In November, 2003, Bill and I were part of a happy group of travellers who set out to experience the wonder of Thailand and the Thai/Burma Death Railway.
We left Perth on an early morning flight and were met on arrival in Bangkok by the Bus and Crew who were to be with us for the duration of the tour. Lunch, then a free afternoon, was followed by Dinner and an early night.
The following six days left us with memories of places, people and their culture, and most importantly, a part of Australia's History that must never be forgotten.
We were extremely fortunate to have with us two former P.O.W's, John Parkes of Sydney and Bill Haskell of Perth. They shared some of their memories with us and answered the many questions that we asked about the Railway and the Camps.
We stopped at Non Pladuk and Ban Pong, significant places at the start of the Railway. The visit to the beautifully maintained, serene Kanchanaburi War Cemetery was very poignant. The nearby Thailand Burma Railway Centre is full of memorabilia and historical information.
The evening we spent at Pung Waan coincided with Loy Krathong, a ceremony in which a small floating receptacle containing an offering of flowers, etc. and a lighted candle is set adrift in the river. Each member of the tour was given a Krathong and took part in the colourful ceremony.
We were warmly welcomed at Home Phu Toey, our base for the next five days. This 600 acre Resort, with its Guest Rooms set amid an exotic Jungle area, offered three Swimming Pools, Push Bikes, Ponies to ride, Golf Course, a Lake with Boats, Paddle Boats, and also many beautiful Gardens. The venue of each meal changed according to the desired atmosphere and weather.
"The Sir Edward Dunlop Memorial Park" consists of 15 acres containing Statues, a Museum, replicas of an Operating Theatre, Camp Kitchen, a model of the Death Railway, and a World War 2 period Train. There is a Gallery of Sketches by Jack Chalker. The sketches had survived the P.O.W. Camps and the following years until they were donated to Home Phu Toey. There is also a Light and Sound Show, set in a Jungle clearing next to the river, which tells the story and re enacts the building and the bombing of the Kwai Bridge.
The Resort owner, Khun Kanit Wanachote, had befriended "Weary" many years ago. His dedication to preserving the memory of his friend, and all allies who worked on the Death Railway, and his stated intention to continue to further expand these memorials is to be commended.
Kanit's wonderful, sincere hospitality was a joy to experience, and Home Phu Toey is a very unique place.
Other places visited and activities during our tour were: A Train ride across the Wampo Viaduct, a Picnic Lunch at Auntie Fatt's (something special), Hindat Hot Spings, Chungkai Cutting, an Elephant Ride through the jungle and river, the Khao Laem Dam with its beautiful scenery and Three Pagoda Pass on the Burma Border. The huge Nakhon Pathom Temple, Chunkai War Cemetery and the Jeath Museum. We saw the Sai Yoke Yai Waterfall and then had Lunch on a Raft as it was towed down River by a Long Boat.
We went to the P.O.W. Camp sites of Songkurai, Hintock Road, Hintock River and Kinsayok. There was sadness, but also a sense of being in very peaceful places.
November 11th saw us gather in Hellfire Pass to observe Remembrance Day. Also there was the Australian Ambassador, the Defence Attaché, several politicians, a Thai Army Colonel, and others.
After Commemorative Speeches by Bill Haskell and the Ambassador, the Defence Attaché then conducted an official Ceremony. The Service and the awareness of being in Hellfire Pass was very emotional. I had feelings of much sorrow, but also a great pride in Australia.
I like to think that our children and our grandchildren will one day make this same trip, so that they too share the emotions and experiences of this special place.
The Thai guide, Ben, a charming Lady, made sure that we were all comfortable throughout the trip, continually providing cold drinking water, refreshing cold towels, fruit, lollies and warm friendship. The Thai Agent, Vivatchai, drove out to meet up with us on several occasions to ensure that all was well.
Our Tour Leader, Peter Winstanley, made sure that this was no ordinary regimented tour. His passion for the Railway and his knowledge of the history of the area, gave us entry and insight into places that the usual tourist would not experience.
Peter, thank you. I hope that you continue to lead many more tours back to the "Railway". There is a lot to be learnt, and also remembered.