Kwai River cruise and Death Railway

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by Randy Keck, part 2 of 3 on Thailand

The highlight of my March ’08 Thailand adventure, hosted by Value World Tours and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and the primary reason for my taking the journey was the 3-night/4-day cruise sector on the Kwai River.

The cruise-tour featured the combination of a relaxing river cruise with many interesting shore excursions plus pre- and post-cruise touring in central Thailand. Included were several sites central and integral to the fascinating history of the infamous WWII Death Railway.

R.V. River Kwai

Our vessel, the R.V. River Kwai, measuring 36 by seven meters and with a shallow draft, was purpose-built in 2003 by the renowned Irrawaddy Flotilla Company of Myanmar (Burma) specifically for operation on the Kwai River with its sharp turns, low-lying bridges and often-changing water levels.

Australian brothers John and Bruce Rowe with Randy at the Bridge over the River Kwai.

Our seven passengers marveled at both the captain’s and the vessel’s ability to navigate the narrow stretches of the river, utilizing an accompanying tender at times as a tugboat and even backing around and through some bends. Our downstream cruise posed continuous navigation challenges, all of which were handled supremely.

The R.V. River Kwai has only 10 cabins, all on the main level. The cabins, adorned in teak, are comfortable and twin-bedded, with private bathrooms.

All common areas are on the ultraspacious, upper-level, open-air sundeck. This top deck is protected from the elements by a huge awning/canopy which lowers in an entertaining display of crew dexterity for the Kwai to fit under a few low-lying bridges along the cruise route.

The friendly Thai crew of 10 magnificently catered to all our needs.

During the cruise, all meals were aboard ship. Breakfasts were self-serve buffet style, with lunch and dinner featuring delicious and healthy Thai fare. My semivegetarian requirements were generously catered to with additional seafood and vegetable offerings.

It is easy to overeat while aboard, particularly at the lunch sitting, so I suggest limiting portion sizes, particularly rice, to avoid afternoon tiredness and energy drain.

En route from Bangkok to our cruise embarkation, our group of seven stopped to explore Phra Pathom Chedi, which is the largest pagoda in Southeast Asia.

This was followed by the Khao Noi Cave Temple and monastery, reflecting Chinese influences, and the adjoining Tiger Cave Temple in the style of Thai cultural art. Expansive views of the surrounding countryside were the reward for scaling mountains of stairs.

WWII Death Railway

Randy enjoying the mineral pools at Hinbad Hot Springs.

We had much exposure to the history of the World War II Death Railway during shore excursions, including visiting the Thai & Burma Railway War Museum and the adjacent Donrak War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi, which contains the remains of 6,982 British, Australian and Dutch soldiers who perished during the construction of the railway.

In addition to these prisoners of war, untold thousands of conscripted workers from India, Burma and Malaysia died at the hands of the often brutal, empire-building Japanese during the railway’s construction.

In Kanchanaburi we also toured the actual Bridge over the River Kwai, which today caters to hordes of visitors but is interesting and certainly worthwhile.

Also visited was Hellfire Pass, where a part of the Death Railway was hand cut through a stone mountain by Allied prisoners of war and conscripts. An on-site memorial complex details the history.

One day we even had the opportunity to take a brief ride on the Death Railway, inspecting some of the remaining wooden bridges of WWII vintage.

Varied shore excursions

Randy receiving a very traditional Thai massage.

During the cruise, I was indeed impressed with the range of interesting shore and small boat excursions. These included the chance to luxuriously soak in natural hot springs, visit a rural boarding school and explore a Buddhist temple and cave complex that served as a big Japanese Army camp during WWII.

At times we sped upstream in small boats to explore Thai villages or to view waterfalls and other attractions. On another occasion we floated blissfully downstream on a bamboo raft.

We also had a chance to become better educated regarding some of the amazing abilities of elephants at the Saiyok Elephant Park, one of several elephant camps in the region. Some of us enjoyed a one-hour ride aboard these wonderfully tolerant creatures through the local forest and riverside terrain. Did I pick the wrong day to wear shorts!?

Relaxed cruising

Some of my most prized time was spent on the top deck of the River Kwai relaxing and taking in the sights, sounds and overall ambience of the river environment. The feeling was at times mesmerizing, as states of advanced relaxation can be.

All along our river journey we encountered friendly locals, gaining brief insights into their daily rituals. We compared their housing styles and marveled at their seemingly uncomplicated lifestyles.

We studied the river ecology, learning that Thailand is one of the world’s largest exporters of shrimp and tilapia. We universally agreed we were lucky to be aboard and happy to be away from the madness of civilization. We developed new friendships and did not want our newfound river lifestyle to come to an end. We had gone “Thai.”

Before you go

Topside open-air dining is a joy for passengers aboard the R.V. River Kwai. Photo: Keck

The Kwai River cruise operates with both upstream and downstream 3-night/4-day itineraries. I am happy I was able to experience the downstream version.

My March 27-30 cruise was during the hottest portion of the year, March-April, and I would recommend a cooler time period, if possible. Consult with the tour company Value World Tours regarding options.

Contact Value World Tours (Fountain Valley, CA; 800/795-1633, e-mail cruise@valuecruises.net or visit www.valuecruises.net) for information on the Thailand river cruise-tour program and their wide range of other Asia and international cruise-tour programs.

For information regarding all aspects of visiting Thailand, contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand (611 North Larchmont Blvd., First Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90004; 323/461-9814, e-mail tatla@ix.netcom.com or visit www.tourismthailand.org/la).

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

by Randy Keck, part 2 of 3 on Thailand

The highlight of my March ’08 Thailand adventure, hosted by Value World Tours and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and the primary reason for my taking the journey was the 3-night/4-day cruise sector on the Kwai River.

The cruise-tour featured the combination of a relaxing river cruise with many interesting shore excursions plus pre- and post-cruise touring in central Thailand. Included were several sites central and integral to the fascinating history of the infamous WWII Death Railway.

R.V. River Kwai

Our vessel, the R.V. River Kwai, measuring 36 by seven meters and with a shallow draft, was purpose-built in 2003 by the renowned Irrawaddy Flotilla Company of Myanmar (Burma) specifically for operation on the Kwai River with its sharp turns, low-lying bridges and often-changing water levels.

Australian brothers John and Bruce Rowe with Randy at the Bridge over the River Kwai.

Our seven passengers marveled at both the captain’s and the vessel’s ability to navigate the narrow stretches of the river, utilizing an accompanying tender at times as a tugboat and even backing around and through some bends. Our downstream cruise posed continuous navigation challenges, all of which were handled supremely.

The R.V. River Kwai has only 10 cabins, all on the main level. The cabins, adorned in teak, are comfortable and twin-bedded, with private bathrooms.

All common areas are on the ultraspacious, upper-level, open-air sundeck. This top deck is protected from the elements by a huge awning/canopy which lowers in an entertaining display of crew dexterity for the Kwai to fit under a few low-lying bridges along the cruise route.

The friendly Thai crew of 10 magnificently catered to all our needs.

During the cruise, all meals were aboard ship. Breakfasts were self-serve buffet style, with lunch and dinner featuring delicious and healthy Thai fare. My semivegetarian requirements were generously catered to with additional seafood and vegetable offerings.

It is easy to overeat while aboard, particularly at the lunch sitting, so I suggest limiting portion sizes, particularly rice, to avoid afternoon tiredness and energy drain.

En route from Bangkok to our cruise embarkation, our group of seven stopped to explore Phra Pathom Chedi, which is the largest pagoda in Southeast Asia.

This was followed by the Khao Noi Cave Temple and monastery, reflecting Chinese influences, and the adjoining Tiger Cave Temple in the style of Thai cultural art. Expansive views of the surrounding countryside were the reward for scaling mountains of stairs.

WWII Death Railway

Randy enjoying the mineral pools at Hinbad Hot Springs.

We had much exposure to the history of the World War II Death Railway during shore excursions, including visiting the Thai & Burma Railway War Museum and the adjacent Donrak War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi, which contains the remains of 6,982 British, Australian and Dutch soldiers who perished during the construction of the railway.

In addition to these prisoners of war, untold thousands of conscripted workers from India, Burma and Malaysia died at the hands of the often brutal, empire-building Japanese during the railway’s construction.

In Kanchanaburi we also toured the actual Bridge over the River Kwai, which today caters to hordes of visitors but is interesting and certainly worthwhile.

Also visited was Hellfire Pass, where a part of the Death Railway was hand cut through a stone mountain by Allied prisoners of war and conscripts. An on-site memorial complex details the history.

One day we even had the opportunity to take a brief ride on the Death Railway, inspecting some of the remaining wooden bridges of WWII vintage.

Varied shore excursions

Randy receiving a very traditional Thai massage.

During the cruise, I was indeed impressed with the range of interesting shore and small boat excursions. These included the chance to luxuriously soak in natural hot springs, visit a rural boarding school and explore a Buddhist temple and cave complex that served as a big Japanese Army camp during WWII.

At times we sped upstream in small boats to explore Thai villages or to view waterfalls and other attractions. On another occasion we floated blissfully downstream on a bamboo raft.

We also had a chance to become better educated regarding some of the amazing abilities of elephants at the Saiyok Elephant Park, one of several elephant camps in the region. Some of us enjoyed a one-hour ride aboard these wonderfully tolerant creatures through the local forest and riverside terrain. Did I pick the wrong day to wear shorts!?

Relaxed cruising

Some of my most prized time was spent on the top deck of the River Kwai relaxing and taking in the sights, sounds and overall ambience of the river environment. The feeling was at times mesmerizing, as states of advanced relaxation can be.

All along our river journey we encountered friendly locals, gaining brief insights into their daily rituals. We compared their housing styles and marveled at their seemingly uncomplicated lifestyles.

We studied the river ecology, learning that Thailand is one of the world’s largest exporters of shrimp and tilapia. We universally agreed we were lucky to be aboard and happy to be away from the madness of civilization. We developed new friendships and did not want our newfound river lifestyle to come to an end. We had gone “Thai.”

Before you go

Topside open-air dining is a joy for passengers aboard the R.V. River Kwai. Photo: Keck

The Kwai River cruise operates with both upstream and downstream 3-night/4-day itineraries. I am happy I was able to experience the downstream version.

My March 27-30 cruise was during the hottest portion of the year, March-April, and I would recommend a cooler time period, if possible. Consult with the tour company Value World Tours regarding options.

Contact Value World Tours (Fountain Valley, CA; 800/795-1633, e-mail cruise@valuecruises.net or visit www.valuecruises.net) for information on the Thailand river cruise-tour program and their wide range of other Asia and international cruise-tour programs.

For information regarding all aspects of visiting Thailand, contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand (611 North Larchmont Blvd., First Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90004; 323/461-9814, e-mail tatla@ix.netcom.com or visit www.tourismthailand.org/la).