There’s no point in travelling if you aren’t going to let your whims get the best of you occasionally. Or, in my case, most of the time.
By mistake, I overshot the turn I was supposed to take back to Kanchanaburi. But, I came across a sign advertising, in English, Krasae Cave, one not so far away (under a half hour) from where I was. The day was barely half over after I had left Muang Sing, and the bike was only 50 baht per hour late.
Given a conversation I had a couple nights back with Sarah about caving, and my lack thereof, I gunned the little motorbike in the direction of this Krasae.
This whole area to the west of Kanchanaburi, where Muang Sing and I were, is a sparsely populated grassland with random rocky hills cropping up and stray mountains looming over the distance. Problem with this is, because of my experience driving out to Erawan the day before, and my tank being almost empty, I was a little concerned about the dwindling petrol arrow.
Passing (and passing up) a number of otherwise intriguing attractions unexpectedly advertised along this backroad, I continued along toward Krasae Cave.
Within 2 kilometers of where it was supposed to be, my path was suddenly blocked by 2 mega buses pulling out onto my road from what seemed to be nothing more than a small temple a few hundred meters off the road. It took about 4 minutes for the 2 of them to correct their turns and actually head in the direction I had just come from. Meanwhile, I couldn’t move around them at all.
Once on my way again, it was only a few minutes before I found myself at a dead end. I hadn’t missed a turn I was supposed to take; I knew that much. There were no other stemming roads between the last sign and where I was now, next to an empty dirt parking lot.
It was here that I stumbled upon the Death Railway and its Wampo Viaduct.
The only things in sight were the railway and an auspiciously located English camp that was next to me. The camp stood next to a river, and there was a visible path leading along the trestle railway from it. I rode down the rather steep slope into the main grounds of the camp, hoping to find something. In doing so, I gained nothing but the inquisitive looks of a few Thai employees working the grounds.
For being an English camp, they weren’t terribly helpful in their English, though I got my point across enough that I was looking for Krasae Cave. They pointed to the railway; the kind that runs along a cliff side on wooden supports and always collapses in movies right as the train gets to it. I was supposed to take that to the cave.
So, heading back up the slope, I parked my bike in the dirt lot at the road’s dead end and began walking along the path to the railway. There was a metal path built into the center of the railway for people to walk along, and spaced platforms for these walkers to stand should, say, a Death Railway train come along.
The tracks curved along a dramatic river bend. On the outside stood the cliff I was skimming. Parts of it were notably carved away to make room for the train, and some of it hung over enough to warrant being reinforced by concrete. The edges of the body-width pathway promptly gave way to a view below the tracks, which was a very clear 20-meter drop beneath to the river.
On the inside bend, opposite where I was walking, were a series of floating buildings roped to the shore. The ornate pathways leading to them gave the impression it was a resort of some sort. I later looked it up to find out it was the Sai Yok Country Resort.
The nicest part about this was the feeling of satisfaction that I had simply stumbled upon this amazing hidden spot at the dead end of the road. There were a couple Thai couples and a one white European family near the cave when I entered, but this entire stretch was almost empty otherwise.
Inside the cave was a Buddha statue surrounded by miniature idols and other effects. The cave went back a little ways and ended in a hole, which was too narrow for me to try getting in to. While not the magnificent display of hollowed earth I was hoping for, it was great to see my first cave temple.
As I was walking out, many, many more Europeans began entering the cave and I had no idea where they were coming from. Surely they couldn’t have come from the same spot I had? It was empty no more than 20 minutes before.
Outside of the cave, I saw they were coming from the other end of the viaduct. I continued on to that side to find a miniature tourist village filled with trinket shops and a parking lot filled with dozens of minibuses and a few enormous tour buses.
Apparently this wasn’t the great find I had thought I had made. I had just come in the back way.
I wandered the small village for a while, sometimes having to push my way through tourists more interesting in the souvenirs than the river and sights just a little further. I, too, looked at a few stands but had no reason to buy anything.
A couple restaurants overlooked the river and I opted to get lunch at one. It was set up as a build your own plate meal. When I went to pay, the man at the cashier looked confused. It seemed a tour group had purchased vouchers for their guests, and he just assumed I was one of them. Sure, I could have played it off that way and gotten a free meal, but don’t like the idea of that.
But a seat overlooking the whole scene of the Wampo Viaduct, Kwai River bend, and the floating homes below, well, it all made for a nice accompaniment to the first time I tried massaman curry.
As I left the restaurant, a Death Train was pulling out of the Tham Kasae stop (where I was) and headed over the Wampo Viaduct and back toward Kanchanaburi. I followed soon after, taking the viaduct back toward my bike and riding a different route back.
Thankfully I came across a very basic petrol station soon enough. Within an hour I was back at Kanchanaburi and stopped to check out the infamous ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’.
In all truth there is nothing special about the bridge other than it is the beginning of the Death Railway, which has a lot of history behind it. The bridge itself is not any impressive work of architecture (the current or the original) and the stretch of river it is over is calm and not incredibly wide or challenging.