Kanchanaburi: The Bridge on the River Kwai and flesh nibbling fish

We spent this past weekend in Kanchanaburi, a charming town a few hours north west of Bangkok. Ever since I found out that it contained The Bridge on the River Kwai of WWII infamy, I’ve been itchin’ to visit. Mere itching is rarely enough to get me off of the couch, though – lately, I need a more compelling kick in the pants reason to travel. Fortunately, one arrived in the form of T-bone’s ongoing hobby: dragging himself out of bed at unprintable hours to run long distances in heinous humidity. T-bone has run a few races since we moved to Bangkok, but the Mizuno River Kwai race was his first half marathon. His friend Eli persuaded him that this was a necessary milestone before they both become fathers in the next few months. Childbirth can be a real body wrecker, so the boys needed to take advantage of their still-agile joints and lithe bodies.

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Todd preparing his face for labour, while Eli is still blissfully naive.

Before race morning on Sunday, we spent some time exploring the town and surrounding jungle. First, though, it was necessary to spend several hours drinking bad Nescafe (is Nescafe ever good?) and contemplating the river.

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Todd enjoys The Swimming Pool on the River Kwai while doing modified prego yoga in a lounge chair

Unfortunately, our contemplations left us with minimal time to actually check out the famous bridge and nearby museums. So we used my favourite tourism technique: wander aimlessly around, snap a few photos, and absorb the aura of the place. Actually, I recommend “aura absorbing” for any time in your life when you are pressed for time/have zero intellectual energy/are fighting the third deadly sin otherwise known as sloth. It is highly effective.

Flippant remarks aside, the bridge has a brutal but fascinating history – I recommend watching the 1957 movie about it if you haven’t already [Edit: Uhhh… I did some further research, and it seems that the movie is riddled with inaccuracies. Please continue to use this site for all your historical research needs.]

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The Bridge

We were in a rush because we wanted to visit Erawan Falls (a famous series of waterfalls) located in a nearby national park. On our way to the park, however, we were waylaid by a friendly, pregnant goat. She was relaxing by a gas pump when our song taew pulled up, and despite the best efforts of an employee to shoo her away (by throwing ice cubes at her) she showed no interest in leaving. I feel a deep sense of kinship with pregnant creatures large and small, so it was necessary to engage in an extended photoshoot with her.

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Like ice cubes off a goat’s back…

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Instabond

While I could have discussed labour strategies with her for hours, not everyone in our group felt the same, and we soon piled back in the song taew for the trip to the falls. Erawan Falls have seven or eight different levels, most of which are swimmable. In spite of the rain, I was all set for a dip, until I realized that they were full of flesh nibbling fish. Apparently, these friendly fellas like to gently nibble dead skin from your appendages. This sounded horrific to me, but it was Todd’s dream come true – he flung himself with abandon into the middle of a school of fish, and started feeding them some hunks of somethin’ that some dude gave him. How’s that for a description…

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Todd’s (inexplicable) idea of paradise

When we got to the second set of falls, I finally convinced myself to jump in. I spent my entire time in the water frantically twitching to try to keep the fish from latching on.

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If you look closely, you can just see Todd and Josh under the falls

By the time we finished at the waterfalls, it was time to head to our Guesthouse on the River Kwai in preparation for a horrifically early race-day morning.

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Adorable newlyweds Josh and Jaime enjoy the view. Hard to tell from the photo, but the guesthouse is actually a Houseboat on the River Kwai.

After a rough start (transportation that didn’t show up), all the runners made it to the starting line on time, and had a great race. Since my speed is more of a waddle these days, I like to live vicariously through Todd, and I was pretty impressed with “our” finishing time of 1:54. One flesh, right?

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So fast that neither I nor my crappy camera could capture the moment.

The race breakfast was a dubious mix of mediocre Thai food, more Nescafe, and deep fried stuff. Ahhh. Great combo for those sensitive, post-race guts.

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Part of our group. Vera is looking extremely excited about a second helping

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Todd bravely forcing himself to eat for two.

All in all, it was a great race day weekend, and now Todd and Eli can allow their bodies to succumb to the ravages of pregnancy.

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With Eli’s posture being the first casualty.

Speaking of the ravages of pregnancy, to finish off, I have to share my pregnancy quote of the week. A six-year old student felt my belly button and asked “Ms. Ruth, is that the baby’s hand?” Time to embrace my outie…

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Let’s shake hands on a deal, Bannock: you remove your feet from my ribs, and I’ll let you continue to occupy my torso rent free. (at ~31 weeks)

A Koh Chang New Year

There’s nothing Todd’s school likes better than celebrating the new year, and last week we had a week-long holiday to commemorate the third new year of the year (this is not a typo). First, we experienced the standard Western new year (“Comes after Christmas but before Valentine’s Day!”). Then, in February, we got to taste the joys of the Chinese new year and its accompanying week-long holiday. Finally, Thailand got it together, and rang in the new year in April. What can I say – if it translates into a holiday, I’m game to celebrate as many new years as the school wants.

With a week off work and a mother in tow, we thought it apropos to explore a bit more of this beautiful country. We asked friends for suggestions, and after discarding various ideas – “too expensive,” “too crowded,” “too stoned” – we settled on Koh Chang, an island located in the Gulf of Thailand. We packed up Momalot, and began the 8 hour trip to get to the island.

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After getting off the ferry, it took us a while to find a song-taew (a shared truck taxi) to take us to our guesthouse, as the island was packed with people celebrating the new year. They especially enjoyed celebrating into our vehicle with buckets of ice water. Much to my mother’s delight, we spent the song-taew ride either racing around blind corners at breakneck speed, or slowing down and getting doused. A great start to the holiday.

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Moist.

Turns out that arriving soaked was a foreshadowing of the days to come. For the first three days, it poured rain like a mothah on Koh Chang. The last time I’ve seen rain like that, I was up to my knees in the monsoon in the streets of Kolkata, trying to avoid kicking dead rats. So that’s how the island stays so green… Good thing it doesn’t take much to amuse Momalot. She spent her time teaching Todd how to play the recorder.

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Which I stole from him in order to demonstrate proper playing posture.

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And then Momalot stole it to soothe herself to sleep

Our guesthouse was lovely and quiet, but sorta in the middle of nowhere. This wasn’t a problem, except at mealtimes. We had two options for restaurants if we wanted to eat nearby, and one of them was filled with blazing neon lights, a blaring Thai soap opera, and staff that seemed completely disinterested in serving us. So we ate at the other option, which was quieter, and had some fun dogs hanging around. The staff managed to get our order wrong almost every time we ate there, but on the plus side, my mother learned a valuable lesson: do not attempt to customize your order when your waiter speaks limited/zero English.

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“I’d like our smoothies to be a proper rainbow, please.”

Fortunately, the rain let up on our last full day, and we took advantage of it. We hiked to a picturesque waterfall in one of the parks, and went for a swim. Unfortunately, many large European men wearing speedos had the same idea, but if you squinted hard enough, the scene was idyllic. It was nice to finally swim in water that was colder than bath water.

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This must have been the moment I spied the obese, semi-naked Russian man…

We also visited one of the island’s beautiful beaches, and ate a massive grilled meal by the water. Thai beaches tend to have tons of these restaurants – take a peek at the catch of the day, and choose what you want to eat. Just like at every buffet I have ever been to, I overdid it, and we ended up with a mountain of food. Honestly, though, this is a mountain I’m happy to climb any time.

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Somehow it all disappeared…

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The next day, it was time to head back to Banginkok, so we packed up the recorders and the mother, and hunkered down for another 8 hours of transit. It’s been rough getting back into the daily grind, but I feel at peace knowing that it will probably by the Kyrgyzstani new year soon, with an accompanying holiday.