Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | Central Thailand | Kanchanaburi – The Bridge Over
It’s been five days since I arrived in Kanchanaburi and the excitement slowly wears off. It certainly wasn’t this way when on Wednesday I went to feed the tiger.
We got into the truck at half past three in the afternoon and it struck me only when we crossed the tall gates of the reserve that we were coming to see the animals being fed. Hence, they were hungry at the time of our arrival. And only a madman would come up and try to pat a hungry five-year-old tiger. I’ve just finished reading ‘Life of Pi’ and didn’t feel a slightest hint of trust towards the huge orange animal in the circle of sand and gravel at the bottom of the pit where we were led by the laughing monks dressed in equally orange robes.
Alhough all the people on my trip proved to be mad and survived it, I cowered. Just before it was my turn to go to the massive female, her partner got up from the den in which he was lying and leisurely stolled over, collapsing next to her with his ears close to his scull and the tip of his tail wagging nervously. I didn’t wan’t to check if he would relax anytime soon.
We got out of the pit and fighting our way through the herds of skinny cows, goats, pigs and peacocks arrived at the trees to which the tiger cubs were chained. Our guide passed little white pills around, apparently kitty treat, and some of the people found the guts to let the little tigers feed off their palms. I was clutching my share of treats in my sweaty hand, watching the four-month-old cub with paws bigger than my hands lick the palm of a girl, who chose to smile to the camera instead of making sure her hand doesn’t get bitten off. When she left, I gathered the courage enough to squat next to the tiger and slowly moved my open palm covered with white pills towards it. It was looking the other way and with my other hand I slowly started stroking it behind its ears. It certainly wasn’t a kitty. Felt more like a carpet and I almost laughed. Then the young tiger looked at me dreamily and I spilled the pills, got up instantly and was two meters away by the time it started licking at the treats lying in front of it.
Next day we went for a whole-day trip, leaving at eight in the morning and heading first to the Sai Yok Noi waterfall. It cascaded over a wall of brightly creamy limestone, crashing into a pool of shallow muddy water, where a local woman was sitting with her eyes closed, splashing the water onto her face and shoulders. We sat there for a while, ate some banana crisps and left for the elephant camp, where some of the people wanted to stay and take the rides while we took off for the hot springs.
They were definitely hot. After five minutes in the jade-coloured water in the biggest pool, I started feeling giddy and needed to sit on the wall for a while. That was when I noticed the snake. It swam on the surface of the water with its small head risen up the way the dogs do when they swim and for a second I thought it actually looked funny and pitiful. Then I asked if it was not poisonous. The local women at the pool assured me it wasn’t, but I had a hard time believing it, as all of them got out and were sitting on the wall with me, while the men chased the snake out of the pool. But by that time I had enough of hot baths and went to the nearby river instead, chilly to the bone and much needed in the heat of the day getting less and less bearable as the day unfolded.
We picked up the rest and had our lunch in a shack next to the road we were on. Little choice – egg patthai or sweet and sour vegetable chicken. I went for the latter and winced at the taste. It was bland. While everybody around me was happily eating, I started heaping spoonfulls of chilli onto my plate, stopping the waiter in his tracks.
‘But that’s hoooot’ – he said in awe.
‘But that’s how I like it’ – I smiled back courageously and ate up. I may be scared of tigers but it took only a week for me in Thailand to get adjusted to the food and discover that I love it spicy.
After the lunch we were taken to the Hellfire Pass. The pleasant part of the trip was over. We trekked along the railroad till we reached the ‘cutting’ lined with Australian flags and plastic poppy flowers. The story was grisly and the museum only made it worse. We got back into the minibus in silence.
And then we were boarding the Death Railway, the day was beautiful, I got a seat next to the open window and could admire the sunlit countryside as we lauched on out two-hour journey back to Kanchanaburi. There were people on the train selling cold drinks and sweet pancakes, the sun was setting behind the mountains and I was dreaming away with my head stuck out of the window and laid comfortably on my folded arms, when the rocking of the train brought back another information from the museum – for every sleeper we were passing, there was one dead prisoner. I sat upright and started paying more attention, as we passed the Bridge over the River Kwai (Kwae Yai, as it is also called), all set up for the festival.
It was Friday night and the first day of the festival and we were late. As we get out of the minibus and got herded onto a rickety bridge running to the floating platform in front of the bridge, the lights were already out. I had to guess where the next board may be, feeling the railings made of branches sway on both sides dangerously. I found a chair in one of the front rows and sat down in awe, not understanding a single word of the story being told through the loudspeakers. But the music in the background was great, the inscenisation of the bombing deafening and realistic (one of the huts was actually set on fire and in the red smoke I could see a man running frantically up and down with a fire-extinguisher… that fire wasn’t in the screenplay at all), the pieces of bridge were flying around in clouds of smoke and the fireworks afterwards were simply spectacular.
Only back at the backpacker’s I got to know that I should have asked for the headphones, but then I only shrugged, satisfied nonetheless, and sat down to watch the movie. Towards its end the waitress brought me a huge slice of chocolate cake, saying it was sent by a girl who was having her birthday party at a table in the far corner. I looked up and recognised the local girl who on the day of my arrival stopped to tell me I was beautiful. Hell, she was more beautiful that I could ever be, slim and dark, but I thanked her then, remembering what I was told about local people finding Westerners somehow more attractive, and now I put my hands together and rised them to my face to thank her again, feeing both awkward and happy as I was making that gesture of gratitude and respect for the first time in my life.