Loy Krathong

A section of the 'Death railway' still in use near Kanchanaburion the Kwai riverI’ve been touring around Thailand for many years now and always enjoy sharing some of the well off the beaten track places I’ve found. It was with pleasure I greeted the part-time barman from my Falmouth local, The Oddfellows, on the start of his globe-trotting. I met him in Bangkok somewhat hungover, him not me, after three days at KohSan Road, a popular area for backpackers, and we headed off for a trip round the north.

First stop was Kanchanaburi, best known for the ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’, a trip up to the death railway museum at Hell Fire Pass. This museum is run by the Australians and is a place I have taken my children and grandchildren to, so they know what tragedy went on here during WWII. On up to Three Pagoda Pass where the long-removed railway crossed into Burma completed a quick taste of that beautiful valley with its sad history.

On then to Uthai Thani and its breathtaking crystal temple before an overnight in Nakon Sawan a city on a nice river with the usual temple up on a hill overlooking the area.

The interior of the crystal temple at Uthai ThaniNext day found us in Umpang a large village near Thailand’s largest waterfall, Thi Lo Su, we had planned to visit it but it is only accessible by local pick-ups and is a very bumpy, spine compressing 38 kilometre ride over unmade deep rutted tracks. The ride is followed by a sweltering two kilometre walk through the jungle which I had done before but the drivers now insisted on £40 a head from £10 a load a few years ago. My friend was on a budget so we left it until another time. The drive up to Umpang through the mountains was worth doing anyway with its fantastic views and 1219 bends spread over fifty miles at high elevation. There are a couple of great waterfalls to visit en route with the added bonus of them being free entry so my guest George got to get wet anyway, something that would have woken him up nicely when I collected him in Bangkok.

The waterfall near UmphangBack down the switchback put us back on the road North. I was aiming to get us to the top north west town of Mae Hong Son for the celebration of Loy Khratong, a festival of lanterns set off into the sky and floating candles on the lake in the centre of the town. I knew it was a three-day drive taking it easy and was looking forwards to taking in the flower mountain bedecked with wild sunflowers on the way. Our next night was spent in the middle of nowhere in a road side resort I’d used many times as apart from being clean, comfortable and quiet, it was opposite a lakeside restaurant. Both places being rural were nicely within my friend’s budget. A visit to a cave the next morning which I’d been to but never entered got us both muddy and wet as the water flowing in caught us both out. George and I letting a lantern offIt didn’t go in far and the water disappeared under a huge rock fall so, sensibly for us, we retreated to the sunshine to clean up and dry off a bit still laughing at my taking a step into the stream which I judged to be less than a foot deep but was in fact closer to three, I leave you to imagine what happened next.

On up to Mae Sariang following the river that divides Thailand from Myanmar calling at my favourite river crossing with its numerous pagodas on the Myanmar side. After a suitable amount of oohing and aahing we completed the drive up to Sariang. We found on our arrival a very busy town preparing for the Loy Kratong celebrations, I was a day out! We joined in the festivities sending off the hot air lanterns and launching the small boats with candles in. A good evening and by some stroke of luck neither of us got burnt.

Pagodas on the Myanmar side of the river Mae SariangOn the walk back to the hotel I remarked to George that the fate of the original bamboo bridge over the river Kwai had never been understood but tonight I had realised that any wooden bridge on this river on this night stood a pretty good chance of being burnt to the waterline by the incendiary devices we’d witnessed being turned loose by us and the locals.

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Steve Francis

Thailand tour guide

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