bangkok, and frankly works much better than taxis to go North and South to spots near the river.

We got on a boat to go to the River City Shopping complex, a little north of the hotel. Crystal was looking for a shirt, as she thought she'd need one with a collar to go to some of the wats the next day. All we saw were overpriced goods, outrageously bright clothes and expensive sculptures – 4 levels worth, no less. We came back to the hotel and hoped that we wouldn't have a problem the next day. We changed and went to a restaurant Crystal had found on the internet before we left home. It was called Lemongrass, and we were supposed to get this one dish, but couldn't remember which one. When we got there, we saw a chicken dish that looked good, and it triggered Crystal 's memory, thinking that this was the dish we were supposed to get. It was chicken stir-fried with holy basil and red chilies, and comes with rice. It was excellent, and very hot. Total cost including drinks was less than US $10.

The restaurant was on Soi 24 off of Sukhumvit road, a main drag in Bangkok . We had read that some of the “interesting” nightlife in Bangkok was at Soi 23, so we took what we thought would be a short walk down Sukhumvit. As we started walking, however, nothing looked quite right, and we couldn't figure out where we were because 1) there were hardly any street signs and 2) what signs were there were in Thai, which not only is a different language but has an altogether different alphabet. Justin was getting frustrated because it should have been a 2 minute walk, and eventually he just gave up and we hailed a cab back to the hotel. It had cost us 89 baht to get to Lemongrass, but the taxi driver initially refused to turn on his meter and wanted 200 baht. We refused and were about to get out of the cab when his meter mysteriously started to work again. Return trip cost – 89 baht. Back in the room we looked at the travel books and the maps again, and discovered that the Sois on opposing sides of the street don't match up, so the Soi on the north side of Sukhumvit closest to Soi 24 is Soi 33.



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