Anchorless in Northern Thailand, we struggled with “where to next?” Do you plan your every move or let fate have its say? Long term travelers will tell you to keep a serendipitous schedule, but what you don’t plan in advance, you plan from the road. And starting each day with tripadvisor gets old.
That’s how we started a day in Chiang Mai and ended it in Kanchanaburi, a province four hours west of Bangkok along the mountainous border of Myanmar. Less frequented by tourists, the region boasts four national parks replete with waterfalls, rivers, hot springs…well basically our kids favorite thing ever…water. And as the location of Hellfire Pass and the River Khiaw, a history lesson for us all.
Kyle believes that you can see one too many waterfalls. I disagree. Erawan was a seven tiered wonder with natural made rock slides and a free fish spa for your toes. As with anywhere, go early to avoid the tour buses that pull up mid-day.
Beautifully situated on the riverbank in Sai Yok National Park and flanked by yes, waterfalls, is Krit Raft House. Longtail boats tug floating restaurants up and down the river to beachfronts, raft houses and directly under the waterfalls. Water everywhere…the kids happily pruned up.
Out of nowhere, fifty-plus Russians in orange life jackets bobbed by our deck waving and shouting hello as they went. Later that evening, a tour bus of Thais arrived and boarded the raft across from us…we enjoyed listening to their bad karaoke (I say this with affection because its the 1st time I’ve felt I could join in without judgement because I’d simply be another tone deaf voice). Eventually their raft was unhooked and driven down river for the night and, as the only guests at Krit, we owned the river again.
Moving further afield toward to the Myanmar border, we arrived in Sangkhlaburi for a day of bamboo rafting, where we learned another talent we lack. En route to the rafting, we explored an underwater temple…submerged in Khao Laem Reservoir by the building of a dam. (Hydropower continues to be significant economic development in SE Asia with environmental and humanitarian concerns growing as indigenous villages and wildlife are destroyed when a river is rerouted and a valley flooded.)
In addition to Thais, Sangkhlaburi hosts Burmese, Mon and Karen peoples and has a number of longer term volunteer opportunities available in support of these political refugees. Set between an expansive lake and mountains, Kyle and I agreed this would be a sweet place to settle down for six or so months.
Hellfire Pass & Museum
Did you know that the Japanese occupied Thailand during WWII? We didn’t. We also didn’t know that the Japanese marched into Malaysia, occupying Singapore (which was at that time a British colony…funny sense of ownership all the way around), taking POWs along the way. Many of these POWs (British, Australian, American among others) were brought to the border of Thailand and Burma and forced into harsh labor camps to build a railroad that would carry war supplies to Japanese forces.
The museum is well done and the 45 minute walk through Hellfire Pass beautiful and eerie at the same time.
Three Pagodas Pass
So you’re on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Cool. Now unless you are a shopping fiend, time to keep moving.
Kayaking Down the River Khiaw
Not recommended. This river is somewhat industrial and simply not as enjoyable as a more remote location. Nevertheless, walking across the bridge Khiaw, immortalized in the movie “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” is worthwhile. The bridge was bombed in 1945 by Allied forces in an effort to stop the Japanese. (Khiaw vs Kwai? Thais spell it with a H.)
Oriental Khiaw Resort: Loved this property. 13kms from town, its an oasis on the river with spacious, upscale bungalows, a decadent pool area, sweet resident dogs and great service. Highly recommend.
Krit Raft House: This is all about experience not decadence. Very basic rooms…type of toilet you pour water in vs flush and then listen for the fish flurry below you (really). But the beauty and quiet of the location. The thrill of swimming to a waterfall and jumping off the raft…it’s just one of those places where the smile doesn’t leave your face.
P Guesthouse: Odd. The location is great, right on the river and there are a number of accommodations to meet various travelers needs. I believe its mostly know for small, inexpensive fan rooms with beautiful views and shared bathrooms. We had a family room and while the view was wonderful, the place had an odd vibe. 3-D topless lady art hanging above my son’s bed didn’t help sell it to me.
Coffee Resort: Pass. We spent Thanksgiving night at this nondescript motel on a Kanchanaburi highway. Being called the Coffee Resort, you can imagine what I conjured up prior to arriving to disappointment. Clean, yes. Character, no. Kyle said it was what he imagined a white collar prison to be.
But, we did enjoy our Thanksgiving spread, complete with sautéed pumpkin, and were thankful to discover Kanchanaburi, which hadn’t even been on our radar two weeks prior. Serendipity and thankfulness go hand in hand.