I am running on (and out of) battery power now, as the electricity has been down for hours. In the isolated areas, this happens frequently. The Mynah bird in the cage next to me shrieks incredibly loudly and frequently. I want to let it go. And whenever I Skype Susan in the lounge where I can pick up WiFi, a small crowd of smiling locals gather, amazed. At first they thought the image on my net book was television, until I told Susan to wave to them and say ‘hello’ in Thai. I will not be able to transmit until we have power (and WiFi). I guess this is what I should expect in remote mountain towns at the Thai/Burmese border. One learns quickly to immediately plug in their recharger whenever there is working current.I stayed at a luxurious isolated resort on the River Kwai. I was the only guest there, so I had the use of the entire facility to myself. So late at night I went to the pool, declared it ‘nude swimming night’, and jumped in. Swimming in the River Kwai would have been better, but I was fearful of getting washed downstream in the rapid current. It seems like when I am on a bicycle, I manage to find all these isolated, empty resorts. For $10 to $15 @ night, I live well.
I left early next morning pedaling up-mountain to the Sai Yok National Park. About 2/3rd of the way there is the Hellfire Pass Museum. By all accounts, this was the worst part of the ‘Railway of Death’. I have been following its tracks as I pedal northwest to Burma, and this is next on my tour.
I pedaled up to the site sweaty and heat-exhausted from the uphill climb. I guzzled a bottle of cold water as a bus load of older Australian men disembarked. Some clearly were military vets.
It was here that British and Australian POW/slaves were told to cut by hand a railroad passage into a solid rock cliff 100 meters long and 30 meters high. They would first have to remove all the over-brush and dirt, and then cut via sledgehammer and pick straight into the rock. The work went on 24 hours a day under the sadistic control of mostly Korean guards who arbitrarily threw boulders on the men from above, or beat, tortured, and/or shot them. The ratio of deaths here of the slaves to railway progress was measured in inches. One of the ironies at this location was that in the midst of all the torture and brutality, the former prisoners all commented as to how incredibly beautiful the views were of the virgin tropical forest in the valley below, and of the mountains on the other side. Many had this last view as they died. Sadly, all the veterans who now return comment that ALL of the forest has been cut down, replaced by bamboo.
Part of the ‘House of Cards’ bridge once stood here. It was was a triple tier bridge, built of anything available from the jungle. It got its name because it collapsed three times during construction, killing or critically injuring over 90 men.
From here I rode up to Sai Yok National Park. This is a good park, that mixes human and natural history. One can stay on a raft floating on the Kwai or other in-park lodging. Next to the rafts is this waterfall. You can swim under it, in clean water, but you risk being swept downstream. No one could swim upstream in this current.
I hiked thru the woodlands and forest. Here they have allowed the native teak and mahogany to grow. I wanted to visit the cave where the world’s smallest mammal was discovered in the early 1970’s. It is the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat. It is smaller than the end joint of your little finger and weighs 2 grams. It eats a few mosquitoes on an evening flight, and then calls it a night. It, like so many other creatures around here, is endangered. They have found it in a few caves in nearby Burma, and that is the extent of its known range.
I knew I was not going to see one in the daytime. But I was shocked to watch a young couple enter the cave with a flashlight to find them. They would also be disturbing them, and running the risk of bringing in infections. The caves of our endangered Indiana Bat are well protected. Some have locked gates to prevent human entry. I wish they would do the same thing here. Do a Google on the Kitti bat if you want to see photos of this incredible creature.
(next: the foods in the marketplaces of the Burmese mountains)