13. marras, 2016

The gates have opened!

After two weeks of waiting at the border, we finally get to drive through that decorative gate, on which the words “welcome to the kingdom of Thailand” have been written in gold letters. After a month in third world countries, it’s obvious that we've arrived in a noticeably richer and more developed country. Here, roads are surfaced, houses painted, and lawns maintained. Roadside adverts entice us with international brands and scrumptious luxury products, such as cheese, sandwich meat, yogurt and fresh fruit juice. It's been a while since our last visit, but now there's something different in the country's atmosphere

The king has died. Red, white and blue Thai flags are hanging half mast and the whole country has gone into mourning for an entire year. Huge portraits of the king dominate the streets and tons of flowers have been placed in front of them. Black and white ribbons decorate the gates and fences of public buildings. The nation’s time of mourning is present everywhere, people are dressed in black and white, even those in uniforms are wearing black and white ribbons. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was well loved by the whole nation and he ruled his country for 70 years making him the figure head of the nation for several generations! Nearly three times as long as our own “father of the nation”, the late president Kekkonen.

The two week delay in our schedule means, that we only get to visit a few of Thailands many attractions. First on our agenda is the river Kwai in Kanchanaburi. The bridge on the river Kwai became famous due to a 1957 film “the bridge on the river Kwai”. The film classic doesn't feature any footage of the actual bridge though, because much to our surprise, it was filmed in Sri Lanka. This quaint little railway bridge crossing the river Kwai does, however, share the dark story of the film as part of its history. During the Second World War, the Japanese cruelly forced their prisoners of war, to build the railway tracks across the challenging mountain range situated on the Thai-Burmese border. It took only 20 months to build the 400km long tracks. A 100,000 prisoners died in the process, due to malnourishment, diseases and the obscene and often brutal punishments given to them. We get to learn about the history of this place in more detail in the museum located at the foot of the bridge. Its exhibition is unusually wide in range and it's brilliantly laid out to intrigue its visitors.

We decide to go to a bit more depth on the topic, and travel 80km north west, to Hellfire pass, which is known as the deadliest portion of the building works for the tracks. We walk down the steep steps, to the canyon, which the prisoners had had to carve, through the tall hills and cliffs. The half an hour walk in the humid, tropical bamboo forest, leaves us feeling short of breath, so we can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like for the prisoners, who had to keep their pickaxes swinging for 18 hours a day, despite being sick and malnourished.

Our journey continues on to Dolphin Bay, south of the tourist city of Hua Hin. We find our way to a piece of paradise, tipped off by a good friend of ours. We park Epeli up on the backyard of a Christian holiday centre, in the shadow of a palm tree. A near empty, white sandy beach awaits us at about a 100m walk away. We spend the next few days soaking up the sun and listening to the waves, gently splashing on