Final morning at sangkhlaburi…….

I’m not sleeping too well here, maybe the thin walls.

I dreamt about the Lovegrove brothers. Not a nice dream. Mat had inadvertently killed Luke, having administered forced water consumption via hosepipe then stood on his stomach. He dies later, mat unaware of that, from split gut. This has all been brought on by the pow drawings of Japanese torture at the jeath museum.

The sunrise is muted. There are veils of mist across the lake. A teenager is performing for the thai tourists. Climbing the legs of the bridge, beaming and waving, then wavering at the top, counting down neung song saam. The Bangkok tourist women in their bling, big sunglasses, large bright trousers and makeup egging him on. He plunges, resurfaces, swims to the pontoon bridge and collects handfuls of green 20 baht notes.

The schoolboy is carrying 2 bags of small fish with whiskers and river snakes yoked on a pole across his shoulders. I see the same people each day. On the first day he was dressed in a Boy Scout school uniform, the second another kind of uniform of yellow polo shirt and long black tracksuit trousers. Today it’s a red and white check polo with a red cotton longyi. I think, though I could be wrong, different uniforms for different school days. His mother is as usual at the Mon end of the bridge selling bags of eels. 15m away is the other mon eel and fish seller with her wide straw hat, yellow ash face. She always says hello to me. In the evening she usually suckles her baby at the breast there. The man with the gold tooth and camouflage jacket and blue cap is on the pontoon caling out boat rides. He knows me too and laughs when he sees me. He was unsuccessful in getting my fare yesterday, and when I returned from my cut price trip to the drowned temple he was still there waiting for custom.

Today I bought a bag of little fish. Inside is some kind of coloured powder solids also. I walk the pontoon looking for a calm pool of water between the bamboo cross struts into which to release the fish. This is some kind of Buddhist ritual. They do this with little birds in Malaysia and Indonesia. Releasing the creatures, I guess, is away to make merit. I contemplate my little fish before releasing them and wonder if they are in a perpetual cycle of being caught by the mon woman, bagged, sold, released and then caught again. What kind of spiritual release does that bring them?

The odd group of Amber monks wander across the mon bridge with their silver food bowls, as big as tom-toms.

 

Day 3 in Sangkhlaburi…..Religion

At sunrise their are groups of monks on the bridge heads. Locals are flocking down the hills to make merit by offering food then being blessed. There is so much food that they will end up not eating it all, for sure.

I negotiate a trip across the reservoir to the partially submerged remains of the old temple. The original village was drowned when the valet was dammed. The present settlement being newer and on higher ground. The temple must have been on a small hill. You are able to disembark and wander into and around the structure. Local mon women are arriving on long tail boats to prepare bunches of jasmine. The offer these to the subsequent passengers on the next couple of boats to land. Locals, I suppose, who have come to pray at the shrine inside the temple. This seems to be an auspicious day.

There is an aura of religion throughout the day. In the evening on the mon bridge I bump into the Taiwanese girl who i chauffeured from the bus station in kanchanaburi. As we watch the increasing number of monks a man in a simple white cotton smock and trousers informs us that there will be a large gathering of monks who will be chanting on the bridge soon. About 80 or so assemble and sit on mats facing the now dimming dusk sky. They have little bottles of energy drink. En masse at 6pm they begin to chant. I sit and absorb for over an hour. The atmosphere is special, though not totally serene, as the occasional boat buzzes out into open water. Not all the monks seem to be immersed. I see one chatting on his mobile and another taking selfies on an iPad! This event is to mark the mid-point of the monks' retreat. Now I understand why there is a monk camp site, and why they are behaving as if they are on holiday! These guys come from all ove thailand and are at Buddhist university. The man in white is also studying there.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3 Sangkhlaburi excursion

My pink motorbike has a sticker that says “I love dogs”. Not true. In fact there are packs of quite scary ones on the roads. At least they would be scary if they were nourished enough to have the energy to chase you.

I take the road to burma. This follows much of the route of the mostly disappeared death railway. I take a detour down a windy empty jungle road to a forest park, which is deserted, and the gate is open. Tentatively I enter the park, park and begin a magical walk through bamboo groves, crazy unidentifiable vegetation until the path gets denser and follows an increasingly bubbling stream. Up stream is a myriad of low cascades, water falling in clear sheets in sparkling deep green pools, flanked by gnarled trees with complex twisty root structures. I'm in the middle of the river. On a little island, in fact. Cascades and pools all around me. Peace, the only sound is the rushing water. This is truly sublime. Not a soul present. Just me.

The spell is slightly ruptured when I meet a couple of rangers coming to check out who it is that's in the park…but they quickly disappear.

My ride continues to the Three Pagodas Pass. This is historically an important place, where the death railway enters burma, and where the armies of ayutthya fought the invading burmese. The pagodas are small are sited on a grassy island, with immigration offices on one side, orchid stalls on another. There is a couple of Hindu burmese selling little samosa in small oil boilers that they can pick up and walk around with. There are some fresh faced languishing soldiers in full uniform carrying assault rifles ostensibly guarding the border, but they look rather disinterested. Their posture and expression changes when I ask to take their pictures, and they stand rigidly to attention. To my disappointment, I discover I'm not allowed to make the short walk into the neighbouring burmese town. Apparently it's only for Thais. It's not a proper frontier.

Immigration is clearly an issue here. In the 20 miles or so I cover i pass at least 3 checkpoints.being a white face I'm greeted with smiles, waves and laughs. Has I been in a longyi, darkskinned and huddled in the back of a pickup, I'm sure I would have been subjected to severe scrutiny.