My friend Wallapa invited me to go home with her to Kanchunaburi for Buddhist Lent. Monday and Tuesday classes were cancelled in honor of the holiday, so we had a nice long weekend. I had a great time in Kanchunaburi. Wallapa had some business to attend to, so she arranged for her niece, Nim, to show me around town. Nim kept me really busy! I saw so many things. Here is a breakdown of my entire trip:
Day One (Sunday)
Wallapa and I flew to Bangkok on Sunday afternoon. Wallapa’s sister and niece picked us up at the airport and drove us to Kanchunaburi. We stopped for dinner at a floating restaurant next to the Bridge over the River Kwai (there’s a picture of the restaurant in the photo gallery). The view was really beautiful. After dinner, we went home. Wallapa’s family owns several stores that sell robes and other supplies for Buddhist monks (not TO Buddhist monks since monks can’t buy anything). We stayed in the apartment above one of the stores. We all slept for a few hours, but woke up at about 1:00 am to watch the final world cup game. I watched the first half, but couldn’t keep my eyes open for the second half!
Day Two (Monday)
We woke up early in the morning and had breakfast downstairs in the store. Wallapa’s young neice, Pang, came to the store. She’s the cutest little girl! She’s learning some English in school and was really excited to talk to me. After she counted in English and sang her ABCs, she asked Wallapa to teach her how to say various things in English so that she could keep talking with me. I thought she was really fun.
Next, we went back to the Bridge over the River Kwai. Nim and I walked across the bridge. It was a little scary because there are no handrails or anything and it is very crowded. You could easily trip and fall right into the water! Next, we went to the Japanese War Memorial from WWII. The memorial had a white pole that said “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in several different languages. It caught my eye because I believe there is one just like it on the NAU campus somewhere between the liberal arts building and the union. There was an artist at the Japanese Memorial who was doing some carvings in water buffalo hides. He explained how he does it and told me about the significance of each carving. I bought a carving of an Elephant. He said he gave me a good deal because I was with Thais. Wallapa later said that she thought he talked to much, but that we earned some merit for buying his art. 🙂 After visiting the Japanese Memorial, we went to the cemetery for Allied POWs in WWII.
Next, Nim and I took a train from the Bridge. Our train travelled along the Death Railway (the railway built by POWs during WWII) to a waterfall. It was a long trip, and we could only find one seat. We took turns standing and sitting in our one seat. The seating situation was entirely my fault. You see, I was standing closer to the door of the train than Nim when the train stopped. She pointed to the door and told me to go inside. However, there were people getting out of the train through the same door, and I, like a good American, tried to wait for them to get off the train before going inside. This doesn’t really work in Thailand. You have to just charge your way through a crowd. Because all of the other people on the train knew to push themselves through the long line of passengers exiting the train, we couldn’t find 2 open seats. Still, we had a good time. The railroad was amazing. It cut through some really rugged terrain. It’s hard to believe that it was built in only 16 months, and that it was built by some really sickly POWs who had only basic tools. The train ride lasted for about 2 hours. I really enjoyed all of the scenery, and it was a good time to get to know Nim better. Oh! I almost forgot! I also saw an elephant from the train.
Nim’s mom picked us up from the train station and we had lunch at an outdoor restaurant. We had some really spicy fish that Nim says is a specialty of Kanchunaburi province. Next, we went to Muang Sing Historical Park, which is a set of 13th century Khmer buildings. It was really strange to see these ruins out in the open without any gates to prevent people from going inside. People can walk on them and inside of them. While we were there, we ran into a group of high school students on a field trip. They were excited to see a farang (foreigner), and they asked to take some pictures with me. So I posed for some pictures with a class of high school students from the south!
Finally, we headed home. Nim and her brother wanted to take me out to a club that night, but it turned out that all of the clubs were closed. We finally found a restaurant with a bar, but the bar was not serving alcohol because of the Buddhist holiday. Nim’s brother really wanted alcohol, so he went to a convenience store to buy some whiskey. The restaurant then served the whiskey to us. Nim says that whiskey is a really popular drink for young people in Thailand. They dilute it with water. It doesn’t taste good.
Day 3 (Tuesday)
We went to the temple in the morning to celebrate the beginning of Buddhist Lent. Buddhist Lent is celebrated during the rainy season. Monks are usually free to travel around and live at different monastaries. During the rainy season, which officially begins on the first day of Buddhist lent, the monks have to stay in one monastary. They can leave during the day, but they have to spend every night in the same monastary. The temple was very full. Everyone brought food and supplies to give to the monks. Wallapa showed me how they give their offerings. I didn’t understand anything the monks were saying, but no one else did either because the monks don’t conduct their ceremonies in Thai!
Nim and I left the temple early and visited the Jeath museum. The Jeath museum was started by a Japanese man who was stationed at a POW camp during WWII. Later, he became a Buddhist monk and decided to organize a reconciliation effort. He collected photographs, drawings, and articles about the POW camps and created a museum. He then invited former Japanese soldiers and former POWs to visit the museum and meet each other again. The museum was very interesting, and very sad. The pictures were really horrible. I liked reading about the reconciliation efforts. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for each of those people to return to Kanchunaburi. I came away with a lot of respect for their humility and forgiveness.
After the museum, we drove back to Bangkok to catch our flight back to Khon Kaen. Wallapa showed me her family’s condo in Bangkok. No one lives in the condo permanently; family members use it whenever they’re in Bangkok, sort of like a vacation home. I met more of Wallapa’s family, and was invited to stay at the condo whenever I come to Bangkok. Nim also asked me to call her whenever I’m in town. Wallapa’s entire family was so welcoming and kind. I really enjoyed spending the weekend with them. This was my first glimpse of family life in Thailand. I was impressed by how much they share with one another and how well they support each other. I feel really lucky to have Wallapa and Nim as friends.