Phraya Nakhon Cave

The Phraya Nakhon cave is situated in Khao Sam Soi Yot National Park, outside Hua Hin, a beach town about 2½ hours outside Bangkok. To get there, you take a 45 minute (more or less) hike over a hill and along a beach, and then another half hour up a hill to get to the cave.

The cave consists of two limestone chambers, both of which are open to the sky. In the second one is the Kuha Karuhas pavilion, built by King Rama V some time at the end of the 19th century.

Inside the first chamber, looking up. The “Bridge of Death.” Kuha Karuhas pavilion.

A website I read advised visitors to get there by 11:00 am to get the best light, and we just made it.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

This is the bridge over the Kwai river. (It actually was the bridge over the Mae Klong river, but the river was renamed the Khwae Yai in the 1960s to “bring geographical fact more in line with the fictional association with the name River Kwai,” according to Wikipedia.) It was a link in the Burma-Siam railway, also known as the “Death Railway,” that the Japanese Army built using POWs and local pressgangs during the second World War: after the Japanese seized Burma, they realized they needed an over-land route to supply their forces. The British had considered building such a route years before and abandoned the idea because of the difficult terrain, but the Japanese saw no alternative since the naval passage was being threatened by Allied submarines.

Most of us know of the bridge from the 1957 film “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (based on the 1952 novel “The Bridge over the River Kwai”), but that film was highly fictionalized. A plucky band of whistling British POWs did not build a wooden bridge for the hapless Japanese and – apart from some references at the start of the film – come out no worse for the wear; instead, the Japanese army shipped in an iron bridge that they had captured in Java and enslaved soldiers and civilians who came to resemble the emaciated figures like the ones displayed in the nearby museum (above right). Overall, in the fifteen months it took to construct the railway (April 1942 to October 1943), approximately 100,000 POWs and civilians – 1 out of 3 workers – died from overwork, starvation, abuse, and diseases such as malaria, cholera, and dysentery.

On November 28, 1945, Allied bombers flew in to destroy the bridge. The Japanese forced prisoners to stand on the bridge and wave at the planes, to dissuade them from dropping their bombs, but the tactic was futile: the Allies destroyed the bridge anyway, littering the river with metal and corpses. After the war, the Thai government forced the Japanese to rebuild the bridge as part of the reparations package.

The war cemetery near the Railway Museum:

Next: something more cheerful.

Elephants, or an excuse for lots of elephant photos

One of the big attractions in Kanchanaburi is Elephants World, a sanctuary for elephants that have been rescued from work in logging camps or on the streets, where they are frequently employed in begging schemes. The sanctuary offers two programs, a one day visit in which you feed and bathe an elephant in a large group, and two day visit with an overnight stay, in which your small group of overnighters gets extra, up-close time with the elephants. Naturally, we chose the two day visit.

How could you pass up spending extra time with a face like this?

First, let’s start with elephant feeding pictures. It’s not simply that the elephants look very happy while they’re eating, but that their trunks are so incredibly dextrous.

Elephant-bathing photos: first, mud.

Then, water:

A group of clients bathe “their elephant” … … and another elephant bathes back. A mahout with his elephant.

The mahout is a key part of the elephant culture. Each elephant has a mahout who is the elephant’s primary caregiver, and the only person who can ride the elephant. In traditional culture, a mahout and an elephant might grow up together, and they form an inseparable bond. For many of the elephants at the sanctuary, however, their mahouts over-worked them or mistreated them,so the mahouts at Elephants World have to work to gain their charges’ trust.

More feeding photos, featuring some guy I don’t know:

The elephant’s trunk is sensitive as well as dextrous. It can tell if a yam bean is good to eat or not, and it can handle even small pieces of fruit.

At night, the elephants are put outside the compound, on a chain so they don’t wander into the forest, and given lots of banana trees to eat, which they munch on as though they were celery stalks.

Their feet are pretty neat, too.

Next: a few more gratuitous elephant photos.