On my trip to Kanchanaburi, I accomplished 2 things I have never done before: I pet tigers and I projectile vomited into a squat toilet on a moving train (more difficult than it sounds, especially if you lack experience). BUT, I did not projectile vomit on any tigers, which, at the time, was a legitimate concern.
The trip started out innocently enough. Bom and I went to the train station early in the morning because it is about a 4 hour trip to Kanchanaburi. I was running late, as usual, and I left without eating breakfast. Next to the train tracks, there was an old woman cooking Jok in a big cauldron over a fire. For those of you who don’t know what Jok is, it’s a rice soup that Thai people eat for breakfast. I remember thinking to myself “I’m so smart, good thing I brought that granola bar, because that soup would have made me sick”. 20 minutes later while sitting on my comfortable wooden bench on the train, I made my fatal error. Bom had gotten some Jok and I asked to try some. It was delicious, so I ate some more. Then I got greedy and took the bowl and traded half my granola bar. About 90 minutes into the train ride, I started to feel a little motion sick… but I don’t get motion sickness, at least I haven’t since I was about 5 years old and barfed all over the back seat of my aunt’s literally brand new car that I went to the lot to pick up with her. But I thought, ok maybe it’s because this train is chugging along tracks built during WWII and I am on a wooden bench and it’s 100 degrees. So I took all the precautions and looked out the window a lot and took deep breaths and sipped water. At about 2.5 hours, we stopped at the Kanchanaburi station and I felt like I wasn’t going to barf on myself for about 7 minutes, so I concluded that it must have just been motion sickness, when in reality it was the calm before the storm. We were en route to cross over the famous River Kwai, which is basically the whole reason to take the train and not just take the 1 hour van. 30 minutes later, I looked like this:
Jok, you are a formidable foe for my iron stomach. We were nearing the bridge and I knew I was gonna barf. I considered just barfing out the window, but then I thought about two almost certain consequences, decapitation by tree limb and decapitation by a Thai person after falling victim to the downwind + open window effect. So I managed to drag myself to the bathroom where I was confronted by a squat toilet which is basically just a hole in the floor with a metal frame around it that goes right down to the tracks. When I got into that hotbox bathroom with no windows, no hand holds and a smell that would make a non-food poisoned person barf, that did the trick. Imagine trying to puke into a 6 inch hole in the floor on a train made in the 1940’s that is lurching left, right, forward, back every 2 seconds and NOT missing and NOT barfing on yourself, not even your feet. This must be like what it feels like to win a championship ring. I mean truly, it was an amazing accomplishment. My mid-puke celebration was cut short by Bom banging on the door telling me that we were about 1 minute away from the highlight of the trip. I busted out of that door hunched over, hyperventilating and drooling and bounced from bench to bench like a pinball until I got to my final resting place on my bench. I looked like the undead. But after all that, I was not going to miss that damn bridge.
Ok so why does this railroad matter? During WWII almost 100,000 Japanese POWs died building the Thai/Burma railway, including 6300 Brits, and 350 Americans (there’s actually a movie out right now called Railway Man about this, and an older movie called Bridge Over River Kwai). The more staggering number is that about 90,000 of the deaths were forced Asian laborers. So it has rightfully earned it’s name as the Death Railway.
After stopping here for a photo op, we got off the train and went into a small cave temple that was filled with Russians yelling at each other. It was hot and smelly and I started to feel sick again. We walked to the town by the station to try to find our driver to take us to the Tiger Temple. He told us that since it’s a temple, I had to have my shoulders covered and wear long pants. Awesome, so it’s already 100 degrees and now I have to wear a second layer of clothes. So we went into a little tourist trap shop and bought me some hippie pants and the only T-shirt that would fit across my boobs. I layed on a bench outside for about 15 minutes because I thought I was gonna barf again, and I was correct. After puke episode 2 and 3, the lady who took money at the toilet offered me some mystery pill that would “make me feel better”. When I (politely) refused to take it, apparently I was being rude, then I puked again.
When I was finally in stable condition, we got in the back of a pick up truck and headed toward the temple. I was so weak and shaking and delusional by this point, but so help me God, I was going to touch those tigers and maybe barf on one if it was the last thing I ever did. The jok was not going to beat me. We got to the temple and I donned my new outfit. It wasn’t as much of a temple as it was an open air zoo… as in wild animals roaming all over the place with no cages. It was actually kind of post-apocalyptic. Finally, the tigers. They are “domesticated” and the monks take care of them. Environmental freaker-outers: I have said this before in other posts about animals in captivity like this. Sure, it would be great for them to live in the wild. However, living in the wild is not an alternative for these animals. The alternative is death. I would much prefer that they be alive in captivity so people can connect with them in a way that makes them want to actually protect the wild ones rather than turn them into a rug on some rich Chinese person’s floor.
Let’s take a look at this tiger’s face as I am about to barf on him…
They have a handler who holds your hand and walks you to each one to pet them. These animals are unbelievably strong. To touch them and feel the power in their legs, even the little ones is really amazing. They also are not soft like a cat. They are solid muscle and their fur is coarse and grows very close to their body. I got to pet like 10 tigers and barfed on 0.
After the tigers, we went back to the town and went to the war museum. It’s so interesting to see a historical event from another culture’s perspective. Everything was pretty old and dusty and not particularly well kept, but it was still interesting to see it all.
We walked across the famous bridge over River Kwai. Some people might recognize the name from the famous movie in the 50’s that won best picture. It actually wasn’t filmed here though…
At this point I had kept things down for about 4 hours so I attempted some watermelon. Victory. After strolling the town for an hour or so, we went to the war cemetery. I had no idea that a European style WWII cemetery existed in Thailand. I looked for the American graves but found out after the fact that their remains had been repatriated. All in all, it was a really interesting day of train riding, tigers, WWII history and despite some early losses, an ultimate victory against the jok.