For me, the best part of Kanchanaburi town is getting out of it. I admit it, I am a relatively difficult person to please and I am yet to be thoroughly convinced by this place. There are parts of it that I like, and after just over a week here I have my favourite spots, but the overpoweringly westernised, drink-yourself-to-your-death-bed culture is too much for me. I am not the sort of person they are trying to target with that kind of thing and, unless I am out with a big group of people who are looking for it, I am just not into it.
But this is a province with so much to offer – waterfalls, national parks, beautiful lakeside towns, and above all delicious food, including some of the outstanding curries I’ve tried in the last few days – that it’s really no big deal not to be a fan of the capital.
Getting out to Sai Yok Noi waterfall has been a highlight – if not for the waterfall itself, which is nice enough but rather titchy and just a tad contrived, then for the train ride between Nam Tok and Tha Kilen after seeing the fall itself. Stunning river views, long grass so high it poked through the window, and a real feeling of being on local transport with ordinary people playing out their day-to-day lives (on the way back at least; on the outward journey, the carriage was packed to the rafters with westerners) – even if you are paying ten times the local fare.
(I am not normally one to complain about two-tiered pricing, believing it to be unfortunate for us, yes, but also understandable and generally fair enough. Somehow that changes when you know the locals in the next row are paying 7B for the same journey that’s costing you 100B; the flat-fare system also seems a bit of a joke, since it means you pay the same whether you’re on the three-hour-plus journey from Bangkok, which works out as good value, or a five-minute jolly from Kanchanaburi’s main station up to the bridge, which is an absolute rip off. Rant over.)
Likewise with the Khmer-built complex at Prasat Muang Singh; having seen the temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia made these monuments a bit samey, but the trip was more than worth it for the tranquil atmosphere and sense of isolation; two of us arrived shortly after one another and, aside from a small tour group already inside, that was all that came and went in the hour or so I spent there.
And so with Thong Pha Phum, too – there’s sod all to do there, my accommodation was a hole and I’ll probably never return, but the journey there and back were highlights. Just escaping the tourist pack, bumping along Highway 323 on a good old-fashioned ‘no air’ ordinary bus and watching the mad old women hop on and off peddling their food and drink to hungry locals (and me); this is enough to make me happy. Perhaps I’m not so difficult to please after all (the odd Asian tourist who speaks less Thai than you do is also great for the ego).
I’ll miss a few things about it here, don’t get me wrong. Like the gorgeous restaurant at VN Guesthouse, with quite possibly the best green curry in Thailand; Apple’s restaurant, with no-doubt-about-it the best massuman in the world; and the gorgeous food and lovely staff at Mangosteen, too. So no surprises that my favourite bits are all food-related, but it’s the people too – in such a heavily westernised town where so many staff are surly, jaded and tourist-fatigued, it’s refreshing to come across a few who still have that genuine Thai smile intact.
Now I’m just excited about getting away again, and getting back to Sangkhlaburi, by far this province’s highlight and my favourite place in the whole country. Where I can still eat gorgeous food, soak up the quieter atmosphere, gaze out at lake or kick back in a hammock and do sod all – and, if I so choose, see so few western faces in a day that I’ll be able to count them on one hand.
So long, then, Kanchanaburi (but see you next week – because I don’t really hate you that much).