10/1 I make my way to Kanchanaburi, site of the infamous bridge over the river Kwai. There is a moving museum dedicated to the allied POWs who worked and perished during the construction of the railway. Apart from that there isn't that much to see here, although the river is quite pleasant. On arrival in the 2nd guesthouse that I check out I spot a German registered campervan and I meet Frank and Susanne, also long-term travellers. They are heading through Laos into China, the way I came, so we have many stories to swap. They also know and are going to travel with the Austrian couple I met in Pokhara. It's a small world. I make one small excursion to Prasat Muang Sing. Only a few stones remain to tell of the former glory of this important city. In the evening I try to walk into town, but I don't get far. As I turn the corner into the main street the family who had done my washing earlier invites me to sit with them and we have a fun evening. They also insist on me partaking in their takeaway dinner.
One of Kanchanaburi's infamous disco rafts
Bamboo Guesthouse, Kanchanaburi
11/1 I decide to ride towards the Burma border, more or less along the route the railway used to run. The first part is a large and somewhat busy highway. I turn off towards the Khao Laem reservoir that I had seen on the map. There are a few resorts and lots of buildings on pontoons, some of them for rent. Returning to the main road this becomes a lot smaller and it goes up and down a lot, some of it extremely steep, most of it along the lake shore. In Sangkhlaburi I check into a small resort and go for a walk across a big, but very derelict wooden bridge into a Mon village. The Mon are an ethnic minority in Burma and Thailand and for centuries have been persecuted. The people in this village fled Burma's military regime, only to find their villages drowned in the reservoir. So, they had to move again, to the present village. In the evening I meet Andrea, who shows me his map. It shows a road or track North along the Burma border, not quite joining up with another track coming the other way. A Thai soldier supposedly told him that it's no problem to cross here with a bike. I decide to give this a try tomorrow. Mistake number one: I believe his story, although he has never been there.
12/1 First, an excursion to Three Pagodas Pass. The border is said to be closed. There is a stark contrast between the small, but modern Thai border post with a very large computer visible and lots of video cameras and the obviously primitive arrangement on the Burma side. Not much to see here. On the way back I make a small detour to a waterfall, but as there is a toll gate I turn around. I ride back along the reservoir to a viewpoint, where I take a wrong turn and thus meet a local, or rather, one who is becoming a local: a young man from Bangkok who made the mistake of falling in love with a Mon woman. The Mon are tolerated in Thailand, but have no ID and no Thai nationality, so they can't leave the border area, even if they are born here, like she is. They can't even officially marry, so he has to move to the area and become a fisherman. There are said to be not much fish left in the reservoir...
The first river crossing is easy for bikes. The track is below in the water.
Going North again I find the right road, which soon turns into a dirt road. When I ask for the way at a national park toll gate people look at me strangely. I don't take the hint. They seem to confirm that I'm on the right track, but speak no English. I get to a fork in the road and make mistake number two: I choose one direction. A few metres further there is a farmer and I make mistake number three: instead of asking "which way to Phu Joe?" I ask "is this the way?" to which in Asia there is only one possible reply: Yes. Now the track is proper 4x4 stuff, going through a big mud hole, but without too much trouble. Then I face a major obstacle: a large ford. I hear a bike on the other side and so I wait to see how the rder handles this. He doesn't: he just passes the ford on the opposite river bank. Looks like the correct way would have been not to turn back there, at least on a bike. Now I make the fnal mistake: Not wanting to go back and the ford not looking too bad I try to cross. It turns out to be knee-deep with a decent current, holes and large boulders in the water. I get about to the middle until I drop the bike. The right pannier goes under and fills with water. I manage to get most of the other luggage off the bike more or less dry and get the bike up.
A quick try confirms my worst fears: the starter can't turn the engine, full of water. It takes 4 people from a nearby village to push the bike back out, I pitch my tent for the night in the jungle, the next morning dry out most of my stuff and attempt to dry out the engine. It doesn't work and I have to organise a pickup back to town, where a workshop cleans out the carburettor with compressed air. I think I negotiated the fare at 600 Baht, but perhaps the driver meant he was leaving at 6PM, which we did. He doesn't want to accept any money at the destination, but eventually takes half. He also gives me an amulet. Perhaps I'm going to need it if I keep on blundering like this.
14/1 The bike is soon fixed in the local bike shop, but my PC is dead. I meet a French lady and we test ride the bike together, visiting a couple of sights. The engine keeps dying and I'm a bit worried about hitting the road.
15/1 Today the bike runs flawlessly again. I ride back towards Kanchanaburi, but turn N towards the Sri Nakharin reservoir. There are many "resorts" here, catering to Thai weekend tourists and in the middle of the week I have a 2-bedroom bungalow all to myself. The owners are quite bemused about me swimming in the river. Most Thais can't swim, but the man can stake his simple bamboo raft faster than I can swim.
16/1 The countryside looks parched and it is only the cool season. Nearby are the Erawan waterfalls, cascading down the mountain in 7 steps. The water obviously contains a lot of minerals: any vegetation in the water is covered in the white stuff. The pools at the top are very nice for a swim, but the fish in it bite as soon as I stop moving. The road winds its way along the reservoir North, then swings around East and crosses a range of hills. Near Dan Chan there is another reservoir, it's even signposted, but I can only see the dam from a distance from below, so I settle into a bungalow in town. The owner tries to get me to take the most expensive bungalow he's got, the non-aircon ones being "full".