Floating Market and the River Kwai

21 Jan

On my final day in Bangkok, I took a day trip to one of Bangkok’s floating markets and the River Kwae.  After a delayed start and near fight due to lack of communication (Aussie boy: I did not sign up for this tour – let me off the bus mate!), we got underway.

Floating Market: Dumnoen Saduak

There are a number of floating markets on the outskirts of Bangkok.  The one most often visited is the Dumnoen Saduak floating market, which is located about 110 km South West of Bangkok and is 1 to 2 hours drive outside of Bangkok in the Samut Sakhon province.

This market is quite touristy and there are apparently nicer markets, which you can get to by car, such as the Tha Kha market in the Samut Songhkram province: http://www.thai-blogs.com/2011/01/18/tha-kha-floating-market/ .  As I was short of time, I went to Dumnoen Saduak.

We stop at Sampang, where we take a long tailed boat (such as that used by James Bond in the man with the golden gun) to the market.  As the river canals can be quite shallow, these boats have engines attached to a long pole, which enables them to be easily lifted out of the water or even partially submerged, which makes manoeuvring the boat easier.

View from the long boat

View from the long boat

Along the way to the market, we passed several traditional houses along the side of the river.

Traditional Thai house

Traditional Thai house

There are also slow boats, which are paddled.  It is not uncommon to see very small Thai ladies deftly paddling boat loads of hefty Fareng through the canals around the market.

Long / Slow boat traffic

Long / Slow boat traffic

Bangkok was once known as the Venice of Thailand, until water pollution limited the commercial opportunities on the water.  The floating markets outside of Bangkok give some idea as to how trade was once carried out.  At the market, there are lots of vendors both dockside and in the water, selling a variety of foods (Mango sticky rice, Spring rolls, fried bananas, Noodles, fish etc.).

Deep fried bananas

Deep fried bananas

Selling Mango Sticky Rice at the floating market

Selling Mango Sticky Rice at the floating market

Kannom Krok - sweet rice "pancakes" served with sweet corn, pumpkin or.... spring onion?

Kannom Krok – sweet rice “pancakes” served with sweet corn, pumpkin or…. spring onion?

There are also a number of craft offerings, paintings and beautifully embroidered garments made from silk and cotton.  Unfortunately, there is also the same touristy rubbish that you see in many markets around Thailand.

After the market, we made our way to the River Kwae, via the craft market.

The craft market

Teak trees are commonly found in the North of Thailand and there is a large handicraft business based on the wood of these trees.  We stopped at the craft market to look at the various wooden carvings and furniture made of teak.

Carving teak

Carving teak

Mulberry trees are also found in North Thailand.  Chiang Mai is famous for Sa paper, which is made from the bark of the mulberry tree.  The bark is softened by soaking, pounded out until thin and then dried to produce paper.

Making Sa paper from Mulberry bark

Making Sa paper from Mulberry bark

Although this is nowadays more efficiently done by machine, the original process has been maintained at the craft market.

Mulberry trees are also instrumental in the production of silk as the silk worms feed on their leaves.

We left the craft market at about 11:00 to make our way to the Death Railway Museum and the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi province, which is approximately 130km NW of BKK.

The Death Railway Museum and Bridge over the River Kwai

We stopped at the Death Railway museum, the war graves cemetery at Kanchanaburi and then went on to the famous bridge over the Mae Klong River (Khwae Yai).

The film “The Bridge over the River Kwai” was loosely based on the building of the so-called death railway from Thailand to Burma.  The focus is on the building of the bridge over the Mae Klong river (Khwae Yai).

Bridge over Khwae Yai

Bridge over Khwae Yai

The railway was called the “death railway” because of the number of prisoners of war and other civilians that died building it.

The Death Railway

The Death Railway

The use and mistreatment of PoWs in this way was in contravention of the Geneva convention on treatment of prisoners of war, 27 July 1929: http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/full/305?opendocument .

Note that this convention predates the United Nations and was instituted during the time of the League of Nations.  In particular, Article 2 of the general provisions of this 1929 document states that the prisoners of war “shall at all times be humanely treated and protected, particularly against acts of violence, from insults and from public curiosity”.

This was not honoured during the building of the railway, especially as the Japanese engineers in charge of building the railway came under greater and greater pressure to deliver.  While it has been alleged that much of the poor treatment came about as a result of this pressure and the fact that Japanese engineers (not professional army personnel) were in charge of the prisoners, what cannot be discounted is that there may have been cultural reasons for the poor treatment of the prisoners – it was alleged that the Japanese despised prisoners of war as they felt they should die rather than being captured.

Some of what made this work so difficult for the prisoners of war were poor facilities including medical, poor sanitation, limited medical equipment and inadequate amounts of food, particularly for Westerners, undertaking extremely difficult manual labour.  In addition, this work spanned both the dry and rainy seasons, with the heat and insects being extremely difficult for the prisoners of war.

I do not claim to be an historian and would welcome any comments which shed further light / clarify this.

Interesting points to note:

1.)    The prisoners were largely Dutch, Australian, English and American.  By far the greatest number of these prisoners were English.  However, a far greater number of Burmese and Malay civilians died.  This is supported by the following quotation from the Commonwealth Graves commission at Kanchanaburi and reproduced in Wikipedia: “The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma. Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre.”

War Cemetery at Kanchanaburi

War Cemetery at Kanchanaburi

2.)    Many of the Japanese engineers were thought to have been trained by the British.  They make a point of saying that they did not need English / American help to build the bridge and that this is incorrectly portrayed in the movie.  They used an American engineering manual, issued to American troops.

3.)    The River is not the Kwai (pronounced: Kwhy) – Kwai means water buffalo – It is the Kwae Yai  (pronounced Kwey).  Kwae means river.

The next day, I left for Phuket.  There was much more to do in Bangkok than I had time to do and it is a city that I would definitely enjoy visiting again.

One Response to “Floating Market and the River Kwai”

  1. Philip February 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Sjo really interesting! I really want to visit Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Samui. I have never been to the East and only hear good things about it! I will surely get some pointers from you before I go! 🙂

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