The day after visiting the waterfalls, my new friends returned to the University in Bangkok and I had my own little adventure.
After reading a couple of reviews, I decided it would be a good idea to get up early and get the Kanchanaburi train (via the Wampo Viaduct) to Nam Tok station in order to make my own way to Hell Fire Pass.
I am so glad I did this. It was one of the best days of my travels and the atmosphere and weather made the whole experience feel unreal – like a magical journey.
Getting up at 6.00am the only living things about were large packs of street dogs – scrounging around the bins for leftovers. I made it to the train station – where the Qwai Bridge sits and boarded the early morning train to Nam Tok.
This was awesome as there were only a few locals on it and it was a wooden third class train which made everything feel completely authentic and it felt like going back 100 years in time.
A couple of locals tried to talk to me on the train but we just communicated with smiles and gestures which is always fun.
After a few hours of faster journey time through some jungles, the flat lands started to see steep mountains rise up in the distances on both sides of the train as if you are entering a canyon area from a plateau. Upon reaching the viaduct, the thing literally goes round the side of a mountain which drops off and turns into a vast vertical drop as the train moves further down the line. The whole thing is made out of wooden sleepers and with the age of the trains and general construction, it wreaks of victorian-era seaside roller coaster safety.
The train goes over the viaduct slowly and it allows you to absorb the jungle mountain atmosphere and you can take photos of the river and the expensive holiday lodgings on the other side of the river.
When I arrived at Nam Tok station it was deserted except for taxi drivers and a couple of coffee places. I got a taxi to the bus stop for next to nothing and then boarded the local train to Hell Fire Pass. This was difficult at first as I did not really know where to go and the area was not very touristy.
A nice Thai lady helped me get the right bus but the angry conductor was offended that I had boarded and made me sit at the back. after a bumpy journey on a 1960’s eastern block mercedes, I arrived at the stop which was right outside the entrance to hellfire pass.
The security at this place is served and protected by the Thai army as the whole place sits on the Thai-Burmese boarder and twice on our journey the bus had to stop to check that all passengers had there identity cards. They didn’t even bother looking at me…
With many army barracks in the area the front entrance was set up like a military checkpoint, which they let me through once I confirmed I was there to visit the Hell Fire Pass.
Most people visit this in tours as the place was not setup for the bus faring back packer too well and I had to walk about 1 mile around the back to the main entrance and memorial museum. The great thing about this place is that the presentation of the information is done really well and you do not have to pay, only rent a radio headset for each part of the tour. Obviously they appreciate donations and I think I did donate a small amount after the experience as it was really special.
You can either walk along the whole track of the now defunct railway line or do a smaller circuit which is what I opted for and added a little extra bit of walking into my route so I can see the vantage point that over looks the Burmese boarder.
As you walk around you are guided to each point of interest on your map and the audio information gives you acted accounts of the memories of the people who were there at the time. It was a tough gruesome slave labour facility which had prisoners and workers from a variety of different countries working tirelessly, blasting corridors out of solid rock with hand fuls of dynamite and gutsy brute force.
They managed to clear a vast and safe passage for the goods train line that was never actually used for its intended purpose and left to fade way soon after world war two.
Although I am writing this 6 months after my visit, some of the details of the conditions there still pierce the back of my mind and to learn about all of this happening not that long ago really was an eye opener to just one of the many horrendous aspects of displacement, exile and war.
When I got back to Kanchanaburi, I headed straight back to Bangkok in the fastest express Mini van ever.