In Kanchanaburi we went to see the bridge over River Kwai. Yes, it’s the bridge in the movie, but the movie is mostly fiction and it wasn’t filmed here. In real life, during WWII, the Japanese needed to build a railway through Thailand to Burma. They did all the engineering themselves, but brought in mainly Australian POWs to do the physical labor. So many people died building the railway and bridges that it’s now called the Death Railway.
The bridge was cool to see, but it’s mostly overrun with tour groups. Then we saw two POW cemeteries, which were much more moving. Walking down the perfectly manicured lawns and reading the ages on the tombstones–23, 27, 31, 25, 28, 25, 24, etc.–made me cry. After that we went to the excellent museum that really documented the brutality and awful conditions in the camps. It was all very interesting, but terribly sad. There’s no way around it, war is just horrible.
Then at night we had dinner with the most random group of people. There was Liz, an 80-year-old who has travelled her whole life and doesn’t really have a proper home. Now she spends her time mostly in Malaysia, Thailand, India, Nepal, and Laos. She confided in us that she worries about what she’ll do when she “gets old.”
There was also Judy, a retired woman from England that kept insisting to me that she has no skills. She loves India, but hates Thailand and Vietnam. She has also never had any desire to visit America because she thought “it was just a bunch of fat loudmouths.” (After talking with us, she’s reconsidering her??opinion.) Her whole family, including 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, lives in the same town. Apparently Brad looks just like one of her grandsons.
Then there was Caleb, a 24 year old park ranger from Oregon. He is just beginning a bike trip through Thailand with his friend Tanner, a part time river guide and a part time drug dealer from California. Tanner was a very Indie, hippie, herbal, “the-man-is-out-to-get-you” type. Caleb was much less paranoid and more rational.
Meeting such a diverse group was fun (I mean, an 80-year-old, a great-grandmother, a park ranger, and a drug dealer? It sounds like the setup for a joke), but it also made me realize that literally anyone can backpack. You don’t have to be young, or single, or wealthy, or brilliant, or anything, really. You just have to be willing to go.