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Bridging past and present

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Joanette Teng on 10 Aug 2016

The Straits Times

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LOCATED 130km west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is an ideal weekend destination for those seeking to escape busy city life.

 

As the third largest province in Thailand, Kanchanaburi is home to many natural attractions, such as caves, mountains and waterfalls.

 

It is renowned for its bridge, which was the subject of the Academy Award winning 1957 movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai. More recently, the 2014 movie, The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth, was also filmed in locations in Kanchanaburi.

 

Historical associations

 

For those who are interested in World War II history, a visit to the notorious “Death Railway” is a must. Also known as the Burma-Siam Railway, this 415km-long rail connection between the two countries was completed in a year — a remarkable feat considering the hilly jungle terrain, lack of modern equipment and appalling working conditions.

 

Sadly, it is estimated that over 12,000 prisoners of war (POWs) and up to 90,000 Asian labourers perished during the construction of this railway. There are several famous sites associated with it, including the River Kwai Bridge, Wampo Viaduct and Hellfire Pass.

 

We arrived at the bridge early in the morning, and were able to get some nice pictures of it without the usual tourist crowds. There are walkways with side platforms, which allowed us to cross the railway bridge on foot and avoid any passing train.

 

Several miles beyond the bridge, the railway line runs along the impressive Wampo Viaduct, which was also the handiwork of the POWs.

 

Perched on the side of a limestone cliff, the wooden structure hugs the curves of the River Kwai’s banks below, offering spectacular scenery.

 

A short walk along the viaduct brought us to the Krasae Cave, which was originally used as a hospital for the POWs during World War II, and now houses a Buddha statue.

 

Co-sponsored by the Australian and Thai governments, the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum commemorates those who lost their lives constructing the railway.

 

The free audio tour was excellent, and it guided us through the informative museum and the Hellfire Pass itself, which many consider to be the most difficult section of the entire railway line.

 

It was a very moving experience walking through the steep-sided Pass while listening to the recorded memories of the surviving POWs.

 

But it is not only wartime associations that distinguish Kanchanaburi. Locals and tourists alike frequent the province for its numerous national parks.

 

Due to time constraints, we only visited the hugely popular Erawan Falls, which is famous for its seven-tiered waterfalls The hiking trail started out relatively easy, but became more demanding as we climbed up the tiers.

 

We persevered and were well-rewarded by the milky blue pool at the top. While I happily let the fish nibble at my feet, my husband could not resist taking a refreshing dip in the cold water.

 

Kanchanaburi is also a great place to just relax amid the gorgeous natural surroundings. We spent a lovely afternoon exploring the countryside on bicycles — passing by cornfields, sugar cane plantations, temples and markets.

 

Learn to cook Thai

 

As fans of Thai food, we decided that a cooking class would be a good bonding session for both the novice (me) and the seasoned cook (my husband).

 

We enjoyed the hands-on class at On’s Thai Issan restaurant, which is currently rated on TripAdvisor as the top place to eat in Kanchanaburi.

 

Each of us could choose three mains and a dessert from the menu, and between the two of us, we cooked up a feast with signature Thai dishes such as papaya salad, tom yum soup, green curry, pad thai and mango sticky rice. We could eat all that we cooked, which made for a very satisfying meal indeed.

 

For something more romantic, I recommend a candlelight dinner at the Bridge Bar & Bistro. If weather permits, the outdoor seating by the river is an ideal place to sip wine and watch the sky change colour at sunset.

 

The bistro offers a range of Thai and Western food, and the apple crumble was the best we have ever tasted. To top it off, the staff gave us a sky lantern, and there was something decidedly romantic about watching our wishes ascend into the night sky.

 

It was a magical experience that made our trip to Kanchanaburi even more memorable.

 

GETTING THERE

 

We flew from Singapore to Bangkok on Singapore Airlines. From Suvarnabhumi Airport, we took the train to Victory Monument station, and then boarded a minivan to Kanchanaburi town. The journey was around four hours.

 

TRAVELLER’S TIPS

 

- Younger couples will appreciate the industrial-chic X2 River Kwai resort, with its tech-savvy amenities, in-house bistro and champagne breakfast. Each cabin offers a picture-perfect view of the River Kwai and nearby mountain ranges.

 

- Kanchanaburi is generally hotter than Bangkok. Do avoid visiting the province during April as the average temperature can rise beyond 40 deg C.

 

- On’s Thai Issan restaurant is located on the main road opposite the Tesco supermarket. Cooking classes are reasonably priced at 600 baht per person (about S$23).

 

 

The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.