A quick stop in Thailand, and some recollections of past visits.

My unplanned escape from Sri Lanka left me with a few unexpected days in Thailand. Having travelled in that beautiful country three times already, I looked for a place I had never been to and settled for Kanchanaburi, a historically important city two hours from Bangkok. And since I didn’t do all that much during this brief stopover in Thailand, I also threw in a few pictures from my 2004 and 2010 trips there.


Hellfire Pass; one of the most difficult challenges in the construction of the Thailand – Burma railroad. As the workers were made to work long into the night, the site was light by torches, which lead to the name. Using primitive tools and dealing with terrible living conditions, prisoners of war (POW) and labourers “recruited” by the Japanese Imperial Army built the 415 km line in only one year. The project was a high priority for the Japanese authorities, as their forces in Burma needed better logistical support to fight back the British and possibly even invade India.


Of the 60,000 Australian, British, Dutch and American POWs who worked on the construction, 12,399 died. The Asian workers fared much worse: of the 250,000 employed, it is believed 70,000 – 90,000 perished during the construction.


To say that communication with the outside world was limited for the POWs is a bit of an understatement.


From tunnelling to bridging, this was not the easiest terrain on which to build a railroad in wartime conditions. The rail is still in use, but for short distance tourist runs (it was a bit scary on the bridges).


And for those old enough to remember “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” (or who watch old movies), this is it. Although to be precise, there is more than one such bridge. Continue reading

Diving in the Philippines – and narrowly missing Typhoon Haiyan

Those who follow me on Facebook might have noticed that I briefly went to The Philippines, but never posted anything about it. The reason is that I wanted to upload this diving video, but went from the archipelago to Tibet and then Nepal, both places where you often get horrible internet connections (when you are lucky; usually you get none). The Philippines post went on the back burner, and has been sitting there for many weeks now. So finally, here it is, starting with some diving around Coron, in a strange volcanic lake and in the Ocean, were the US Navy placed some Japanese ships at the bottom of the ocean in September 1944, in order to develop recreational diving in the area, I assume.

I arrived in Cebu straight from Seoul and I was not quite prepared for the assault on my senses. Having spent weeks in crazy but orderly East Asia (Beijing and the Koreas, both North and South), I got an intense and sudden dose of South-East Asia! Heat, humidity, noise, chaotic traffic, omnipresent prostitution in all its forms and everything else that comes with it. The one relaxing factor was communication, since due to its past as an American Commonwealth, English is widely and well spoken in the country.


You don’t need reading glasses. It’s a blurry picture!

Rainy weather forced me to spend a fair amount of time inside and I just went with the flow, having gigantic burgers at the Irish Pub attached to my hotel, where ugly, bald, fat and old Westerners were watching sports on TV in the company of bargirls. Since the girls were chatting in English and seemingly having fun, it was a little less depressing than Thailand, where dudes eat with Isan prostitutes who speaks no English and just sit there like decorations.


The capital Manilla is also not the prettiest place in the country. Here is a pretty picture in a park, but I had to look for the shot.


The National Museum does not have a particularly impressive collection, but the building itself is quite something. Formerly housing the Department of Finance, its cavernous halls  are a little eery, given that the number of tourists is quite limited.


The main attraction is the treasures of the San Diego, a large Spanish trading galleon sunk in Philippines waters by the Dutch in the 17th Century. The exhibit is important enough that it traveled around the world for a few years. The ceramic and porcelain objects are well preserved, but anything made of metal has mostly rusted away. Nevertheless, surprising discoveries were made, such as the presence of rusted katanas, which suggest the Spanish had hired Japanese mercenaries. Some reasonably well preserved handle guards even made it possible to identify specific family crests.


This picture of a 40 year old woman from the Mandaya Highlands shows the local population’s spectacular mastery of the art of embroidery, as well as their not so spectacular accomplishments in the field of dentistry. Continue reading