The official name for the Death Railway was the Thailand-Burma Railway when it was being constructed. It was going to be used to move supplies from Japanese-occupied Thailand to Myanmar, one of the many British territories conquered by Japan in WW2. I wasn’t certain if the rail was ever completed, though I did find it strange it only came as far as this small town of Nam Tok, considering the railway did go on for some length after the final station.
Just down the road from my guest house was the Sai Yok Noi waterfall, which ended up being a lot more over-developed than I would have figured for a location this far out. Only a small ways from the road, this waterfall’s base had been modified to into a concrete and stone-bound swimming pool. Its water was then guided, artificially I presume, down a series of smoothed rocks with stepping stones placed through them.
A hiking trail led behind the top of the falls a few kilometers back toward the source of the fall’s water, which ended up being a pleasant shallow pool in the middle of the forest. Many locals had made their way back here as well and were wading around in the fresh water. There is also a small cave very near, but it was closed off for some reason.
On the trail back toward the waterfall, I saw one of the funniest things to date in Thailand. Still at least 2-3 km from the falls were a group of 4 Thai boys dressed more like they belonged in a Bangkok fashion shop than in the forest. All were gathered around a single pocket mirror trying to adjust their hair. It was hard not to laugh at that. Unfortunately, it would have been too awkward to try to get a picture.
Back near the base of the falls is the actual spot where the Death Railway had begun to be deconstructed as it runs through one of the infamous rock cuttings made in this stretch. Figuring this single rail had to lead back to the Nam Tok station, I began walking along it. And, being the master of gracefulness that I am, I seemed to trip over quite a bit more than I intended to.
Soon, the road faded from view in the forest. A few homes and barking dogs were passed, but what really startled me was when a train began rounding a curve through the trees and was coming straight at me! It was slow enough and I had barely enough space that I was able to get out of the way, but it was frightening since I did not expect trains to pass the Nam Tok Station.
When the train had cleared is when I came to the H.I.V. Stairway. At first, it just seemed an ominous and mysterious stone staircase disappearing into the trees. Soon, several red and gold Buddha statues appeared through the dense green woods and were each posed in unique positions. After the third Buddha, the stairway split into two paths, the right one quite well maintained and another to the left in disarray.
At the beginning of the left staircase was the “Danger H.I.V.” sign. While I seriously doubted that they was any way to catch the disease, Buddhas continued to lead the way up the better staircase, so I decided to follow that before taking my chances on the H.I.V. stairs.
At the top of the stairs was a great payoff of a cave-inhabiting Buddha looking out over the entirety of the valley below. Off in the very far distance, there was even a trace of that enigmatic giant temple I had seen from the Death Railway the day before.
On the way back down, it began to rain lightly. And while that certainly wasn’t enough to make me run back to that guesthouse, it certainly made these mossy stairs very slippery. Given that I was almost slipping off of the better ones on the way down, I decided to forego the H.I.V. stairs and perhaps return a different day to explore them
Later on, I asked various Thai friends what the sign meant. They translated as, “HIV medicine tests were performed here. Beware and do not enter.” This makes no sense on several levels. HIV is not contagious by air, nor would be any vaccine. And it was part of some Buddhist sanctuary. On top of all that, it was so far away from anything significant that the likelihood of someone catching a side effect of the ‘contagious vaccine’ would be almost nothing.
Continuing on down the Railway, only one more obstacle stood in the way before I could get back to the town’s Nam Tok station: a bridge. Though similar to the Wampo Viaduct, it had no surface built between the wooden beams supporting the railway. Again, being the master of gracefulness that I am, it was one step at a time over unevenly spaced beams, many of which I could have easily fallen through. And, despite how it may look from the pictures, it was a long fall.
Finally over, it was a very short walk back to the village of Nam Tok.