Messing About On The River Kwae
One of the perks of teaching in Lop Buri through the Lawoe agency is that, whilst they do take a hefty whack of my salary, they do very occasionally organise some pretty cool excursions. Like the recent weekend in Kanchanaburi where we visited the River Kwae and stayed on a raft house. The raft house was a pretty awesome experience and not one that farangs ever usually get to have. A raft-housing holiday I suppose is the Thai equivalent of canal boating. It’s not marketed to westerners; I wouldn’t even know how to begin setting it up without a Thai speaker and most foreigners don’t come here in large enough groups to do it. A raft house is pretty much what it says on the tin; a house on a raft that floats on the river. Like a true raft it has no means of self-propulsion, plus the toilet facilities consist of a western toilet that drops whatever you put in it straight into the river to feed the fish (no number twos whilst in built-up areas or whilst the boat is stationary), it gives a whole new dimension to the term bottom-feeders. Our raft had two rooms, one large and open-sided and one smaller room full of mats and pillows for everyone to bed down in together like hamsters in a box. A small staff hopped on and off the boat to serve us all-inclusive Thai food and DJ incongruously loud and obnoxious dance music on the impressive sound system. The raft is lashed to a speedboat which pulls it down the river until you find a spot to moor up for the night; it’s wonderful.
When we first arrived at the raft house I was slightly concerned that the considerable downpour turning the water into a roiling, pock-marked mass of grey was going to put a dampener (‘scuse the pun) on things but thankfully it didn’t last long and we were off, sitting up front with our feet trailing in the water. We ate dinner on the move and cracked open the special-occasions-only imported Italian Pinot Grigio as we glided into dusk on the river. When we moored up it was only the shortest of times before bodies were bombing into the water, splashing about and trying desperately not to think about what a random sample of that river might contain. We consoled ourselves that it couldn’t be too terrible considering we’d earlier seen a Thai person pick their way round a scummy patch and brush their teeth in it, although people did nervously move away from the boat whenever the toilet door opened. I clambered out when a bloated and very dead pink fish bobbed up near my shoulder, I’d already been a little nervous of the 6 foot long river fish we knew lived in it and which can weigh up to 7/8 stone (98-112lbs) and didn’t need much of an excuse to vacate. It didn’t stop me bombing back in again after dark though once rum, beer and wine (not together) had taken their toll.
Once I’d got dressed again and dried off James charged past me naked as a babe and swinging his shorts above his head before bombing into the now black water. A few others followed suit and, not fancying nudity or clambering back into my wet swimsuit, I dove in behind them fully clothed. It seemed quite funny at the time but when I jumped into the river my trousers pulled me down and it seemed to take me an eternity of flailing in stasis under the dark water before I managed to break the surface again spluttering and gasping. It didn’t put me off doing it repeatedly through the course of the night until my outfit for the evening consisted of a rudimentary sari made from a damp sarong and a travel towel since everything else was dripping.
Before heading home we visited Erawan waterfalls for a day of clambering about. I’ll concede I didn’t spend too much time in the water since it was full of overly-friendly fish who like to nibble gummily at swimmers which was a bit too much for me. I can snorkel in seas teeming with fish and that’s awesome but if I can’t see them and they just keep nipping at me I’m less than impressed. It was a beautiful day though and I had a lovely walk up to the 5th tier of falls. I even encountered my first Thai snake, a luminous green beastie hanging like a vine in a tree.