By the time I arrive in Bangkok and go through customs, I am well and truly sick. Not diarrhea travel sick; sore throat, hacking cough, aches and congestion sick. While I am super happy to have experienced Japan, the noise, the crush of people, the cities, and the lack of sleep, has finally claimed its due. I find a quiet spot under an escalator on the basement floor of the Bangkok airport and lay down until morning. New plan – get out of the city asap! Laying there, reading my rough travellers guide, I like the sound of the Nita Rafthouse. It’s on the River Kwai and well off the beaten track. So I set my sights across Thailand’s central plains to the riverside town of Kanchanaburi, 121 kilometres northwest of Bangkok and home to the notorious 1957 movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. Getting there is another matter.
To keep me going, I negotiate with myself that this will be the last of enduring city transport for a long while, I take the city train when it opens at 6 am to the subway and the subway to the main train terminal, where I find out that the only train of the day to Kanchanaburi leaves from a small outlying terminal in half an hour. There isn’t time to make it, I am told. I rush outside, quickly haggle a fare with a taxi driver, impress upon him the need for speed, and off we go. When we hit rush hour traffic, I want to say, “there’s an extra 20 in it for you if you get me there on time” just for the fun of actually saying that. But I don’t; he won’t understand and even if he does, there is nothing he can do about the grid lock. The Kanchanaburi train departure time comes and goes, and still, we sit in traffic. I feel deflated and start thinking about a plan B. Then the driver indicates that the terminal is just down the road and I can run. Maybe the train is running late I think, (it isn’t Japan after all). He lets me out and I run like a mentally-challenged, three-legged cheetah, coughing and rasping all the way. In my mind, Nita Rafthouse has become my lifeline. I finally reach the ticket counter, and miraculously, the train is still there, right in front of me, blowing it’s whistle to go. I quickly buy a ticket, race down the platform as the train starts to move at a snails pace, I cross the tracks and step up onto the slowly departing train. When I collapse on the cracked, vinyl seat, sucking glorious hot, muggy air into my burning lungs, I can’t believe my luck. Everything is working out just fine. Then my seat breaks! It cracks me up.
Five hours later I get off the train in Kanchanaburi and start walking down the dusty road. A boy on a scooter stops and offers me a lift for 40 baht (about $1.50). I hop on and ten minutes after that, I am at Nita Rafthouse. By hook or by crook, I have arrived.
I walk down to the Rafthouse. The lobby slash restaurant slash office is in the open air wth comfortable couches and low tables. The roof is covered by bamboo and tin. The shower and toilet are separate and basic but adequately service the few people here. The man who works here gives me a book and tells me to write down whatever I take out of the cooler to drink, and what I want to eat, and it will be made for me. It is my book for the duration of my stay and it will be totalled up when I leave. He puts it on the desk. The menu has everything on it – I write down Pad Thai for 50 baht (about $2). It makes the Pad Thai I have eaten at home taste like cardboard.
My small, simple, bamboo-woven room costs 150 baht per night (about $6) and is a paradise to me. I look out on the river through my screened window. I hear all manner of birds and insects cawing and chirping, and the occasional splash of a fish. Somewhere, very soft flute music is playing. A fan circulates the warm, humid air. I lay on the mat covering the low wooden platform that is my bed, lulled by the raft’s gentle, almost imperceptible, sway. I decide I’m going to stay awhile. In no time at all, I am fast asleep in my bamboo womb, and for the first time in my entire life, I sleep for 12 hours. Before light, I get up and go outside to watch the sunrise on the River Kwai, and I start to write.