KANCHANABURI- it just sounds exotic, doesn’t it?
The prison camps made famous in “The Bridge Over The River Kwai” and “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence” bequathed the area its darkest past: The Burma Railway. Due west of Bangkok, the city is the gateway to some superb forests, lakes, waterfalls, national parks, multi-ethnic towns, and ultimately the Burmese border at Three Pagoda Pass. North of the rugged mountains, through tiger habitat, lies Mae Sot. It is a legal crossing point to Burma, the country from which many of the town’s residents have fled.
Sangkhlaburi is one of my favourite towns in Thailand, west from Bangkok, past Kanchanaburi, built around a large lake and forests. Many resident are from Burma's ethnic minorities.
Part of the infamous Japanese WWII Burma Railway, Hellfire Pass is one of the most notorious places on the line. More than 100,000 Indonesia, Malay, Australian, British and other prisoners died on the railway.
Thick forest and rugged mountains divide Kanchanaburi from parts further north. This is Taksin Maharat National Park, home to elephants and other wildlife, near Mae Sot.
A large number of parks and wildlife reserves along the mountainous border region form the Western Forest Complex, home to Thailand strongest tiger population.
A songthaew heads to the Burmese border, one of the legal crossing points for farang, between Mae Sot and Myawaddy.
The Burmese presence is very strong, with various ethnic groups living in exile here. Mae Sot is apparently a good place to seek out vintage British motorcycles from the Raj!
Schools, cafes, temples, markets are run by and for immigrants from Burma.
You can find some unusual things in the markets. I hope they are destined to be treasured pets, not soup.
Without any real "must see" attractions, most farang rush through town the the border, missing the colour of the town.
While the nights were cool around Mae Sot, the furry cow hat might be overkill.
It's not just people that cross between the two countries. Plenty of trucks and small time traders cross the bridge over the Moei River.
The ethnic mix of Mae Sot shows up in the cuisine. There is a cooking school which covers, Shan, Karen and Barma food.
Like most parts of Thailand, being illiterate is no obstacle, with food laid out in front of you.
Besides a healthy supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, cut flowers were big in the market.
Mae Sot's schools put on a show while we were in town. Probably not for our benefit, but I'm not sure what it was all about.
Perhaps a dozen schools spread over a kilometre, paraded through the main streets.
Many wore beautiful and elegant traditional Thai formal wear.
Elaborate head wear flashing gold......
....for both men and women....
....ornamental cups for offerings.
Some types of Thai formal are chakkri, chut Thai, ruean ton, and "siwalai"- a corruption of the English "civilised"!
There were some less traditional outfits, like the peacock-angel girl.
And the Victorian outfit team seemed to have slept in!
The school, like Vampire High, assembled at the town stadium.
There were marching bands, traditional bands, and this brass band.....led by a cowgirl?
Riding high on the back of a Toyota pick up, the Prom Queen.
Much like the town itself, there was mixing of cultures.
Old ways meeting with new.
They don't call it "Amazing Thailand" for nothing. A very colourful day, even if I really don't know what it was all about.
I have been back twice since, but regrettabley like too many others, I was bound for somewhere else.