Adventure to the Far East – Part 1 Bangkok and the River Kwai

At 4am on Tuesday 7 November we left home and made the journey around the M25 towards Heathrow Airport. We arrived in good time and checked in on arrival with Singapore Airlines.

We then headed through security and had a good breakfast to set us up for the day. We boarded the first plane of the day at 8.30 am and settled into our nice premium economy seats and settled down for the 14 hour trip. Sadly the immediate neighbours were pretty inconsiderate and took up all the overhead locker space so we ended up with our hand luggage (admittedly not that big) under the seats in front. Never mind…. We had a good flight with great food (having utilised the amazing ‘book the chef’ option prior to departure) although the drinks service was quite slow – but we were happy to request more LOL.

We finally arrived into Singapore on Wednesday morning and found our way through the transit route towards our next flight to Bangkok admiring the indoor rainforest on the way.

We boarded at 9.30 am and found that the plane layout had been changed and our booked seats were different than expected – so we didn’t have great ones – and it was packed. We were relieved that this was just a short two hour hop so we just got on with it. At least the food and drink service was good. We arrived into the madness that is Bangkok airport and quickly cleared customs and immigration sighing with relief that our luggage made it through with us. We were supposed to be picked up by a private taxi but couldn’t find the driver with our name on (as expected), so made our way to the main taxi hub and there was our name on a long list. Eventually after lots of phone calls by the Thai taxi staff we were supplied with the private transfer that had been booked for us – which was a very nice Mercedes so all good.

We arrived at the Shangri La hotel in Bangkok and it was very nice indeed – we were very happy albeit very tired after such a long haul.

Sadly our room wasn’t ready so we headed down to the pool terrace bar to have a few drinks while we waited. At this point I realised that I was missing my jacket – I returned to reception who kindly checked the CCTV to find that I didn’t have it with me on arrival. Damn! Luckily we had the car driver’s number so the manager called him and asked him to return the jacket – yes it was in the car, and he would return it, but only if we paid for the privilege. This left a bit of a sour taste as we had tipped him generously on arrival and, although we would happily have paid him to return the jacket (for fuel / tip etc) but demanding a fixed sum was a bit much. I asked the manager what would happen if I refused to pay and the answer was, well you won’t get it back! Hmmmm….so we had no choice but to pay….and finally the jacket was returned. Not a great start!

While waiting for our room I tried to book the hotel’s riverside Thai restaurant for dinner but it was fully booked according to the app. So I walked to the restaurant – as I saw a woman organising the place for the evening – and managed to get a dinner reservation for 8pm. This turned out really well as they had local dancers performing in the restaurant that evening. Oh yes and did I mention it was raining?!? Really hot and humid with showers…. Never mind…..

We finally got to our room which didn’t disappoint especially the view over the pool and river – so had a restorative sleep and got cleaned up.

We then walked down to the restaurant for dinner and had an excellent meal and enjoyed watching the dancers. After dinner – as the rain had finally stopped – we wandered the riverfront and admired the views and the river traffic. But our bed was calling so we headed up and called it a day.

Thursday morning we had a fantastic breakfast – so much choice, particularly for Asian palates. We were picked up at 7 am by Tiger, our tour guide, and the driver. We were whisked off in our private minivan towards the River Kwai, enjoying the views along the way. Quite different in the country once you escape the madness of Bangkok. We visited the Jeath War Museum (Kanchanaburi) which was built on the site of one of the PoW camps and this was quite eye-opening. The terrible and brutal conditions these poor guys endured – it was amazing that any of them made it home. We also found out about the local Thai guys and their terrible losses too at the hands of their Japanese slave masters. Approximately 30,000 PoWs were involved in the construction along with 200,000 impressed labourers from India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singpore, Burma and Thailand. Of these more than 16,000 PoW’s and 100,000 impressed labourers died. An interesting start to our adventure but very sombre and moving, especially so close to Remembrance Sunday in the UK.

We then (carefully) boarded a boat (private again which we were surprised by) and motored down the river towards the famous bridge. The boat was pretty uncomfortable – no seats so sat on the floor – but we enjoyed the views as we meandered down the river.

Then the bridge came into sight and I admit to feeling quite emotional at this point.

We then disembarked the boat and walked the bridge. This is the original bridge built by the PoWs (from Ban Pong, Thailand, to Thanbyuzayat, Burma) and covers a distance of 258 miles. It is said that for every railway sleeper laid at least one person lost their life – a sobering thought – and explains it being known as the Death Railway (officially the Burma Railway). The bridge was bombed towards the end of the war and the flat section in the middle is the only new piece recreated – the rest is the original although the foundations have been encapsulated in concrete since. This is still a working railway and the trip was timed perfectly for us to watch a train cross the bridge. This was an amazing experience and we felt very grateful to have been able to visit.

Leaving the bridge we headed off to the Erawan National Park and had a local chicken lunch – which was very nice – and paid for by Tiger. All refreshments were supplied as part of the tour, including cold water, which was very welcome! We then got changed into our swimmers and started hiking up to the waterfalls. This was steep and tough – there are seven waterfalls in total – and we asked Tiger which was the best one. He said number three so we walked directly there. It was a tough hike for me (as I need the second hip replaced at some point) especially in the heat. But we made it and then went to get into the water and the minute we put our feet in we were being bitten by the fish! OMG… We found an alternative (and precarious) entry and made it towards the waterfall itself and enjoyed it but the biting fish darting at us left me slightly underwhelmed so we didn’t stay in the water for too long LOL.

We then headed back down and visited number two and number one waterfalls, enjoyed the views, but decided not to get back into the water. Arriving back to the car park we had showers and got changed back into our clothes in preparation for the next stage of our tour.

We then headed back to Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (DonRak) which is the main prisoner of war cemetery for victims of Japanese imprisonment while building the Death Railway. So many young men who are laid to rest here….very sad…. We left a Poppy Cross on the main monument and paid our respects.

After this we headed back towards Bangkok and rejoined the crazy traffic. Back at the hotel we got ourselves cleaned up again and headed to Jacks Bar on the waterfront which had been recommended by one of Richard’s friends. As we took a seat I realised that this may be a cash only place and we were out of Thai Baht at this point! So I asked whether they took cards and they didn’t – so we went for a wander and found a nice restaurant called Mazurro near by. We had a good dinner and then returned to our hotel for a nightcap (stopping at the ATM on the way). We went into the lounge and there was a singer and pianist entertaining the guests so we sat for a while and enjoyed the show before returning to our room for the night. Had been a very long day.

Friday morning we had breakfast at the hotel and checked out. Our private transport from the hotel to the ship was at 12 noon so we got ourselves ready and headed to reception to await our driver. There were lots of other Silversea guests but they were being whisked away to the ship in minibuses – but, as we had booked privately, again we had a lovely Mercedes taking us. Was a long drive in the pouring rain!

We arrived at Laem Chabang port about two hours later but the driver didn’t know where to go…..the ship is quite small (in comparison to other cruise ships) so wasn’t that visible in the commercial port. We drove around, got some directions, and then as we drove past a turning I spotted the ship so told the driver and he turned around and got us there. We exited the vehicle – tipped the driver much to his delight and surprise – and were immediately met by cruise organisers. Our bags were whisked off and we went to formally register, get our cruise cards etc, and then boarded the ship (in the pouring rain again sigh…)

Our cabin was ready immediately and we were introduced to our cabin steward and our butler (yes, really LOL) so we quickly unpacked and headed off for some lunch (in the rain).

And that’s the end of Part 1 of our Far East Adventure. Come back soon for the next instalment.

Bye for now.