Tuesday, 12 June 2012
Welcome to the jungle
Guest blogger Kerry van der Jagt visits her 'happy place' on the River Kwai.
“Tighten your fanny strap,” warns the young man at reception. “Things could get rough today.” Normally, if a guy said that to me I’d smack him in the head, but at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts, near Kanchanaburi, it’s perfectly normal. After handing me a life jacket he gives me a room key with a torch connected to it and a kerosene lantern. “Enjoy your stay.”
For first-timers, checking into the Jungle Rafts can be overwhelming, but this is my second visit and I know the ropes - and the belts and the torches. The life jacket (with or without fanny strap) is worn while floating down the river, the torch and lantern provide light in the bedrooms once darkness falls. The Jungle Rafts has no electricity, no hot water and no flushing toilets. There’s no luggage service, room service or turndown service. No glass in the windows, carpet on the floor or paint on the walls. Oh, and it can only be reached by long-tail boat. But if there’s a more relaxing place in all of Thailand to hang up your lantern I’m yet to find it.
A series of thatched huts are secured to rafts and roped together, literally floating on a bend of the River Kwai. The rooms, which sleep three, have simple ensuites, front and back decks (with hammocks) and mosquito nets. There’s also an open-air restaurant, jungle bar and floating massage hut.
For those of us who travel not just to see things, but to feel things this is as good as it gets; falling asleep to the sound of water flowing beneath your bed, waking to elephants bathing outside your window or visiting the nearby Mon village (a hop, step and sway across a bamboo bridge).
But it hasn’t always been so peaceful in this region. During World War II the Japanese Army used forced labour to construct a 415-kilometre railway link between Thailand and Burma. During its 15 month construction approximately 100,000 people died on what became known as the Death Railway.
Today though, I’m not thinking of soldiers, but my own life. I’ve dived into the river and am floating along, enjoying the birds and the butterflies, when I realise I’m about to miss the last rung of the last ladder – next stop Bangkok. I’ve picked up speed and though I manage to grab the bottom rung, the river is strong here and I can’t pull myself out. I’ve gone sans fanny strap and can feel the life jacket taking on a life of its own – it’s riding up at the same rate as my cossie bottom is going down. Fortunately for me (unfortunately for him) there’s a guy behind me. He sees the problem (hard to miss) and single-handedly shoves my white backside out of there. Yep, it can get a little rough in the jungle.
The River Kwai Jungle Rafts is near Kanchanaburi, 190km from Bangkok by road and another 20 minutes by boat riverkwaijunglerafts.com
For history buffs
Bridge on the River Kwai - kanchanaburi-info.com
Thailand-Burma Railway Centre - tbrconline.com
Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum and walking trail – dva.gov.au