Bridge on the River Kwai. Somehow, I expected more pyrotechnics.
We’re now in Kanchanaburi, a mellow riverside town in western Thailand that backpackers love for a reason that may or may not have something to do with pot. It is also, as you surely know, the birthplace of the Buddhist monk Phrabhavanaviriyakhun. (Luang Phaw Dattajeevo, for short.) But Kanchanaburi is perhaps best known for its bridge, immortalized in The Bridge on the River Kwai, the 1957 war film starring Obi-Wan Kenobi. Though If I recall correctly, that bridge exploded, so I’m not entirely clear what we’re going to be looking at.
Sarah had booked us a cottage in “Sam’s House,” a charming little treehouse right on the river where our entire bathroom was a shower, which meant the toilet was in a constant state of overflowing and you didn’t really mind. When I say we were right on the river, I mean right on the river. We had to walk along a dock to get to our cottage, and on our first night, the croaking of some kind of frog-beast somewhere in our room kept us awake most of the night. The noise of karaoke thumping from floating disco rafts passed by every two minutes or so, which was so loud that after awhile the frog got irritated and split. Must not have been a Madonna fan.
For the two or three of you who don’t know the bridge’s story: The Japanese forced British P.O.W.s and Asian workers during World War Two to construct it as a part of the infamous “Death Railway” to Burma, and for some reason more than 100,000 people died while making it. Conditions were described as hellish, which I’m guessing means they didn’t have access to the delicious fried dough balls we keep buying from street vendors. The atrocities of this episode in the war were well documented in a museum and an immaculate cemetery nearby. The bridge, it turns out, wasn’t blown up in the dramatic, suspenseful way the film depicted, but was instead bombed by the Allies—which I suppose is pretty dramatic, too, but somehow disappointing.
The bridge was eventually repaired and now serves as the highlight of a jaw-droppingly gorgeous train ride through the Thai mountains. I gazed out my window and listened, for some reason, to The Clash on my iPod. Something about hearing the blazing guitars of “Tommy Gun” while the Thai landscape rushed past and my daughter slept in my arms instigated temporary euphoria.
After the ride, we walked along the bridge and whistled the Colonel Bogey March like every other tourist in Kanchanaburi. Then we ate lunch at a sweltering hot restaurant along the river, which was uneventful except for a horrifying moment mid-meal that we have taken to calling The Diaper Change On the River Kwai. In this memorable incident, I was forced to lay Hannah down on the floor of the grossest bathroom in Thailand and clean her gushing tush with pretty much nothing but my hands and a couple squares of see-through Thai toilet paper while she wailed and flailed at the indignity of all and got poop in her hair.
Oh, to be a British P.O.W.