Tuesday, 9 February 2010

kanchanaburi -- Erawan Falls: Tigers, Caves and Epic Battles.

So you're in Kanchanaburi ('the city of gold') and you've done the bridge and Hellfire Pass and the markets and the museums. And you still want more? Fear not, there's plenty more ...

Rent a car (well not if you have your own car or motorcycle, you understand, I mean that would be plain ridiculous) and head on out to the 3199. What a fantastic route. It's not as major as the 323, but oh so rural and oh so scenic.

Around the 30km mark out of town you'll come to a town called Wang Dong (no snickering down the back, please). Then shortly you'll start seeing large rocks on the side of the road. And these rocks will look like humans. Or trees. Woah, what's that giraffe doing there? And King Kong??? Oh my god, get me out of here!!!

No, it's not some magic mushroom hallucinogenic flashback. It's the product of the local stone quarries. Many of these figures stand three to four metres tall, a little too large to stick into your carry-on as a present for little Johnny back home. But ideal if you're a local council and need something to liven up that park in town. You can also buy things like table and chair sets, all carved from the local mountains that fringe this area.

Another few kilometres along, you'll see the turnoff to The Nine Army Battle Historical Park. This commemorates the epic battle in 1795 when 70,000 Thais under Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I) defended the Kingdom against an invasion by 144,000 soldiers and cavalrymen under King Bodawpaya of Burma. This victory is regarded as one of the greatest in Thailand's long history of continuous sovereignty. Here you can see dioramas of the action that took place, and even a sandbox of toy soldiers in the supposed formations of the day. Tip: if you go late in the day, all the other day trippers will clear off, allowing you to wander up the watch tower and enjoy a most peaceful view of sunset in the valley.

Just a few short kilometres on again, you'll see the turnoff to Erawan Falls. Among Thais it's one of the country's attractions that elicits the most nods and gasps. Erawan National Park covers around 550 square kilometres -- if you don't believe me, get your tape measure out -- and offers endless stunning scenery. On a good day, with the right timing, the right light, a good tailwind, and a few lucky shakes of the joss sticks, you might just catch a glimpse of an elephant, wild monkeys, Asiatic pythons, king cobras, an eagle, or even a tiger. Jing jing! The national parks rangers have listed tigers as an endemic species here.

No, there's no money back guarantee if you don't see one, or get bitten in half by one. If you want a cast-iron guarantee that you'll see a tiger, visit the Tiger Temple down the road instead. But some don't agree that Buddhist monks should be making money from these animals, ie charging entry to get in, more to pat the things, more for a photo with it, more to stick your head in its mouth, more to re-attach your head to your body, etc. It's deemed too commercial by some that the monks should enjoy such materialistic trappings. (Does that make them Trappist Monks I wonder?) But if you want to see tigers up close, that's the place to go.

The Falls themselves are spectacular. Not in the league of Victoria Falls, but then, what is? What makes Erawan attractive is that they are in seven separate cascading levels, dropping down from around 1000 metres. Most are easily accesible on well-worn paths. Only the top level requires a bit of mountaineering skill. But well worth it, as you would have left all the lard-arses well down below.

Little known fact # 327: speleology is the name given to exploring caves. And there are several en route to the top cascade to poke your head into, the best being Wang Bahdan, Pratat, Rua, and Mee/Mi (which has five chambers to explore).

Bring your swimmers. The water is beautifully clear and bracing. Aah, bloody magic! And, you'll get a free fish spa in the process ... the little suckers will latch onto any available bit of skin you put under water. A few parts creepy, a few parts weird, and -- yes, I'll openly admit -- one part erotic. No wonder fish spas have become so popular!

Between all of these activities, it's easily enough for a most enjoyable full day's trip. So don't cut your time in Kanchanaburi short -- there's hundreds if not thousands of years of history waiting here for you.

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