Thursday February 25 At Sea

The Bridge Over The River Kwai

Beth and Tiger

Kevin’s Blog:
Well today is another stunning sea day. I’m sitting here on our balcony overlooking the Malay Sea on our way to Vietnam. The sky is mostly clear and sunny with widely scattered clouds. Temps at 10:00 am are a delightful 82 degrees. Water temp is 81. Currently our ship speed is 18 knots on a heading of 114 degrees.

The view from the deck is unlimited with flat calm seas. There are fishing vessels all over the place and the occasional freighter heading towards Bangkok. Right now I can see an island in the distance off the port side.
The last two days were very interesting. We left the ship at 2 PM on Tuesday Feb 23 to meet our guide who was to take us 250 kilometers inland to the Thai province of Kanachanabuir. Where we were to visit the Tiger Temple. But first we have to get out of Bangkok. Traffic and more traffic. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world, OK maybe Rio was a close second. Traffic lights however are obeyed in this country but that’s about it. Lane markers are just a suggestion and so are speed limits. What a ride. The city goes on forever. It was not till we were traveling close to two hours that we finally made it to the countryside. The city goes on forever. Our first stop was at a World War II cemetery where the POW’s working on the “death railway” were buried. This is the location of the Bridge Over the River Kwai. We actually were able to walk over the “restored” bridge over the Kwai river. The Thai government re-built the bridge after tourists kept showing up and asking to see the “bridge” Those of you who know your history (or saw the movie) know the actual bridge was blown up. However in keeping with Thai traditions of being some of the most friendly people in the world they build a new bridge so people could see the “Bridge Over the River Kwai”. They actually now use the bridge for the local railroad. When I can actually post to the blog I’ll add pictures of the bridge and their state of the art railroad!
Once we walked across the bridge we went for dinner at a floating restaurant on the river Kwai, up stream from the actual bridge. Had some traditional Thai food. Very good!!! Also did not get sick. The location was stunning, and I’ll post photos when I can. Then it was off for another 30 minute drive into the jungle to our hotel. The location was stunning. The hotel was beautiful but lacking a few amenities, like hot water. It actually had the possibility of hot water but it did not work! So off to bed at 9:00 PM for a early rise of 6:00 AM to get ready for a cold breakfast of fried eggs, hot dogs and mystery meat. Best thing about breakfast was the toast! It was hot! Soon we were back in the van an on another 30 minute drive to the Tiger Temple. This is what we came for, This is a Buddhist temple where someone left an orphan tiger cub several years ago. Since then the Buddhist have been given several more tiger cubs and now they have this extensive “tiger sanctuary”. You start the day giving alms to the abbot and some of his fellow monks. You then move to the actual temple, where there are tigers everywhere. The older (6 to 8 month olds) tigers are tied up and eyeing dinner (the paying tourists). No just kidding and I am still here to write this blog entry. They are tied up for our safety as these are very powerful animals. However the cubs (2- 4 month’s old) were free to roam and we were allowed to pet them and feed them their bottles. Very cool experience. These are real tigers. They are bottle fed then switched over to cooked chicken when they are old enough. However they are very strong and you get a healthy respect for these amazing cats! Later we played with the older ones in their water habitat and then gave them a bath. Do to the fact that our ship was leaving earlier than we had initially expected we had to leave at 10:00 to get back to the ship by 2:00. So we had outrphotos taken with the adult tiger and we were soon back on the road for our 2 and a half hour ride back to the ship. This could only happen in Thailand! I could just hear the insurance companies in the US saying – you want to keep tigers and let paying visitors do what??????
Anyway as soon as I can post photos in the blog version of this email you to can see the tigers!
Next stop tomorrow Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam! We are going to see the city by night! The Captain tells us the trip up river is stunning!
Cheers for now!

Beth’s Blog:
I won’t repeat the obvious from Kevin’s writings above, but wanted to share a few of my own thoughts.
The ride up the river to Bangkok from the sea was picturesque. Everywhere you looked there were Buddhist temples interspersed with commercial buildings, derelict ships, tin roofed homes, fishing boats, and jungle. We could see the bridge and the office buildings in the far distance, as the river meandered towards the city center.
Once we were outside the city center, the smaller cities looked much like we have seen on travel shows. Little storefronts the size of 2 car garages housed all kinds of businesses. There were street hawkers setting up for the dinner rush along the roads. We passed a large group of parked scooters & motorcycles under a bridge, and our guide (Por) said “used shoes, 40 Baht, very cheap!”.
We stopped at a petrol station about 2 hours into the ride for a restroom break. This was my first exposure to ASIAN toilets – I had expected to see this at some point so I wasn’t overly surprised. The other women in our group were rather funny in their reaction to a porcelain open toilet on the ground. You “flushed” by using a scoop filled with water from a bucket.
At the Bridge (which we carefully walked across the river to the other side), we could again see that US type safety standards were not in force! There were no safety railings along the tracks, although they did have metal decking in the center between the tracks to walk on, and there were platforms with railings every 500 feet or so to get off the tracks. We discovered later that these were needed for when the train passed by! Below us on the river was plenty of local traffic. Long boats with automobile engines (and it looked like automobile transmissions with clutches and shifters). Very long shafts at a shallow angle into the water.
As Kevin said, dinner at the floating restaurant had stunning views, and welcome breezes. We were a bit disappointed that the food seemed like “western” Thai food to us. Since all the dishes were ordered in advance by our guide, I suspect that she assumed we would not like more authentic Thai dishes. It was still very tasty.
Again, the Hotel location and the set up were like something out of Architectural Digest. Large patio overlooking the river, with cool breezes and the night sounds of the jungle. Along with the birds, bats, and frogs, was the thump-thump-thump of the Party Barge anchored slightly downstream of the resort. We learned that these barges are booked by large groups for all night parties with DJ’s and karaoke. People board in town and they are towed to a ‘remote’ island and left overnight. They did not stop partying until dawn.
Breakfast was bizarre, to say the least. Cold fried eggs, two “raw” hot dogs, lettuce, sliced tomato, and artfully folded mystery meat. It actually appeared to be a traditional breakfast. There was a bottle of sauce on the table with a picture of our meal as plated. Yummy was not a word I would use to describe this. Coffee tasted like very strong instant… The juice was good, and there was some fresh fruit at the end, plus of course, TOAST!
I cannot describe the way I felt feeding and petting (and bathing) tigers. They are beautiful animals, and it was an experience to remember. They are very well cared for by the monks and the people who work there. They appear healthy and happy and certainly had lots of play time in the water where they were free to enjoy themselves (and they were certainly rambunctious in their play!). What I did not like was how some of the tourists handled the cubs. The cubs were very vocal about when they had had enough and did not want to be held, but people insisted on picking them up anyway. No one was bitten…
On our way back to the ship, we stopped to pick up some Pad Thai for lunch. We could have eaten breakfast at the monastery but chose to spend our time with the tigers instead, so we were pretty hungry by then. The van was very quiet as we ate authentic Thai food. It was similar to the Pad Thai at home, but had a sweet/sour note from some kind of fruit in it that was different, but good. No peanut sauce to pour on…
Lastly, today was Laundry Day for us. Not exactly what I choose to do on vacation, but it is nice to have clean clothes. The price we pay for packing light. Everyone was courteous and friendly in the laundry room. No ‘jumping the line’ as we all waited our turn for machines. I am glad it is done and can go back to vacation mode.

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