Réveillon in Kanchanaburi

By campodegelo

Year-end parties coming up, time to gather family and friends, eat a lot, write texts with reflections and a promise of improvement in the future.

Fleeing somewhat of the conventional, and tired of the hordes of foreign tourists, I decided to leave Bangkok to toast the entry of the year 2018.

Since I was planning on hitchhiking, the destination could not be too distant. Islands and beaches were out of the question, and then came the name of Kanchanaburi as a suggestion.

Surrounded by mountains, offering trails, waterfalls, and a bit of history, this city located in West of Thailand was the chosen one.

Only 150 km separate Bangkok from the city which is best known for the tragic “Death Railway”, which was built by prisoners of war under the control of the Japanese Forces during World War II. Until I got there I had never imagined the War outside European or Japanese territory. Well, after conquering the ancient Burma, the Japanese planned the railway to accelerate the transport of soldiers and goods between Thailand and Burma (now Myanmar).

The book, and further movie (which got 7 Oscars), “The bridge on the River Kwai” depicts the grave situation there, where it is said that about 90,000 Asian workers and 16,000 Allied prisoners of war (mostly British, Australian, Dutch and Americans) died as a direct result of the project. The bridge is still there, and along with museums and cemeteries, is today one of the region’s sights.

Like every city in Thailand, a night market could not be missed, but I was surprised at the prices there.

For those who do not know Pad Thai, here is a short description: noodles made from rice, eggs, chili pepper, tofu, chicken, pork or shrimp, chives, peanuts, bean sprouts, and a delicious sauce made with tamarind, fish, palm sugar and some other spices. A plate of this gastronomic orgy cost, in the Kanchanaburi Night Market, only 15 bahts (something around $0.46 USD). Combine this with the most diverse skewers of squid, chicken, heavily seasoned sausages, sweet made of coconut or banana, and we have a varied and very cheap menu.

By the river Kwai many temples and Chinese buildings captivate by the their colors and sense of peace. As one American tourist put it, “I think we’re at the Disney of the temples.”

About 50 km from the city is Erawan National Park, which offers some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the region. At least when they are not full of people enjoying their picnics. A 2 km trail connects the 7 main waterfalls, which with its clear blue waters, full of fish, offers a nice day trip.

The initial plan for the turn of the year was to try to get a more local experience, away from the tourists, but even in my best dreams I did not imagine what was about to happen. Being one of the few foreigners staying at No. 25 Café & Hostel (I swear I’m not earning anything to mention them here), I was invited to join Titaya’s friends, the nice owner of the establishment, for New Year’s Eve.

Barbecue here, beers there, beer pong and more games, exchange of gifts and many fireworks. I, a Brazilian, in the middle of 15 Thai friends since college. I felt happy, hugged, and laughed together with them. I have so much to thank all my new friends in Kanchanaburi.

ชน [chon] to all of you (a way to toast in Thai).

The next day promised two things: the hangover and the return to Bangkok!

Buses and trains are frequent between the two cities, and the ticket’s price is fair, only 100 bahts ($3 USD) for a trip between 3 and 4 hours, so why the hell would I go to the roadside to ask for a ride?

If you’re new here, fine, but if you’ve ever had a taste of some of my stories and still do not understand this practice, I’ll try to explain it again.

When traveling by hitchhiking you turn a boring and exhausting journey into a conversation, an act of kindness. It is much more than a free way to move. Someone who does not know you, in a world of difficulties and criminality, decides to stop and help you without asking anything in return. Genuine, sincere, kind. You can not buy it with any money in the world.

So I wrote Bangkok on the front of a piece of carton and a “Happy New Year” on the back. With a sun of 32 degrees, mouth drier than the Sahara desert, and determination I began to walk towards the road.

A shortcut led me to a dead-end street where I was surrounded by a gang of street dogs. I tried to move forward, but the leader of the pack prevailed and stared at me. With every step I took, the number of growls increased. They began to move too, and I did not see any fear in their eyes. They would not back down.

I stopped and looked around. No one to welcome me or to squawk words in Thai to scare the hairy animals. I stepped back, never turning my back on them. I was in control, not the canine gang.

At that moment they were already within range of my legs, so I accelerated the pace and quietly went back, until they stood apart, squirming with growls and barks.

Relieved I had to get around that inhospitable territory, to finally be in a straight line up the road. A few more miles and I arrived at the desired location, with cars passing at high speed and spreading dust through the air.

Sweaty, dirty and tired, I stopped to rest a little under a shadow, and one of the greatest fears in Asia appeared. The last night’s steaks, spices, peppers, and beers decided they wanted to get out of me, and no proper place seemed to be around. Focused not to do any damage, I rushed to a local grocery store, where they pointed me to a bathroom in a dark hallway. Armed with paper tissues, I burst into the room, and it was only time to get out of my backpack and divert some cockroaches that were there to finally free the evil being that dominated me.

How you can perceive (and fortunately not smell) travel is not always wonderful moments, and much adaptation, detachment and creativity become necessary.

Have you ever been in trouble during your trips? Comment below, we want to have some fun too.

Free of that extra weight, I returned to the road and spotted a pickup truck standing in front of a fruit sale. I approached the two young Thais who were not going to Bangkok, but further. I could go with them, but there was only room in the trunk. Needless to say, I opened a smile with this proposal, right?

I jumped into the back of the vehicle and motioned for them to move on. Before we left we still exchanged contacts in case I needed anything. I sent the location where I live, but I told them to leave me in the suburbs of Bangkok, after all I did not want to abuse Tik’s goodwill.

With strong sunlight and a refreshing wind I tried to position myself so that my face would be protected. Realizing the movement, they offered me a pillow to make me more comfortable and also a Roti (a pancake from southern Thailand with condensed milk). Tell me, which bus driver would offer you this?

Between a vehicle and another approaching, countless smiles were directed to me, especially when I showed the “Happy New Year” sign.

The place I asked them to leave me was approaching, and with it no exit from the highway appeared. We ended up passing the point and a return would delay things even more. I was willing to go down anywhere and find a way to get home, when they inform me that they would take me to my apartment. Lovely people.

All this and yet it was only the first day of this 2018, which promises to have many good deeds and adventures.

Thank you all!

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