Kanchanaburi: Part 4, Khao Laem National Park

Cultural tourism is, and has long been, the vogue among the backpacking set. The idea is to go to an exotic foreign locale to meet colorful natives and to immerse oneself in their quaint folkways. Unless you are in the military and are thus required to kill your new friends it is always good to pet the grubby children and mangy dogs, this despite the fact that in Thailand it is a grave offense to touch anyone’s head. Western tourists are forgiven for such behavior; after all, they are just barbarians, big, hairy, smelly, and stupid, but with good hearts.

So it was that during a two month journey to Thailand and Myanmar in 2016 the Weazel, Dr. Ann, and David D visited Sangkhlaburi and Three Pagodas Pass to witness a co-mingling of the Thai and Mon cultures. It was delightful, and the scenery beautiful, but people are people. The Weazel is fond of certain individual persons, but not of the human race; so, after our sojourn in civilization we set out to explore the wilder parts of Kanchanaburi province.

It is my habit to  plan trips by means of Google Earth and other such mapping tools. While cruising in my imaginary airplane to peruse the world’s topography I take note of any place that is dark green, swampy, mountainous, or which exhibits anomalous geographic features. To put it another way, I look for places with interesting terrain, lots of vegetation, and few if any people.

Close scrutiny of Kanchanaburi province revealed numerous karst features such as deeply dissected plateaus, abrupt cliffs, sinkholes, and disappearing streams.

Many of those interesting features were located in protected areas such as Khao Laem National Park which we had previously passed on our way to Sangkhlaburi and Three Pagodas Pass.

Here is a vertically exaggerated Google Earth view of the Park looking southwest from a prominent peak toward the reservoir which impounds the Kwai Noi river. The frontier with Myanmar can be seen on the horizon.

When viewed from this angle it is easy to see the gigantic upper entrance to Tham Nam Mut (Mut River cave) in the lower middle of the image. Despite its proximity to civilization the cave is effective unknown.

The downstream resurgence is just on the other side of the ridge and is the source of a series of travertine waterfalls known as Nam Tok Kroeng Krawia that are a major tourist attraction situated next to a highway. (Note: “Nam tok” means waterfall, and Kroeng Krawia is actually pronounced something like Kleung Klavia.)

It appeared to be an easy place to visit, just jump on a bus in Sangkhlaburi then get off at the Kroeng Krawia waterfall. From there it is less than two miles to the huge entrance seen above, so I was puzzled that no information could be found on the web. That is because in Thailand everything is easy except for that which is impossible. That plus the fact that the mountains are so steep and jagged that not even a Goral (Thai mountain goat) could easily traverse them.

When we got off the  bus at the waterfall I was dismayed to see numerous tour buses, countless people picnicking, piles of trash, and vendors selling food and knickknacks. With all this development surely there must be a place to camp? Wrong!

I inquired at what I presumed to be the Park headquarters. (Kroeng Krawia is part of Khao Laem National Park), but was told that the official Pom Pee campsite was far away along the lake shore. Our only other alternative was to camp at the actual Park headquarters several miles to the south. There weren’t even any hotels other than a so called “resort” more than a mile away.

The options were few so I set out on foot for the resort. It proved to be ugly and expensive so I walked back. Every day of our trip I had walked many miles on my injured feet, often with a pack, so by this time my aching arthritic feet were so covered with blisters that I could barely walk, a major impediment to exploration and a good reason to camp nearby if I had any hope of visiting the cave.

The Park headquarters down the road seemed the best bet, but back at the waterfall there were no taxi drivers because everyone had come by tour bus. Thai bus drivers may be friendly but they are not stupid. They saw our heavy packs and recognized our predicament, chumps ripe for the picking! So it was that we paid a small fortune for a three mile ride.

The site proved to be idyllic, a meadow next to a blue travertine stream, but the Park staff were flabbergasted, what were Farang (White Honkeys) doing here?

No one spoke a word of English but they understood that we wanted to camp despite the fact that they had rooms available, so they escorted us to a spot right next to the road. That was when we got a taste of cross cultural confusion.

Thai people never go camping alone, only in groups. Think overnight picnic. They prefer to camp cheek by jowl as close to the road as possible. Like moths, they also prefer to congregate around lights so most parks have overhead lights turned on 24/7. In a worst case scenario there is music. All of which is exactly what I most hate.

We refused their kind offer and instead insisted on crossing a quaint bridge to set up our camp on a grassy island occupied by an enormous water buffalo which had to be driven off.

The buffalo was not amused, and neither were the Park staff who were perplexed as to why we would want to camp next to a stinking garbage dump. Perhaps the crazy Farang like the smell of rotting garbage?

Then there was the problem with the lights. I could find no way to turn them off so I mimicked shooting them. What?

A comedy of errors followed. I had already managed to turn off several of the lights but could not find the main breaker. The staff thought I was trying to fix the lights so they scurried around turning them back on, after which I would turn them back off again.

Thais are obsessional about keeping floors clean; unfortunately, that included the lawn which, in their view, was marred by the presence of a few leaves from the towering jungle trees. It was a disgrace! What will the Farang think of us? So the Superintendent ordered an army of women with brooms to sweep the lawn until every single leaf had been removed.

Thai women, presumably Muslims, sweep the lawn

Sweeping the lawn served a dual purpose. It also enabled the women to spy on us and to examine our weird possessions. There was no mal intent, just curiosity as to why the hairy barbarians would chose to hide in a garbage dump and place their tents in the dark as far apart from each other as possible. Do they hate each other? Or us? Perhaps they can’t smell the dump because they stink so much themselves? Do they want to be in the dark so they can do terrible things unseen? Who knows?

Once the lawn was meticulously swept the Superintendent wrinkled his nose. The lawn wasn’t perfect, some of the grass along the road was turning brown from the ever increasing drought, so he hooked up a gasoline pump with which to flood the area. The sound was deafening but the buffalo approved, more green grass was sure to come!

Despite all that I loved the site, especially the travertine stream behind my tent.

The leaves aren’t really blue, but with a blue sky and blue water my camera got confused.

Notice the dingy blue color of the water and how level the travertine dams are. For those who don’t know, travertine forms in circumstances where water becomes super saturated with calcium derived from the surrounding limestone, or sometimes from hot mineral springs. As the water passes over obstructions aeration increases the out gassing of carbon dioxide which precipitates calcium carbonate which is what travertine is made of. The same process creates cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites.

The faster the water flows the quicker the process; thus, the dams continually repair and level themselves. Normal waterfalls erode downward and migrate upstream over time. Travertine waterfalls do just the opposite, instead of eroding they grow upward and forward.

The blue color of the water is caused by the scattering of light due to the presence of calcium ions.

The vegetation was quite interesting, a mini rainforest! The whole place looked very snaky, but I could find nothing but small frogs and fish.

The trees were adorned with orchids

I’m not much of a fan of the various weedy bamboo species that dominate so much of southeast Asia, but on the hill behind the outhouse was some of the largest bamboo I  have ever seen. The old rotten culms provided refuge for numerous geckos that screamed obscenities all night long.

Dendocalamus giganteus

We Farang tend to think of palms as being utterly harmless icons of the tropics that sway in the breeze along the shore, but palms that live in the jungle are often heavily armed to discourage predation by big herbivores such as elephants. Such is the case with genus Salacca and their close relatives the bizarre climbing rattans (genus Calamus). Think about it the next time you relax on the patio in your comfortable rattan lounge, someone had to remove the spines or your butt would resemble a pincushion!

Salacca sp.

It was along the limpid stream that I became reacquainted with my old nemesis the Crying elephant plant, an evil Aroid that looks completely harmless but causes elephants to cry. It certainly caused me to cry when I first encountered it on a previous trip to Thailand. The slightest touch of the stem or underside of the leaf drives invisible spines filled with oxalic acid into the skin. The pain is unbelievably intense and lasts for weeks.

Lasia spinosa? or perhaps Pycnospatha?

When morning came I was too lazy to build a fire to make coffee so I set off on foot to find a coffee shop said to be less than a mile away. As soon as I started walking a wild looking fellow on a motor scooter stopped to offer me a lift. In Thailand you don’t even have to hitchhike to get a ride!

The coffee shop was closed, but when my benefactor learned that I was looking for coffee he suggested going to a nearby police station. Huh?

The police station was closed too, but that didn’t deter my new friend, he broke into the cop shop with his pocket knife, rooted around, and found all the fixings for coffee and even a nice breakfast. I could hardly believe this was happening. Who breaks into a police station? He told me not to worry, if the cops come we will just offer them a few Baht for breakfast and all will be forgiven. Try that in Detroit.

The fellow said that he was unemployed and looking for work, but I could not help but suspect that he was an undercover cop of some sort, either that or a complete idiot. Regardless, he was my new friend and even took me back to camp!

The day was young, so Ann, Dave, and I decided to return to the Kroeng Krawia waterfall several miles away. We hitchhiked separately and got there in short order. The falls were already crowded with tourists doing what tourists usually do, littering, smooching, eroding the banks, pooping in the woods, and taking selfies.

People are people

The Kroeng Krawia falls are similar to the ones at camp, but much larger and more beautiful. There are many levels that cascade for hundreds of feet down the mountain. None of my photos do the place justice, so I suggest that you click this link to see what they look like. Please understand that I have few photos of this extraordinary place because my injured feet hurt so badly that I could barely see straight much less focus.

The Kroeng Krawia waterfalls were obviously a resurgence of the stream that carved Nam Mut cave, so I set out to find the source.

A set of stairs adjacent to the falls led to a large temple, monastery, and meditation complex. The architecture was oddly modernistic yet traditional in that there were the usual golden Buddhas.

Golden Buddhas are a dime a dozen in Thailand, but jade green is special!

Don’t let the tin roof fool you, it was a work in progress, first you build the Buddha, then you build the temple around it. The whole place had an odd air of abandonment, as though a grand enterprise had failed to materialize; nevertheless, there were still plenty of Monks. I snuck past the temple to find them at their leisure.

So Prongdoodle, are you any closer to enlightenment yet?

That was when I discovered a most intriguing path leading into the forest. Ann and Dave had disappeared so I continued on alone.

This way to Oz

Everywhere I looked there were tiny little Hobbit houses lost in the jungle. Why didn’t someone suggest that we stay here? I later learned that it was a failed meditation retreat center.

Nobody home, not even the Hobbits

All across Thailand there are abandoned temples and monasteries that failed because a charismatic guru either died or was disgraced because of screwing his acolytes.

I had the highest hopes of finding a cobra. The habitat was perfect, abandoned buildings deep in the jungle, but not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

I continued on for some distance until I arrived at a small settlement at the head of the valley. There I met a Nun tending her garden who sternly but kindly asked me not to invade their privacy. She was an intelligent person with whom I could communicate despite the language barrier. I explained as best I could that I wanted to visit Tham Nam Mut. She found this very alarming and basically said, “No way! There is no path, it is far away and you have to cross two mountains; besides, you are old and alone!” The part about the path wasn’t really true, I had methodically checked out every possible path and had noticed a very faint path that had been blocked off which had to be the way. She was just trying to keep me from getting lost or hurt.

When the Nun saw that I was about to disappear into the jungle she offered a consolation prize, to show me her own personal meditation cave and an alternative jungle path back to the park. So it was that I acquired a Buddhist Nun as a cave guide!

From the cave a tiny footpath led along the base of a cliff. It was very rugged and rocky. At the worst place, which actually required climbing skills, we discovered a feral dog denned up with a litter of pups. I expected the bitch to attack us, but the Nun spoke kindly to the dog and fearlessly picked up a pup to cuddle.

It’s a dog’s life in Thailand where even a mangy cur gets food and affection

By sunset I was back in camp nursing my aching feet. It was deeply frustrating to find myself crippled and unable to explore such an interesting place. There was so much more to see and do! Not far away was a hidden lake and swamp surrounded by deep jungle, and worst of all I had completely failed to locate a huge cave a short distance from the road. Beyond the cave was a pristine valley that I longed to visit. When will that opportunity come? In my next lifetime? I’m not a Buddhist so I’m not counting on it.

The good news was that police station where I had eaten my purloined breakfast was located at the turnoff to our next destination, Lam Klong Ngu National Park. Some of the largest caves in Thailand are located inside the park; furthermore, “Khlong ngu” means Snake creek so I had to go! My hoodlum/undercover cop buddy had already explained that trucks would pass the intersection the following day around 10am so we had a plan!

 

 

Kanchanaburi: Part 3, Three Pagodas Pass

In January of 2016 the Weazel returned to Kanchanaburi province in central western Thailand with Dr. Ann and friend David D.

We had just come from the magnificent wilderness of Kaeng Krachan and were in need of a soft bed and a bath before continuing our adventures.

We arrived in Kanchanaburi town in the southeastern corner of the province to discover that little had changed over the years other than the advancing age of the previously mentioned perverts (See: Kanchanaburi part 1, Land of Dirty Old Men) and ever increasing sprawl; so, after a few days we hit the road for the hinterlands.

Kanchanaburi province and surrounding areas

Sangkhlaburi and Three Pagodas Pass

In the far northwestern corner of Kanchanaburi province lies the remote outpost of Sangkhlaburi, and beyond that the legendary Three Pagodas Pass.

Three Pagodas Pass is the lowest pass anywhere along the Tenasserim mountain range that defines the frontier between Thailand and Myanmar. There are very few passes and even fewer border crossings.

In the beginning Three Pagodas Pass was just an elephant trail. It is said that the Buddha himself passed this way some 2500 years ago. Ever since various people have battled for possession and the fighting isn’t over yet.

Any two nations separated by a jungle covered mountain range tend to be perpetually at war; so, for many centuries the Pass was a flashpoint between Burmese and Thai forces. During WWII it was the route of the railroad of death, but the train doesn’t stop here anymore. More recently the Mon and Karen rebels have battled over the right to “tax” the smuggling route to finance their never ending fight against the Myanmar government. Truckloads of smuggled teak, jade, drugs, and people pour constantly across the border so security is high.

Nearby Sangkhlaburi is mostly inhabited by refugees from Burma. Mon people are in the majority. They warily coexist with their rivals the Karen along with a few Bamar (the so called “true” Burmese), a few misplaced Lao, some angry looking Muslims, and lots of spiffy Thai tourists from Bangkok.

Thai tourists on the Mon bridge release a hot air balloon for good luck!

Sangkhlaburi isn’t particularly impressive, but as is often the case in small Thai towns beauty is bursting at the seams. Where else would a shack be embowered with flowers and a street light be carried by a golden Griffin?

Dr. Ann and Dave go for a stroll in the streets of Sangkhlaburi

We found a room near the famous Mon bridge, said to be one of the longest and tallest wooden bridges in the world.

This long bridge connects Sangkhlaburi with the 95.5% Mon refugee village on the other side of the reservoir/river.

I had expected a floating bamboo bridge, and the remnants of the original, seen here, still serve as a pier.

At sunset the scene is picturesque to an extreme degree. My photos do no justice to the serenity. Fisherman’s shacks and floating raft houses dot the lake while craggy mountains rise in the distance. I have rarely seen a more beautiful and culturally interesting place.

Just across the bridge in the Mon village elegant women in sarongs carry baskets of flowers on their heads.

The proud Mon people don’t slouch!

Mon refugees conduct themselves with dignity and restraint and have thus earned the respect of the Thai people.

Despite being a refugee camp the Mon village is extremely prosperous. I was surprised to discover that many of the residents are multilingual and speak excellent English. The old and new coexist easily. Were it not for the omnipresent cell phones one might imagine it to be a scene from the distant past.

A typical Mon shop

The following day we hopped into a Muslim owned sawngtaeo (a pickup truck with bench seats in the back) and headed for the pass. There were several army and police checkpoints along the way. The authorities gave our driver the evil eye, but the last thing they cared about was a grizzled gringo and his girlfriend.

It was interesting to observe the grumpiness of the Muslims relative to the ever smiling Thais and the dignified tribal refugees. Is it cause or effect? Regardless, anti Muslim sentiment is building throughout the region so they keep their heads low.

There was certainly no shortage of Buddhists.

Mendicant Monks and stray dogs are ubiquitous throughout southeast Asia

Notice that the Monk is carrying a bowl. The faithful are expected to put rice in the bowl and a morsel in the dog’s mouth. Foreigners are exempt, because everyone knows they come from corrupt cultures where greed is God. A good Buddhist can only pity those who know nothing of kindness and generosity.

Three Pagodas Pass isn’t really a town, just a market and checkpoint. Foreign tourists aren’t welcome to cross here, just to peer across into Myanmar.

Welcome! Now go back to wherever you came from.

For a place so steeped in history Three Pagodas Pass seemed curiously small and calm, almost forgotten. The few soldiers we encountered were smiling and friendly, they did no more than to shoo us away from the actual border.

It seemed that no one was paying any attention until I looked up to discover enormous telecommunications towers rising above an ancient Wat. When World War III erupts news of the event will fly around the world over Three Pagodas Pass, but the people below will know nothing about it.

On the Thai/Myanmar frontier the old and new coexist uneasily

Why would such a magnificent temple be abandoned?

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse

Shabby looking Monks scurried around the adjacent buildings but none came near the temple. Perhaps they fear some horrific curse?

It is hard to imagine how we missed anything in such a tiny place; nevertheless, we searched in vain for the eponymous pagodas. Here they are courtesy of Wiki.

Image swiped from the web

There wasn’t much else to do so we wandered out of town. After a lengthy trek through the countryside we noticed an isolated karst mountain and there discovered the Tham Kaeo Sawan Badan meditation center.

Tham Kaeo Sawan Badan

Which came complete with the usual golden Buddhas.

No one noticed our arrival so we simply wandered around until we found a wooden staircase that led steeply up the mountain, then down into the cave.

Ann in Tham Kaeo Sawan Badan

We were puttering around in the dim light when suddenly an enthusiastic young man raced up to give us the grand tour. We tried to run the boy off but he would not be deterred so we graciously accepted his services.

And to my left you see the void of nothingness

Should nothingness not come easily you are invited to meditate. There is even a mosquito net should you wish to spend a few weeks in the dark while awaiting enlightenment.

Feel free to sit until your butt hurts and your head clears

The kid loved his job. As soon as he got his hands on my headlamp he rushed ahead to make new discoveries, thus leaving me in the dark. His enthusiasm was infectious. Even though I couldn’t see a thing he would say (In Thai), “Hurry Mister, Hurry! There’s lots more to see!”, so I would hurry on as best I could while trying not to fall into a pit.

He was the coolest kaver kid I have ever met. I would gladly have given him my headlamp but I needed it. If I was rich I would have given him a scholarship. He never asked for money, so when he disappeared I searched for him to give him a tip. I learned that he had run off to guide a group of Thai tourists to a separate cave on the other side of the mountain. That was how I discovered that the entire mountain was hollow!

The back entrance to Tham Kaeo Sawan Badan

I walked around the mountain and climbed up to a different entrance. There was no one to be found, but once inside the cave I was astonished to see that a travertine waterfall had been illuminated by candles to mark the way. (Note: The formations are actually snow white, it is the light source that makes them look orange.)

A travertine waterfall illuminated with candles

I finally caught up to the kid and offered him a big tip even though what he really wanted was my headlamp so he could become a real explorer. I hope he kept the money instead of giving it to the monks!

We hitchhiked back to Sangklaburi. I needed to check my emails so I found an internet cafe. I was dismayed to discover that it was full of tech savvy Mon kids, all of whom were playing violent video games while imagining that they were blasting either ISIS or Burmese government troops.

Unlike Super Cave Boy who lives in a golden temple, those townie twerps will undoubtedly grow up to be violent, indolent, and rude to their parents. They will learn everything bad that we, the Western world, can teach them.

During my travels I have again and again observed the pernicious effects of the media upon innocent children. Even the slightest contact with television, recorded music, or video games is pure poison that stunts both moral and intellectual development.

In the West we grow up with cynical attitudes toward everything. That gives us some protection, but children who grow up with one foot in a refugee camp and one in the twenty first century are certain to be conflicted. They will always choose distraction and instant gratification over the wisdom offered by their parents and the Buddha. Why are we, the supposed adults, so foolish as to allow it to happen? Mostly because we are lazy and weak minded.

All is well that ends with a good meal. We found a table at the market, bought some beer then decided to stay for dinner. Talk about taste treats! Thai spice, Burmese and Muslim curries, salads, and best of all barbecued chicken hearts and livers. I gorged myself!

It was the weekend and Thai tourists were pouring in by the busload to walk the Mon bridge at sunset. Who could blame them? We learned that every hotel room in town had been booked in advance so we had no choice but to pack up and leave in the morning. Enough of hotel living, it was time to head back into the boonies!

 

 

 

Kanchanaburi: Part 2, Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park

Prelude:

This post is a bit of an anachronism. All of the other adventures chronicled in this series about Kanchanaburi province in western Thailand took place in 2016; however, that was not my first trip to the magical realm.

During the winter of 2008-2009 the Wandering Weazel undertook an ambitious two month long southeast Asian adventure, first to southern Laos, and then to various National Parks throughout Thailand. Brief side trips were also taken to Cambodia and Myanmar.

Toward the end of that journey I visited Tak province in western Thailand, then continued south to Umphang district which is arguably the most remote place in Thailand. There I visited the magnificent Thi Lor Su waterfall which is one of the wonders of the world. I will chronicle those adventures in a future post.

From a cultural perspective Umphang is really a piece of Burma (Myanmar) that just happens to be in Thailand. It is cut off from Tak province and the rest of the world by wild jungles and the complex folding of the Tenasserim range. There is only one road in or out, and it is known as the “Highway of Death”. (I should mention here that what I am calling jungle is actually seasonally dry monsoonal forest rather than rain forest.)

None of this has stopped many thousands of Karen refugees from pouring across the frontier to escape governmental persecution in Myanmar. Huge refugee camps spread across the denuded mountainsides. The Karen people have nothing, only dirt to eat and teak leaves for their roofs, yet their dignity in the face of travail has to be seen to be believed. They acknowledge that they are guests in Thailand so they conform to social norms and speak only of their desire to return to their homeland. If and when they get a cup of rice they are eternally thankful. For these and other reasons the Karen people quickly earned my respect.

I was equally impressed by the Karen homeland, the wild and beautiful mountains that separate Myanmar from Thailand, so I resolved to continue my explorations.

There was still time for one more side trip so I decided to visit Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park in Kanchanaburi province. It is located a relatively short distance south of Umphang as the crow flies but is very difficult to get to. I chose Chaloem Rattanakosin because the guidebook said it was rarely visited due to its remote location, and there was nothing to do other than to explore a cave known as Tham Than Lot. All of which sounded perfect to me!

There was no direct way to get there because the border between the two provinces is protected by the Thungyai Naresuan and Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries. These are two of the world’s most important protected areas. Both sanctuaries are generally closed to tourism, and are home to some of the last viable populations of wild elephants and tigers.

Protected areas within the Western Forest Complex

As you can see most of southern Tak province, Umphang, and northwestern Kanchanaburi province is protected in one way or another. Logging, hunting, and the building of new farms is strictly prohibited, though a certain amount of latitude is given to the inhabitants of remote rural villages.

Thai conservationists are practical people. A ranger might turn a blind eye to a hungry man who cuts firewood or snares the King’s rabbit, but shoot a tiger and he will shoot you. Don’t bother going to court, the judge will ask, “Did he or didn’t he have a gun?” We need to take the same approach whenever right wing fanatics take over our public lands here in the United States.

Most importantly, the Thais protect land through the simple expedient of not building roads. That means there is no way to get from Tak province to Kanchanaburi province other than by walking. Anyone who does risks being flattened by an elephant or being turned into a tiger turd, so I decided to take a bus.

Sleeper buses go directly from the city of Tak overnight to Bangkok. These are deluxe rigs with fully reclinable seats, picture windows, and bar service. “Would you like a hot washcloth with your cold beer Sir?”

From Bangkok it would have been easy to catch another bus to Kanchanaburi then somehow on to Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park. The problem was that I didn’t want to go to Bangkok so I decided to get there the hard way by taking local transportation.

Lost in the countryside:

My first stop was Uthai Thani, a nondescript town with little of interest to a tourist. No tourists meant no English was spoken which complicated things considerably. I had no idea how to pronounce Chaloem Rattanakosin. Even if I could pronounce the words no one would have known it by its official name. I pointed to it on the map but that didn’t help either because most Thais cannot read maps and know nothing about anywhere except where they live.

After much gesticulation a fellow offered the suggestion that I should travel first to the tiny town of Nong Prue; unfortunately, he had no idea how to get there so I had to inquire elsewhere. The problem was that I couldn’t pronounce that place name either. These look like simple words when transliterated into English but the Thai pronunciation of Nong Prue sounded something like the noises a cat might make whose fur was being rubbed the wrong way.

Thus began a multi day Odyssey by chicken bus, songthaew (a pickup truck with bench seats in the back), and tuk tuk (a motorized tricycle) that eventually deposited me on the outskirts of Nong Prue. There was nothing there but an abandoned bus stop by the side of an empty road, so there I sat wondering what to do.

Eventually some Buddhist monks in saffron robes showed up. They were already halfway to Nirvana so they nodded and smiled regardless of what I said or did. Later, some rather more worldly old ladies arrived at the bus stop. They were intensely curious as to why a Farang would be in such a place. Where, pray tell, was I going? And why?

I tried and tried to pronounce Chaloem Rattanakosin but to no avail. No one had ever heard of such a place. Eventually I heard one of the old ladies mumble something about Tham Than Lot. That rang a bell so I looked in my guidebook to discover that was the name of the cave! (Tham means cave in Thai). I should also mention that transliteration between Thai and English is an imperfect art so spellings may vary. For example, the name of the cave is also spelled Tam Tan Lod.

By this time a small crowd had gathered and they all smiled and nodded in approbation. “Yes, you go Tham Than Lot, very good!” I gathered that any Farang who went to such a place couldn’t be all bad.

The riddle was solved, but I still had to get there. An old man explained things to the bus driver but he shook his head, it wasn’t on his route. That was when the old ladies sprang into action and besieged the poor driver until he agreed to take me where I was going. No one ever dares to argue with a gaggle of hags in rural Thailand!

Almost every rural village in Thailand is accessible by some form of public transportation. If the bus doesn’t go there then a songthaew will, even if it only goes once a week. The problem was that the Park was not a village,  few people live in the area, and individual travelers rarely visit so transportation was non existent.

Please understand that this was a full sized bus full of paying passengers that followed a designated route on a paved road just like here in the good old U S of A. Now imagine an American bus driver deviating from his route to take a single passenger more than fifteen miles out of the way on a very bad single lane dirt road through the mountains. If he wasn’t beaten to death by the outraged passengers then he would certainly be fired when he got back.

But this was Thailand where kindness and generosity are the norm, so the other passengers, who presumably had better things to do, actually cheered the driver on as he bravely bounced his way up the tiny road. When we arrived at the Park gate it was impossible for him to turn around so he had to back down the mountain while the passengers all waved goodbye.

Received like a long lost son:

At the gate I was greeted with beaming smiles by a cute young woman holding a new born baby. She observed that my pack was much too heavy so she urged me to put it down. Just to be sure she tried to move it a few inches but couldn’t. That generated more smiles and a quick squeeze of my biceps. “You velly strong man, good! But campground too far. I get ride for you!”

With that she thrust the infant into my arms and ran off to make a call. (Excellent phone and internet service is available everywhere in Thailand.)

What sane mother would entrust her child to a stinky foreign stranger who obviously hadn’t bathed or shaved in a very long time? I was terror stricken by the wriggling maggot, but a nearby farm girl noticed my plight, giggled, then relieved me of my burden.

In short order a fine young man, presumably a ranger, arrived on a motorcycle to take me to the Park headquarters more than a mile away. I was very reluctant to ride on a motorcycle while carrying my gigantic pack, but to him it was nothing because he was accustomed to carrying the whole family along with a pig or two.

The ranger took me to the Park headquarters and introduced me to the Superintendent, a spiffy fellow in a crisp uniform who spoke excellent English. He was effusively friendly as he welcomed me, obviously impressed that I had come alone by means of local transport. (Thais, like many oriental people, prefer to travel in organized groups. It is very unusual to meet a solitary Thai traveler.) He was even more impressed that I had all the necessary camping gear and needed nothing but his permission to be there.

The superintendent said I was free to explore the cave(s) by myself, but that I must enter and exit between 10am and 4pm. I later learned that this was because the so called Little cave, Tham Than Lot Noi (Noi means little in Thai), had lighting that was only turned on during those hours. It never occurred to him that I had lights of my own.

It was February, the burning season, and smoke filled the sky. While traveling through rural Thailand I had become increasingly dismayed by the ruined agricultural landscapes. What had once been monsoonal forest had been degraded into sere brown scrub due to fires set every year by farmers.

A typical hillside waiting to burn

It was understandable that the fertile flatlands had long ago been converted to rice paddies, but the hillsides were barely arable, useful only for the collection of firewood. Now even firewood was scarce because the tropical deciduous trees characteristic of a monsoonal forest had been replaced by bamboo and other fire tolerant species which form impenetrable thickets just waiting to burst into flame. It was very depressing to see that this slow motion ecological disaster had reached deeply into the Park.

All was not lost, for some low elevation areas still featured mature forest.

The Weazel in an evergreen monsoonal forest

So it was that I was delighted when the ranger took me to the campground where I discovered a shady grove of Dipterocarps beneath which to place my tent. I was equally delighted to discover that I was the only visitor!

Dipterocarps are enormous hardwood trees that emerge from the canopy to dominate forests throughout southeast Asia. These magnificent giants are Thailand’s treasure but they have been eliminated almost everywhere due to logging and agriculture. Their presence was proof that at least a few keystone species are being protected by the Park even if the overall ecosystem is otherwise unraveling. Despite the presence of other nearby protected areas the Park is simply too small to host resident populations of charismatic megafauna like elephants and tigers.

I was happy with my campsite, but what to do about dinner? On my way into the Park I had passed a cluster of shacks where I was told that food could be purchased. It was quite some distance away; so, after a long trek I was disappointed to discover that no one was home. Coolers full of cold beer tempted me but there was no one to pay.

A small noise alerted me to an old woman in the back hunched over a bucket full of burning charcoal. (In Thailand people often cook small amounts of food over specially designed buckets that are similar to a hibachi.) She was surprised and somewhat alarmed to see me. What on earth was a Farang doing here by himself?

I grabbed a beer then asked for food in broken Thai, but she shook her head. No food! Then I pointed to the bucket, rubbed my belly, and mimicked eating. She had food and I wanted some! Again she shook her head and said, “Phet mak!” (Too spicy!), for rural Thai people presume that Farang cannot possibly eat spicy Thai food. My vocabulary wasn’t up to an explanation so I walked into the kitchen then grabbed a plutonium grade chili pepper and swallowed it.

She was astonished when I smiled through my tears, so she gave me the thumbs up sign. Apparently I was tough enough so she brought me a plate of food.

Are you sure you can handle this Mister?

Needless to say it was absolutely delicious! As you can see I was reading “The Reivers” by Faulkner. There is nothing like a taste of Mississippi to make Thailand seem even more exotic.

Hotter than a freshly fucked fox in a forest fire!

The food is bad in rural backwaters almost everywhere on earth. In  Mississippi people eat grits and hog jowls. In Mexico they eat tortillas and pray to the Virgin Mary for beans. In the swamplands of Washington DC Donald Trump eats overcooked steak with ketchup. In Belize they consume a vile concoction known as “bile up” which does in fact bring up one’s bile. But in rural Thailand even the poorest of the poor eat like kings and queens!

It was so good that I ordered another bowl, only this time I asked for it to be extra spicy! My hostess was so pleased she did a little jig then whipped out her cell phone and called her various relatives to come watch the Farang eat. A small crowd arrived in moments, and all applauded me when I finished dinner.

From that moment on I was part of the family. More children were dumped in my lap, special tidbits were proffered, minor wounds were tended with loving care, and for the next several days the ranger wouldn’t let me walk anywhere. The moment I left camp he would immediately arrive on his motorcycle and offer me a ride, so I never had to walk to the restaurant again. There is no other place on earth where people are so genuinely friendly.

The little cave:

In the morning I set out to explore the so called “Little” cave which was quite near camp. No sooner had I begun to walk up the path when a young woman approached to remind me that the hours were from 10am to 4pm. Reminding visitors of the hours was her only job, but I was the only visitor, so for the rest of the day she had nothing to do.

Overstaffed you might say? Hardly! In America we close our parks rather than pay minimum wage to rural workers who would otherwise be jobless; but in Thailand where nepotism rules everyone who is related to the Boss or is his friend gets a job no matter how humble the station. Not only does everyone get a job, but everyone shares the work. That means the Superintendent helps Granny rake the yard while the ranger helps in the kitchen. Meanwhile, the kids pick up trash whenever not busy chasing lizards. Nobody gets rich but everybody gets by.

In this regard Thailand is the antithesis of America. Our society is based upon fear and greed, a war of all against all, so it is hardly surprising that our penchant for rules and regulations has led to the establishment of a totalitarian state. Thailand has rules and regulations too, but the enforcement of any rule is secondary to kindness, civility, and acceptance of personal responsibility.

Ding Dong the dimwit may only be capable of following a cow but that is his job and he is proud of it. He receives little or no wage, but he has a home and food because he works on his uncle’s farm. In America he would be homeless or in jail and taxpayers would foot the bill.

After assuring the young lady that I would be out by 4pm, I put on my headlamp and entered the cave. The headlamp was completely unnecessary due to the crude but effective lighting.

“Little” Tham Than Lot Noi was little only by Thai standards. It was a large borehole stream passage about a quarter of a mile long that in Tennessee would have been considered a big cave by anyone’s standards. There was little to see for periodic floods had limited the development of speleothems and there were no evident side passages so I hurried on through.

The upstream entrance of Tham Than Lot Noi

I emerged from the upstream entrance into a beautiful secluded valley. The hills above were scorched, brown, and covered with thorny bamboo, but the valley floor was lush and green with gallery forest along the stream.

Gallery forest with emergent Ficus trees

Attack of the giggling lady boys:

I paused to sit upon a rock and burn the sacred bud when suddenly the silence was shattered by howls and giggles as a troupe of androgynous young men pranced up the trail.

Look Pornpoodle, up ahead, a feral Farang!

All were very effeminate and some wore lipstick so I wasn’t sure whether or not they were Kathoey boys. Whatever they were they were having tons of fun and were the loudest Thai people I have ever met. They greeted me with shouts and wild gesticulations then raced on ahead, thus destroying any hope of wildlife observation.

This was not the only time I have chanced upon groups of Thai teenagers out for a lark whose appearance and behavior had homoerotic overtones. The Thais are much more accepting of sexual ambiguity than most Westerners, so I think it is “just a phase” that many young men go through in the process of growing up.

About half a mile ahead I met them again at a small waterfall whereupon they broke into various “manly” poses.

Nice Speedo there Poonprik!

Then we all went for a dip. It was great fun. I ain’t skeered of no Kathoey boys!

Nam Tok Tritrueng

Above Nam Tok Trutreng (Nam Tok means waterfall in Thai) the path appeared to end. I was at the end of a box canyon with nowhere to go, yet I had thus far seen no indication of the so called Big cave, Tham Than Lot Yai (Yai means big). Even more curious was the fact that the waterfall was composed of metamorphic rock. Limestone was nowhere to be seen, so how could there possibly be a cave?

Through the great arch:

I noticed a very scary looking wooden ladder going straight up the cliff. No way! But I wiggled a few of the wooden rungs and they were solid as a rock; so, with great trepidation I gave it a try.

Up and up I went, carefully testing every rung. The ladder led to a series of bridges spanning the stream, then ascended a vast pile of fallen rocks surmounted by strangler figs. It was a wild and scenic landscape that would have been difficult or impossible to traverse without the well constructed ladders and bridges.

A difficult ascent made possible by Thai craftsmanship

The path turned and I beheld a magnificent scene that I will never forget. Directly in front of me was a gigantic stone arch. The stream I had been following flowed through the arch and was surrounded by lush jungle. I could see right through the mountain!

The downstream entrance of Tham Than Lot Yai

Tham Than Lot Yai was indeed big. The passage was nearly 200 feet tall, but so short in length that light from the entrances enabled tall trees to grow inside the cave. There is nothing I like better than a cave that requires no lights!

The path led right through the cave. Once inside I beheld a magnificent skylight in the very center of the arch.

Inside the great arch of Tham Than Lot Yai

The skylight was at least 300 feet tall!

Looking up at the great skylight within Tham Than Lot Yai

The great chamber was a worthy abode for the Gods, but which ones? The Buddha of course!

Bi-polar Buddhas with zebras

Thai people are almost all devout Buddhists, so why was there also a shrine to Ganesha, a Hindu deity?

Ganesh the Elephant God

At some point in the distant past this cave must have served as the frontier between two faiths. It was clear that I was entering another realm, not just of belief, but also space and time. For thousands of years the fortunes of such deities and the religions they represent have waxed and waned just as armies have come and gone. Because both Buddhism and Hinduism are relatively tolerant belief systems the people who live here today have come to accept the presence of ancient and alien Gods as part of everyday life, much as they accept the pre-Buddhist animistic entities that inhabit the spirit houses by their doorsteps.

How different this is from the current clash between Islam and all other ideologies. If this were the Khyber pass I would have found a wall of razor wire backed up by opposing armies with nuclear weapons. Instead I found a gong with which to bring good luck.

To ring, or not to ring, that is the question?

Perhaps it was rude of me, but I simply could not resist. The gong was very heavy and made of bronze, so when I whacked it with the clapper the clang inside the cave was deafening. The enormous passage no doubt served as a megaphone so I am sure that people many miles away looked up from their rice paddies to think, “How nice. There goes a Monk on a pilgrimage. May he receive a thousand blessings!”

Having thus disturbed the peace I continued on through the cave to the upstream entrance.

Approaching the upstream entrance of Tham Than Lot Yai

The hidden Burmese village:

I continued through the cave and out the other side. It was puzzling to see that the path was more heavily used here than elsewhere, for I had presumed that there would be no people living in such a remote location on the back side of a cave atop a mountain. That was when I noticed a barely discernible side path leading steeply upwards toward the top of the arch. There was a tiny sign, but I can’t read “No Trespassing” signs regardless of the language.

The climb was treacherous because the way was strewn with the dried leaves of the ever present thorny bamboo. The fallen leaves were as slick as glass, mostly because they are actually made of glass, Silica to be exact.

There are a few bamboo specialists such as the Panda, but most herbivores won’t touch either the leaves or stems because to do so would be like eating fiberglass. Even worse is the blackish fuzz that grows on the leaf sheathes of newly emergent bamboo shoots. This evil fuzz is composed of microscopic glass needles that embed in the flesh of whatever touches the culm; then, when growth is complete the tiny needles fall off to join the smoke and other airborne pollutants that make it difficult to breathe or even see during the Thai dry season. One might as well be in Los Angeles.

The trail led right to the top of the skylight, but the rock was too unstable to get a good view looking down into the cave. I did, however, get a panoramic view of the surrounding wild landscape.

Looking north through the dry season haze at the deciduous monsoonal forest.

At the very top I was astounded to discover that I was in some sort of weird fairyland with tiny houses designed for dwarves.

A weird Fairyland of tiny houses and swept paths

I am quite familiar with Spirit houses, but these were entirely different. Some were simple meditation platforms as seen above, but most were actual tiny houses precariously affixed to the edge of the cliff. These were much too small for a normal human, and should the vines that held them together break the meditator, dwarf, or whoever, would fall hundreds of feet to their death. I have no good photos because I was afraid to approach them. In front of these odd structures were carefully swept perfectly straight paths that looked for all the world like bowling alleys. I have no explanation for any of this.

After descending the bamboo slippery slide I continued west along the main trail across the mountain and soon came to a strange village whose inhabitants were clearly Buddhist but not necessarily Thai.

A Burmese community center in Thailand

The trail led directly to a large building. It wasn’t really a temple, more like a community center complete with a library (Books are generally scarce in Thailand).

There was no one to ask, but the architecture was reminiscent of the teak post and beam buildings I had seen in Umphang, so I concluded that the inhabitants were either Mon or Karen tribespeople. In other words I had found a tiny bit of Burma hiding deep in the mountains of Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

I was eager to explore this hidden world, but I had promised my gracious hosts back at the Park that I would be out of the “Little” cave by 4pm so I had no choice but to rush back through the cave and down the mountain.

Where else in all the green and wonderful world can someone make such extraordinary discoveries in one short day, all the while enjoying the hospitality of the kindest and most generous people on earth? Only in Thailand!

Only one problem remained, how to return to “civilization”? It would be a week until the next supply run, and there were no other options, so the Park Superintendent offered to take me himself. I protested that such service was above and beyond the call of duty, but he insisted. Not only did he drive me many miles on bumpy roads to the small town of Dan Chang, but he also took me to an ice cream shop and refused any payment whatsoever.

There was some question as to whether the bus would stop at the ice cream shop, so the Superintendent summoned a street urchin and explained things. As a result, when the bus finally came to town it was commandeered by an army of kids who would not let it leave until I was safely aboard. Only in Thailand!

In the next installment of this series we will return to Kanchanaburi province in the year 2016 to explore the legendary Three Pagodas Pass, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

A Hotzy Totzy Little Nazi Comes to Town:

Hogtown was just treated to a grand parade! The occasion was a guest appearance by the hotsy totsy little Nazi de jour, a pasty faced white supremacist of little consequence named Richard Spencer.

Richard Spencer, Trump’s biggest fan! (swiped off the web)

The event was much heralded so the Weazel went to town to get both his prescription filled and his fair share of abuse.

The event took place at the 1750 seat Phillips Center for the Performing Arts located in the Cultural Commons of the University of Florida, a venue that often hosts influential thinkers and performers. Not far away is the O’Connell Center and Ben Hill Griffith Stadium which together can host over 100,000 rowdy Gators and other such sports fans. As such, the University routinely handles large crowds of drunken ill behaved idiots. If you don’t believe me just visit Hogtown during Homecoming weekend.

Richard Spencer has few followers, but like other prominent “Alt Right” buffoons he has found his voice on the world stage by calling for a “White homeland”, “Peaceful ethnic cleansing”, and other such impossibilities. We are a bit short on Nazis here in Hogtown, so Spencer had no choice but to bring in supporters from outside our community.

They must have missed the bus because I searched in vain for anyone who was identifiably Alt Right. Eventually I noticed an innocuous looking fellow in khakis and a button down white shirt darting furtively about.

Is this Spencer or just his evil twin?

Many of the protesters were bourgeois in appearance so I thought nothing of it until a burly bearded man standing behind me, apparently an undercover cop, turned to another to say, “There’s one, and that guy is a major prick.” So I took a closer look. I could see that Mr. Normal was practiced at the art of deception, I could tell by his blood-stained hands.

Crazed anarchists riot in the street

Meanwhile some 2500 protesters marched up and down Hull road waving signs. Despite the vehemence of their chants the crowd was completely peaceful.

For the usual reasons Jews and Negros were much in evidence.

Elderly holocaust victims. No, wait, that’s me!

I saw no sign whatsoever of “Antifa”, the Alt Left idiots who are the mirror image of their opponents.

There were a few minor confrontations with Skinheads, but the total mayhem amounted to one bloody lip. Compare that with the aftermath of a football game.

Skinhead got a booboo!(swiped off the web)

I later learned that after the event a carload of Nazis from Texas took a potshot at a protester. Here are the perps.

Tyler Tenbrink, Colton Fears, William Fears

They all look alike! Are they Mormons? Clones cooked up by Dr. Mengle? Now that I look more closely, isn’t the guy on the right, the well named William Fears, the same guy I photographed earlier? They all look pretty scared to me.

One thing is certain, no number of cops can ever prevent a crackpot from taking a shot, or from driving his car on a crowded sidewalk.

It wasn’t a riot, just another day on a college campus, so I gazed in horror and amazement at the fortifications and troop movements all around me. Who was responsible for this grotesque overreaction?

Voldemort loves fear which is why he moonlights as Batboy.

Governor Voldemort had declared a State of Emergency, so the entire area, close to a square mile, had been cordoned off with a barrier of dump trucks, construction equipment, and military vehicles. A Sherman tank would have had trouble penetrating the perimeter.

They are all in cahoots!

Cops of every variety were everywhere to be seen, and the Florida National Guard was just around the corner hoping to turn the affair into another Kent State.

Most ominous of all were hundreds of heavily armed Nazi Brownshirts.

Bad Cop, no donut!

Don’t get the wrong impression, there weren’t just a few of these guys, but rather hundreds. They were doing large scale maneuvers, blocking the streets, standing atop buildings, and lurking in the bushes, but who were they???

Lurking and jerking in the bushes
Present your documents Hippie scum!

They looked like the National Guard to me, but apparently they weren’t.

I had never seen brown uniforms of this sort before, or at least recently.

Make America great!

So I asked them who they were. They proudly replied that they were QRF, an acronym which I presumed meant Queer Repression Force. They hastened to assure me that it actually meant Quick Response Force.

That didn’t enlighten me much so I asked again. They sheepishly replied that they were all State Troopers, incognito Highway Patrolmen, who had been forced into service by the Governor’s State of Emergency proclamation. No donuts on their day off. It would have been a great day to speed or wreck your car anywhere else in the State of Florida.

Never heard of the Quick Response Force before? Neither has anyone else. I searched the web, there is nothing there. What this means is that the Governor can summon a secret army at a moment’s notice to do his bidding.

Meanwhile, helicopters circled incessantly as snipers took up positions atop the Harn Museum of Bad Art.

Hands off the bad art!

But what is that up in the sky? It seems even the Higher Powers had to weigh in.

God speaks

This was not my first rodeo, nor was it the first time the National Guard has come to town to terrorize the citizenry under the guise of keeping the peace. How well I remember the riots of May 1972. Allow me to take you back to those bygone daze.

A friend and I had spent the previous several days snake hunting in the wilds of Dixie county. Our vehicle was a big old sedan with no radio so we had no idea what was happening in the larger world.

On the morning of May 10, 1972 we were driving down a lonely road when we saw a pickup truck ahead of us screech to a halt; whereupon, the good old boys jumped out and began bashing the ground with their shovels . We had no doubt that they were killing a snake.

It was a big diamondback. The Rednecks only wanted the rattle, so I chopped off the head, gutted it, then threw the carcass into the trunk to cook slowly in the summer sun.

Late that afternoon we rolled into Gainesville from the west. We noticed that our lane was backing up, but no traffic whatsoever was coming from the city. We stopped at 34th Street which was then the edge of town to ask a group of frat boys what was happening. They replied, “The National Guard has been called out and they are going to kick your asses if we don’t do it first!” Huh?

Unbeknownst to us, two days previously Nixon had announced the mining of Haiphong harbor and protests were exploding around the nation, especially here in Hogtown which was already a hotbed of Hippies. We soon learned that on the previous day there had been a major battle in the streets with batons and fire hoses, and that there had been many serious injuries. (To the protesters of course!)

Against the protests of my friend who wanted nothing to do with a riot, I insisted that we park the car and march for the front which was University avenue in front of the school. I wasn’t too concerned because I was already a veteran of many such protests. Growing up in Washington DC gave me that opportunity.

The avenue was full of people singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration. If we don’t we’re gonna blow a fifty-amp fuse!”

The cheering jeering crowd was confronted by a phalanx of riot police in full battle gear including helmets, full body armor, and shields, plus numerous weapons. Darth Vader hadn’t been born yet, but I assure you it looked like a scene from Star Wars. The National Guard waited in the wings to mop up any survivors.

The cops charged and the crowd broke and ran onto campus. The commander told the cops to stay in the Roman “Tortoise” formation which made them slow but untouchable. A few of the more enthusiastic thugs decided to pause to beat up anyone who had fallen. That was mostly women.

The Tortoise moves slowly

That gave me the break I was looking for, so I whipped out my handy dandy wrist rocket (Never go to a riot without one!) and began shooting straggler cops with steel ball bearings. Did I bag one? Hard to say, because soon I too had to break and run.

The cops charged through campus beating up anyone they could catch. The problem was that in those days everyone had long hair so they couldn’t tell the combatants from the non combatants. When they got to the dorms they heard rock and roll music so they lobbed tear gas into the open windows which set the building on fire. Thus were the frat boys smoked out to join the fray.

I have no idea how many people were hurt, or how many cops and National Guardsmen were deployed, but I do know that it was a war, and a systematic effort was made to suppress the news. Newspapers around the State reported minor disturbances but that was all. I have searched the web and found almost nothing. The best first hand account of the battle that I have found is in the archives of the Iguana.

The skirmishes continued until dark whereupon my friend and I retrieved the car and drove home where we witnessed a miracle.

We popped the trunk to unload the car. There was the long dead rattlesnake. It had been cooking in the trunk of the car in Florida heat for almost twelve hours. It had no head and no guts, just skin, meat, and a backbone. Nevertheless, when I touched it the presumably long dead snake coiled and struck repeatedly. I could hardly believe my eyes. That rattler was tough in more ways than one, eating it was like making a meal out of dental floss with no sauce.

In 1972 as in 2017 the only real problem was an extreme overreaction by the authorities who justify their actions by saying they need to “keep the peace”. The problem is that they don’t want to keep the peace, they want to create fear which serves their larger interest.

The world is full of fear mongers in high places, but I ain’t skeered! It is fear itself that must be resisted. The particular manifestation is merely a symptom, and hotsy totsy little Nazis like Richard Spencer are the least of it.

Perhaps the worst thing about politically based riots is that you have to take a side. This places me in a difficult position because I am a fundamentally conservative person who supports progressive policies. I do so not because it is morally or politically correct, but simply because I want to live in a well ordered world. Desperate people do desperate things, and I don’t want throngs of starving Zombies to disrupt my daily affairs.

As a biologist it is obvious to me that the concept of “equality” is a social construct with no basis in reality. After countless centuries of oppression by overlords equality seemed like a good idea until it foundered on the reefs of human nature and divisions inevitably derived from our personal capabilities.

Jesus once said that the poor will always be with us. Then he said something even worse, that the meek will inherit the earth. What a nice warm fuzzy idea! Let’s examine that.

As we know from the fossil record, humans achieved their large brains and other inherent human characteristics long before we became “civilized”. Being smart was a new trick; but it worked, so we evolved rapidly. Once we organized into agrarian societies with divisions of labor the evolution of our “social intelligence” went into overdrive to produce hierarchical societies. For better or worse this extreme degree of natural selection fostered human advancement and created who and what we are today. To abandon a preference for the brightest and best among us regardless of race is to abandon the most noble experiment ever undertaken by life itself.

There is a possible long term evolutionary alternative, we could become eusocial like certain insects, but I don’t want to be a termite, nor do I want the weak to inherit the earth. I would prefer that the wise do so, much as is happening in China today.

Since we are stuck with the poor and stupid the least we can do is to demonstrate our supposed superiority by giving them both opportunity and a safety net; but, if it were up to me I would give them neither unlimited reproductive freedom, nor the vote. That is how we got Trump.

It is obvious to me that stupid people with inflamed passions always make bad decisions regardless of where they fall along the political spectrum, and more information doesn’t help. The color of one’s skin is irrelevant. I suppose that makes me an elitist, but better to be an elitist realist than to be delusional about any hope that the democratic process will resolve mankind’s problems.

Perhaps we should just try being nice, but Nazis are neither nice nor superior, and that is the real reason why I don’t want them here.

Just be nice!

The recent march was a total repudiation of everything the Alt Right stands for. It makes me proud that forty five years after the riots of 1972 the citizens of Hogtown still have the spirit of resistance. Then as now we are willing to fight for what is right!

 

 

 

Kanchanaburi: Part 1, Land of Dirty Old Men

Gentle reader: This is the first of a series of posts concerning the wonders to be found in Kanchanaburi province in western central Thailand. In Part 1 you will be reminded why you might have heard of Kanchanaburi and the Bridge on the River Kwai, and why so many dirty old men call the place home. Thereafter we will travel to the far corners of the province to explore it’s wild jungles, mountains, rivers, and caves, and to meet the strange and interesting people who live there.

Just so you know where we are, let’s see Kanchanaburi province in it’s regional context (here shown in black).

Seventy five years ago during the height of WWII the Yellow Peril was on the march!

Their plan then, like ours today, was world domination. Only one power stood in their way, the British empire; so, after trouncing China the Japs attacked the Brits in Burma.

They assured the Western world that their only goal was to secure material resources such as oil and rubber, but we were quite certain that their real purpose was to carry off our women.

At the time the Brits were busy with Hitler; furthermore, they never expected the Japs to be so ambitious, so resistance proved futile.

The Japanese had a variety of strategic objectives, but one of the most important was for their troops and supplies to avoid the perilous 2000 plus mile sea journey from China south to Singapore then north to Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar). The Straights of Malacca were full of British warships dispatched from India so there had to be a better way.

At the time there was no direct way to get from Rangoon to Bangkok overland, a potential route that would solve many of their problems including giving them a backdoor to fight the remaining Chinese nationalists.

The distance was less than 400 miles so they decided to build a railroad connecting the two cities. The only problem was that impenetrable jungles, rivers, and mountains stood in their way.

So it was that the Japanese constructed the infamous “Railway of Death“.

Needless to say the Japs did none of the work; instead, they built the railroad on the dead bodies of some 13,000 Allied troops and over 100,000 non combatants such as Thai and Burmese peasants. Some died from being shot or hung, but most died due to starvation, disease, and snakebite.

This epic of endurance was immortalized in the book and subsequent movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”.

It was all very romantic, plucky Brits cheerfully building the bridge then sabotaging it. The reality was quite different.

Are we having fun yet? Probably not!

The story might be nonsense, but the railroad and bridge are quite real despite the fact that the name of the river and the location of the bridge had to be changed some years later to conform to the movie, a case of art imitating life (or in this case death), then life imitating art on behalf of tourism. More on that here.

Where you might ask is this famous bridge located? In the bucolic burg of Kanchanaburi about 70 miles northwest of Bangkok, Thailand.

The famous so called Bridge on the River Kwai

As you can see there really is a bridge, but it is a replacement, and it spans the Mae Khlong not the Kwai Noi. There really was a train.

A real ammunition train used by the Japs!

I have a vague memory of having visited Kanchanaburi sometime in the 1980s, but as with the Sixties, it you can remember them you weren’t really there.

In 2009 I visited a magnificent cave in the remote and wonderful Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park. (That adventure will be recounted in Part 2 of this series), after which I continued on to Kanchanaburi.

At that time the town was overrun with Hippie backpackers who stayed at the numerous hostels and raft houses that line the river. My favorite was the Jolly Frog where a weary wanderer could find refuge for a grand total of six dollars, there to while away the day swilling beer, smoking joints, eating great food, and meeting mysterious fellow travelers from the far corners of the earth.

The courtyard of the Jolly Frog

Here is a view across the river. Rather bucolic isn’t it? The red tint comes not from the setting sun but rather the incessant fires that are slowly but surely consuming southeast Asia.

Kanchanaburi burning

The main street was lined with bars, brothels, and bookstores that catered to all comers.

But apparently not everyone was welcome. I was personally affronted!

Thailand has the world’s best regional cuisine, but one must accommodate the tastes of foreign travelers.

The more things change the more they remain the same. By 2016 the Hippies had thinned out, but foreign hordes were still coming to pollute the gene pool. There had been a demographic shift from young travelers to mostly middle aged Western men who come to Kanchanaburi to carry off Thai women, eat all the food, and drink all the beer.

Yupscale perverts may go to places like Pattaya in search of Ladyboys, but nasty grizzled old men on a low budget prefer to shop the brothels of K’burg in search of affordable over the hill diagonal poon.

Not over the hill but still reasonably priced! Klaus the Kraut is having plenty of fun, but he had to get up early to arrange a “date” with #59. By mid afternoon he invariably looks like this.

Most of the degenerates are Brits, Aussies, and Krauts, along with a smattering of Gringos and assorted Eurotrash. The Thais make no such distinctions between Westerners, all of whom are known as “Farang” (Often pronounced “Falang”).

The word Farang is etymologically interesting. It is derived from ‘Franc’ as in France. The arrogance of the French, and by extension all white men, has caused them to be hated by non white people throughout the world.

It all started with the Arabs who had good reason to hate the French. From there the word spread to Africa and the Middle East, then to Asia. So it is that variants of the word Farang may be now found in the languages of India, Pakistan, Persia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, China, and in numerous indigenous tribal languages.  All agree that the word applies to pasty faced perverts who come to abduct their women. I resemble that remark!

Most Farang get no further than the seedy strip of whorehouses and hotels along the river, but the western part of the province is still wild and beautiful. In the following parts of this series we will visit some of these wonderful places and meet the people who live there.

Stay tuned!