11 April 2003 - Katchanaburi, Thailand
Elephant riding over the River Kwai

Mr. Ooi was keen to do a day-trip to Katchanaburi, simply because he hadn't been before. For me it was either that or Ayuthaya (or even perhaps both), and since I had been to neither, it was a good idea.

The whole reason why people go to Katchanaburi is because it is the site of the famous bridge that straddles the River Kwai. Yes, it's _that_ bridge, the one that Alec Guinness and William Holden tried to blow up (although I haven't seen the film and don't really know how hard they tried to do it).

To be honest, there really isn't all that much other than the bridge and the railway that runs over it. The bridge itself is nothing spectacular, the ride on the raft under it less so. I guess it's technically a bamboo raft if it had bamboo in it, even though the main buoyancy comes from the plastic drums lashed underneath it.

Even the museum that presents a history of the bridge and the Death Railway is quite brief, but there are some witness testimonies and it does try to educate the uninitiated.

The train ride across the bridge and beyond is quite interesting though. The landscape is pretty, in a Thailand-countryside sort of way, and you do get some brilliant vistas, but if you're not into that sort of thing, you should stay clear of it.

The elephant ride after that is pretty cool though, if you've never done it before. Basically, you sit on top of an elephant as it goes around a path. The ride takes about half an hour, and goes through some jungle and some village. Riding an elephant is like going on a slow-motion roller coaster ride that likes to stop and smell the leaves. Actually, it's more like "grab the leaves and stuff it into your mouth", but it's being done continuously anyway, so you don't really notice it after a while.

The trail does undulate quite suddenly in places, and there are points where you go "hang on - an elephant wouldn't fit down there". But the miracle is that it does, one foot at a time. Of course, it doesn't matter if the passengers above it are tilting at an acute angle and that one of them is hanging on for dear life by wrapping his arm around a one-inch diameter rusting steel tubing. I don't think my insurance covers "death by tipping over elephant".

One thing I share with these animals is that elephants eat non-stop. Actually, the probably have to stop when they reach out for a new branch, but generally speaking, I think they take these hikes as an opportunity to forage for food. Anything within the trunk's reach is fair game, and even a stubborn branch can be brought down with enough determination.

At the end of it all, you are given an opportunity to buy some food and feed the beasts, although a bowl of bananas doesn't actually go that far for one of these animals. Hold a banana in one hand in front of a hungry pachyderm and half a second later, all you have is a hand covered in elephant saliva.


posted on Monday, April 14, 2003 - permalink