An Alien In Spain - Visits Thailand (Thanks to Fred)

Ok, so you have seen the heading and I know what you are thinking, it’s got to him at last, too much time in the sun in South East Asia poor old thing, pushed himself too hard !!! – read on and judge me later.

Back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth I got myself a job with the co-op in Hammersmith, West London in the greengrocers department where I learned all about fruit and vegetables.

In this section worked a man called Fred – he was in his late 40’s maybe early 50’s and he was a quiet man never saying very much, he wore steel toe-capped boots which was strange in a greengrocers and smoked roll up cigarettes which I mention because he had a habit of putting the cigarette behind his ear but forgetting to put it out that resulted of lots of burn marks on the side of his balding head. Now I was young and brash and it was a time before I knew better than to make fun of people like Fred and I was always being rebuked for my conduct by Margaret the manager and I thought she must have a thing for Fred which was strange after all who could fancy an idiot who kept putting hot roll-ups behind his ear.

Before I lose you all I will update you on my travels and I will come back to my story about Fred in a little while...

As you will remember last week I was about to leave Chiang Mae which I did via a 150 Baht Tuk Tuk ride to catch the 10.15 am bus from Chiang Mae bus station which for 239 Baht will whisk you off for a 5 hour ride to the old capital Sukhothai.

The bus left on time and staff were friendly but nearly set me down in the wrong part of town luckily a local spoke English and got me back on the bus before it left.

On arrival in Sukhothai I was met by a few drivers and got a ride to my guest house for 50 baht – The Guest house was called TR Guesthouse where a clean fan room set me back 250 Baht per night – no breakfast but good value or money.

I had a look around the area and there was a small market but not very much to keep me interested so I had a meal of Green Curry for 80 Baht with a Banana Milkshake 35 Baht at “Chopper Bar” then went back to the hotel to book a motorbike for the next day.

A motor bike (Auto) cost 200 Baht and petrol 100 Baht and I first went to Sukhothai UNESCO world heritage site which is 14 km out of town and entry will cost you 100 Baht and headphones an extra 150 Baht on top of which you will need a pushbike to get around the park.

I didn’t go in, opting as I had the bike to ride the 56 km to Sri Satchanalal Historic Park where there was a Country Park, entry 200 Baht, there are also the ruins of the old walled city dating back to 1300’s which cost 100 Baht entry and it was possible to ride around using the motor bike – the whole day was good fun and very hot the sun leaving me slightly burnt as the wind on the bike had made it seem cooler than it was.

I went to dinner that night with a new friend AJ from Portsmouth who had just come from Ayuttaya and advised me to give it a miss as it was just like Sukhothai but more depressing so I decided to miss it out and go direct to Bangkok the next day.

Two days is enough to see Sukhothai and I must warn you if you stay at The TR guest house it reverberated to the sound of loudspeaker music at 6 am because residents do exercises in the park before heading off to work, almost as bad as the monks in Laos.

A 60 Baht Tuk Tuk ride got me to the bus station by 08.40 and I purchased a ticket for 356 Baht with Cherdchai Tours which didn’t turn out to be the best choice although all companies seem to charge the same but my window was shattered and the bus had seen better days although on the plus side the ticket did include lunch at the bus station stop – just hand over the ticket and make your choice.

The only other passengers all seemed to be Thai and the bus driver was happy to make stops anywhere they asked to be dropped off on the way – eventually we arrived at Bangkok Bus station which was definitely on the wrong side of town – very seedy but then from what I saw of Bangkok everywhere looks seedy.

A cab from the Bus station to my Hostel “1yolo” in Sukhumvit Road, 36, cost 400 Baht and the traffic is the worst I have experienced in South East Asia although the Hostel was clean and comfortable with only 4 beds to a dorm and only two taken which set me back 350 Baht a night without breakfast.

The hostel is right next to Phrong Promh skytrain station which is a godsend for getting around Bangkok I swear you can walk faster than the taxi and Tuk Tuks.

My first night and I managed to find a cinema showing Skyfall (the new James Bond film) in English and a 10.55 showing that set me back 300 Baht – cinema spotless and comfortable and you have to stand for the national anthem before the film, so no sneaking out quick after the film like we used to in the UK all those years ago. There are lots of bars and clubs and massage parlors in Sukhomvit road and area 11 is heaving late into the morning but I have to say it wasn’t for me.

There are Tailors everywhere offering made to measure clothes at very cheap prices and I had three trousers and three shirts for 8,000 Baht and could probably have got it cheaper but was happy with the price. I also managed at long last to get myself a notepad computer which now allows me to answer all the e-mails you have been sending so if you have sent me a question and not yet received an answer I am working my way through the 857 I have received.

Remember how coming in to Thailand overland resulted in me only getting 15 days on my visa instead of 30 days – well I did have to make a visa run and to be honest it was not as daunting as I thought so – Jacks Golf is the company I used (you can google it) as it was the one closest to my Hostel which entailed the following:- Alarm went off at 3.30 am and a quick shower and dressed I caught a cab to Times Square, Sirkumvit 14 outside a seven eleven and at 4.30 am a lady called Tanya sets up her table and collects the passports and gets you to complete a form after which you sit in a 12 seat minibus (forget the b/s on the website about a VIP Bus with 42” screen it’s not going to happen) before you set off you part with your 2100 Baht the cost of everything.

Two hours later a quick 10 minute comfort break and then two more hours and you are at the Cambodian border town of Poipet – here a very efficient process takes place – you are given a card and your passport and sent through the customs to exit Thailand – on the other side you hand back your passport and go to a casino where you hand in your card that entitles you to a full buffet breakfast that is varied and filling and here you stay for up to an hour ( there were 16 of us on the run with two mini buses) at the end of the hour the rep who came with us gives us back our passport and we walk back through immigration and into Thailand and the passport has a new visa in my case for 15 days – 4 hours later, after one comfort stop back in Bangkok.

For me this meant I was able to check out of my hostel and a short Skytrain ride to Victory monument allowed me to catch the 3.30pm mini bus to Kancharaburi at a cost of 100 Baht.

The minibus should take two and a half hours but traffic getting out of Bangkok was as usual a nightmare and the journey took nearer three and a half hours which meant I didn’t get to Kancharaburi until nearly 7 pm.

I had not booked a hotel but had seen a guest house called Tamarind on the web (Agoda) that had been given 9.2 out of 10 score with Trip adviser so got a Tuk Tuk that I shared with two Germans and cost me 100 Baht to there and managed to book a room for 4 days at 350 Baht a night – I should have had a Raft room but a mistake left me with a different room not a raft but comfortable and great value.

The hostel is in an area that has a lot of hotels Guest Houses to choose from and has bars and cafes with good entertainment until the early hours so I can recommend the hotel and the area. Now Kancharaburi won’t mean anything to most of you reading this, but, if I mentioned the 1957 film by David Lean called “The Bridge on the River Kwai” which detailed the Japanese death Railway built by POW’s from Thailand to Burma during 1942 -1943 and told you the bridge in question is less than 2 km downstream from my hotel you will understand why I came here.

Probably in Hindsight I would have caught the train from Bangkok that actually goes over the bridge for the princely sum of 100 Baht but you can do it from Kancharaburi for the same price.

Today is an American Holiday known as “Thanksgiving” when they give thanks for what they have today thanks to the sacrifices of those gone before them and as you know two weeks ago during the time I was held captive by the Laos Amazons (see previous blog) the world had a remembrance day (11/11) which allowed us to remember the sacrifices made by others so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. I mention this because today I walked along the 7 km of track cleared by the Australian Government to remember the men who died building the Death Railway, I walked along Hellfire Pass where men died laboring 18 hours a day in blistering heat with only two bowls of rice to keep them going and I was knackered.

60,000 allied prisoners of war and 200,000 Asian conscripts worked on that railway in the two years and 45% of them died from cruelty (execution, exhaustion, malnutrition and disease), knowing that the railway would assist the Japanese there were many acts of sabotage which resulted in execution when discovered and I have to admit as I walked the line it brought tears to my eye knowing as one quote said “These men gave up their tomorrows so you can enjoy your todays” A little late, but let us all remember those that gave so much so that we travellers can wander the world in relative safety and thank them for their sacrifices.

Oh yes, that brings me back to Fred – Remember Fred? – well Fred was a prisoner of the Japanese in WW2 and they tortured him with bamboo splinters under his toe nails until he had no toes left and was left with an almost total intolerance to pain which is why he wore steel toe capped boots to protect what was left and he didn’t know his roll-up was still alight because he didn’t feel the pain anymore.

I didn’t find out about this until sometime after Fred had died but I will always remember Fred and what he and many others went through so I can wander the tracks of a railway line in Thailand long since abandoned that caused so many deaths.

For Fred and others like him – Lest we forget

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