Kanchanaburi – lessons in Buddhism and WWII

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Bangkok to Kanchanaburi was where i had my first real lesson in Buddhism. Our taxi driver trained as a monk when he was younger but unfortunately for some reason he didn’t complete his training.
He began by telling us about a temple in Thailand where they hold a real Buddha bone – he says that the bone of Buddha is not like human bone, it is made of glass and cannot be broken.
He asks if we believe in reincarnation (strange as me and Mike were talking about this a few days before) i believe but Mike doesn’t so he tries to explain.
His English isn’t very good so some parts are difficult to tell us.
He says “you are born because you die, without death there can be no life” and everything you do in this life will be rewarded (or punished) in the next.
The most meaningful part for me was when he asked
“Why are you travelling?”
I said that i’ve always wanted to see Thailand, he smiled and shook his head
“You think it will make you happy”
“I guess so”
“Only you can make you happy, possessions, love and travel they are all like bait for fish, they look sweet and get you to bite but they all have a hook. When you meditate and find happiness in self, there you will find no hook, you will find only peace”
I was lost for words. In one short taxi ride this man, for no reason, showed me to look at life in the best way possible.
If you don’t have peace in yourself you will never find peace outside.

We arrive at Kanchanaburi to our lovely little wooden guesthouse hut on a river surrounded by trees full of squirrels ๐Ÿ™‚
The main reason we are here is to see the Bridge over the river Kwai and all the WWII memorabilia this town has to offer so we booked a tour for the next day.
Starting at 8am we get taken to Erawan National park and waterfalls. 7 waterfalls each higher and more beautiful than the one before it.

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When you step in the water there are fish swimming all around you and nibbling at your toes – free fish pedicure ๐Ÿ™‚
The views are beautiful and theres even a waterfall that you can slide down!

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Walking back down to meet our group for lunch we stop and watch a family of monkeys swinging through the trees and listen to some lovely music by 2 french people. They are selling bracelets, playing music and travelling the world, i had to really stop and appreciate the beauty of this moment, i could just stay here forever!

Lunch over it was time to go and visit the Hellfire Pass and the museum.
I must admit i didn’t know much about this before i arrived so i was very glad to find there was an audio guide!

With the story playing in my ears i walked down the Konyu Cutting of the Hellfire Pass, hearing the voices replay the events made it such a moving experience.

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Prisoners of war were made to work 18 hour days in the Thailand heat to make a path for, and build the railway that would run 415km from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat, Burma.
This section, Konyu cutting, was named Hellfire pass due to the candle lights you could see in the mountains as the prisoners worked through the night.

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All they had were their bare hands, metal taps and sledgehammers to make holes in the side of the mountain to place explosives…can you even imagine having to cut through a mountain by hand?
They were fed rice with a few dried vegetables or dried fish 3 times a day – some mixed in bugs or mouldy eggs just for more flavour – the rations were small and these conditions among others caused starvation and terrible diseases. Outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, malaria, dengue fever and tropical ulsers meant that 60,000 allied POW’s worked on the railway and 12,399 (20%) died.
If they couldn’t work or made a mistake they were punished, beaten with bamboo or forced to hold a rock over their heads until they collapsed.

Hearing the story was bad enough but walking through where it all happened, seeing the mountain itself, the sleepers laid for the tracks and the memorials placed by loved ones made it very emotional.

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The next stop was the ‘Death train’ sections of the original track are still active and we got the chance to ride the train over the river.

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Approaching the Bridge over the river Kwai it was not what i expected, for some reason i imagined it would be wooden?
Our guide, Anne, explained that the first bridge built was wooden but that was used to carry supplies for the main bridge.

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The cemetery was the place that really brought all the feelings home for me.
The graves and the headstones of men that died building the railway, most were younger than me!
Reading the words from loved ones was sad but when you see a grave that simply says “a soldier of the war, known unto God” you can’t help but feel real sorrow in your heart.
Did this person have a family? Friends? Did the family just assume their son to be missing and were never told of his fate?
I can think of nothing sadder than dying alone, having no one to say goodbye, no name to write, age to record, no memory of who you are.

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What helps is that these soldiers, like all the others, were honoured and are still remembered for what they went through, what they fought for and for what they achieved.

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I really do recommend this trip very highly for anyone visiting Kanchanaburi, it was a great day and a real eye opener.

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6 thoughts on “Kanchanaburi – lessons in Buddhism and WWII

  1. Again well written and very interesting you really are developing a complete and rounded identity and yes peace of mind is the most important thing to attain in your life. Once you have that most other things get there as well. Love you. Doing this has been your best ever choice.

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