The van picked us up right on time at 8 am. It was a new van almost to the class of Manop’s. As anyone who has read my previous posts will know, I have been using Hellfire Pass Tours for the past year for all our trips to the River Kwai and Kanchanburi. The first time we travelled with them, in March 2009, I had not read any of the negative reports that I have seen since. On that trip, there was my husband and I together with my husband’s brother and sister-in-law. About 30 years ago, my husband found out that he was adopted and, in 2008, we finally tracked down his birth family. His mother passed away some years ago and she had never recorded or revealed who his father was, but he has 2 brothers and a sister that we are still getting to know. Although more distant relatives knew of my husband’s existence, his siblings were unaware of him until we contacted them. So it has been quite an emotional journey for us all. One brother was a Vietnam veteran who had never returned to Vietnam and really had no intention of doing so until we talked him into it. He needed to face some demons, I think. So that whole trip was very important to all of us. We travelled to Vietnam first and my brother-in-law was pleased and relieved that he had finally done so. We went to all the places he had been and walked on the ground that had special meaning for him. Of course, being a returned soldier, he was very interested in all that Kanchanburi had to offer and I tried to organize a visit that would fulfil him and give him the information that he needed about Australia’s contributions in that area during World War 11. That trip was everything we had hoped for and more. We had a wonderful guide named Aor who was a resident of Kanchanburi and had great knowledge of the area and its meaning to Australians. As well as the usual sites such as the War Memorial and Hellfire Pass, she took us to the Weary Dunlop Museum.
I had been on the cattle class River Kwai tours many times before and did not even know that this Museum existed. ‘The Sir Edward Dunlop Memorial Park’ comprises 15 acres of beautiful land containing various memorials, statues, replicas of an operating theatre, camp kitchen and many surgical instruments and prostheses designed and made by Weary and his team under extraordinary conditions. A model of the Death Railway and a World War 11 period train are also on the site. There is a wonderful collection of drawings and sketches by British artist Jack Chalker who was a prisoner of war with Weary Dunlop. The drawings had survived the POW camps for many years until they were donated to Khun Kanit Wanachote, a Thai millionaire businessman who befriended Weary many years ago. Mr Wanachote is the proud owner of the Home Phu Toey Resort covering 600 acres on the River Kwai and he is dedicated to preserving the memory of Weary Dunlop and all the allies who worked on the Death Railway. The Weary Dunlop Museum is within the grounds of the resort. There is no entry fee to the Museum but there is an expectation that you will purchase lunch at the resort for about 170 baht per person. On each occasion that we have visited, Mr Wanachote has joined us at lunch and, last time, proudly displayed his newly awarded Order of Australia.
On that first visit, we spent several hours examining all the exhibits and couldn’t believe the value of the collection. We were very lucky that Aor understood the importance of that Museum to Australians and introduced us to it. The other guides that I have had with Hellfire Pass Tours did not have that understanding and were quite surprised when I asked them to take us there. Hopefully, I have been able to educate them that all Australians should be given that opportunity.
Sorry, I got a bit carried away there with the memories! Back to business. The point I was trying to make is that our first tour with Hellfire Pass Tours was so successful that I had no hesitation in booking 4 more tours as soon as I got home. And then I started seeing negative reviews. Cathy and Gary even call their trip with them ‘The Tour From Hell’. I have no doubt that some people have had a bad experience but I can only comment on my own. I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them – 4 in the last 12 months and another coming up in July. The funniest thing is my assessment of the guides who have all been wonderful. The company have never been able to give any guarantee that we could have a particular guide because they all work for other companies as well After Aor, I thought I would be very disappointed in anyone else and no-one could possibly be as good as her. Then, we had Joe and I thought that no-one could possibly be as good as him. Then, we had Maya and I thought that no-one could possibly be as good as her. Last week we had Tik and I’m ABSOLUTELY SURE that no-one could possibly be as good as him – until the next one. Tik was amazing. He had very good English and an opinion on everything, although he didn’t force it on you. In my experience, it’s very unusual for a guide to discuss politics with you, but he answered every question we had about the red shirts and the current protest and tried to give a balanced view. And he even understood Aussie humour!
I have seen a few complaints about these tours that the guide doesn’t join you until you reach Kanchanburi and that is true. That means that all the guides actually live in Kanchanburi and have a much greater understanding of the area and its history than a guide from Bangkok. There have also been complaints that the drivers don’t speak English. I have had a couple of drivers who spoke very good English and a couple with only the basics. But they all know how to get you to the Floating Markets and they also understand ‘toilet’ and ‘drink’ so I guess I can put up with that for the couple of hours that it takes to travel to Kanchanburi.
And guess what? I wasn’t being truthful when I said this was the last part of my JBR. That’s because, when I started this one, I didn’t intend to write about all the stuff I have written about. And now I have to go and watch the end of the Brisbane Lions v Western Bulldogs game because the score is 69-68 and I can’t stand listening to it from the other room any longer. That’s the other thing that I’m into, FOOTIE!! Go the Lions and the Broncos, especially the Broncos, PLEASE. I’ll post this at three quarter time.
Until tomorrow, Lynne