June in Thailand: The Death Railway

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One of the main things to see in Kanchanaburi is the Death Railway. I took a day tour out that included the Death Railway and the Erawan Falls. Oddly enough, the first stop before seeing the Death Railway was a little pit stop in the middle of nowhere for tourists to feed wild monkeys. I found it a bit disturbing because it makes monkeys dependent on people for handouts and also quite aggressive to humans, particularly when they’re holding on to shiny things like chocolate bar wrappers and water bottles. I just stood aside while everyone else emptied their pockets of food and took opportunistic snaps of the monkeys including this one with the cute googly-eyed baby.

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Onward to the Death Railway. Thousands of Allied POWs died during WWII to construct this railway to help the Japanese forces travel overland faster.

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Despite its sad history, the scenery was lovely. The tracks followed the bend of the River Kwai.

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Where we were dropped off, a little way beyond the station platform, was a small dark cave with with a Buddha image. Perhaps it was to provide peace to those who perished there.

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The Death Railway is still an active train line now, with not just tourists using it. We clambered onto the old-school train to find seats among the locals. There were all sorts: school children on their way home, vendors lugging their wares, regular people on the commute.

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And we pulled out of the platform into more of the verdant countryside.

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It’s funny how tourists pretty much took over the train, everyone was leaning out the windows trying to get a good shot and also trying not to take pictures of the cameras.

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I took the opposite tack and just went ahead to capture all the tourists doing their thing. It’s interesting how tourists only occupied the front few cars and became sparser and sparser down to the last car.

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The view was a lot prettier than I expected, with the clouds against the pale blue and the trees silhouetted against the river and far hills.

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It was such a lovely sight.

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March in Laos: A Stroll Through Luang Prabang

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Luang Prabang is a lovely little town quite deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage status. Despite the many tourists, it retains a peaceful atmosphere augmented by the frangipani trees lining the main street.

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The architecture was fairly simple with graceful curves reaching to the sky.

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We went into the Royal Palace Museum where the beautiful side halls were offset by coconut palms.

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There was a rather strange Soviet-inspired statue of (most likely) King Sisavang Vong, the longest ruling monarch of Laos. In fact, his rule was so long that he was only surpassed by King Bhumibol of Thailand in 2001.

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Pardon the poor photography, but I think you get the idea of the pretty vista leading up to the main hall.

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The main reason to visit the museum is to see the Pha Bang, which is what Luang Prabang is named after. This Buddha image cast in gold and finished with precious stones is believed to protect the city and give legitimacy to the ruler in possession of it. Too bad no pictures were allowed. It was pretty though rather smaller than I expected.

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The rest of the museum wasn’t particularly interesting bar a rather impressive sword and weapon display. I liked the ornate door panelling at some of the halls too.

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Next, Siamese Cat and I climbed up to That Chomsi, the golden spire at the top of Luang Prabang hill. It was a pretty strenuous hike up the many stairs. Good thing there were lots of signs proclaiming the number of steps to the top.

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The spires can be seen from most locations in the town. It’s especially pretty seeing it up close at the top.

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The main reward for reaching the top was the fabulous view. You could see the settlement stretching out along the neatly laid roads…

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… and the Mekong curving through the city on its way south.

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August in China: The Leshan Buddha

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And now to the main attraction! The Leshan Buddha is probably the biggest in the world (particularly since the Taleban blasted the Bamyan Buddhas to smithereens in 2001), built to quiet the turbulent waters at the foot of Lingyun Shan. The descent from the head to the foot of the Buddha is rather vertiginous, have a look at the winding staircase all the way down.

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Upclose, the Buddha is huge and almost impossible to capture in one frame of my point and shoot compact camera.

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Shot from below, the true majesty and sheer largeness is something to behold.

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Just for a sense of proportion, here’s a quick shot of the many ants posing under his toe.

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