Kanchanaburi – Floating on the River Kwai

It was quite a long drive up from Cha-am to Kanchanaburi. Just when you thought you were nearly there…you weren’t…but eventually you were…and when I was, what I found far surpassed all expectations.

Having driven for miles inland, we eventually turned off down Thailand’s version of a country road (let’s just say it would be fun to cycle down…with a helmet…) before reaching a small car park which catered for a riverside hotel that was hidden somewhere behind a mass of trees. I offloaded my bags before being led towards the river, down a wooden pontoon to a floating waiting area. Before long I was ushered on to a riverboat, suitcases and all, which would take me on a 20 minute journey further and further from “civilisation”, past a herd of cattle cooling off, round bends, crossing the shadows of steeping cliff-sides and eventually arriving at my destination: The River Kwai Jungle Rafts. Even whilst writing this, I am flooded with memories of that beautiful place. I want to go back. I WILL go back, one day. They say their hotel is “hidden in heaven”…and they’re not wrong.

I was greeted off the boat by an extremely friendly member of staff (most of whom come from the nearby Mon villages) before being shown to the reception desk. All checked in, I crossed from one raft to another before finally reaching my room. The entire hotel is constructed from wood, bamboo, ropes and the occasional buoy to, y’know, keep it all afloat. There was a small decking at the back of the room which housed a woven hammock (and would later provide the BEST viewpoint when the elephants came down to the river to bathe). Out the front was a larger deck, shared between four rooms, which housed a further couple of hammocks, tables with benches and a few sun loungers. No electricity or hot water, so they tell you to bring a torch and your sense of humour, but to be honest it was so warm – even in February – that the “cold” showers weren’t all that cold…and proved to be more refreshing than anything else. As the sun was setting, oil lamps that adorned every raft were lit, with smaller encased lamps left outside each room.

Food was included, which consisted of a hearty but healthy breakfast and an equally hearty dinner – often a selection of meat, fish and vegetable dishes served with rice, followed by a delicious fresh fruit platter. Whilst I do love pineapple, half a pineapple and wedge of melon per person, per meal did prove a bit too much (and I REALLY love watermelon…). Throughout each day women – and occasionally young men – from the Mon village would sit around the “lobby” raft preparing meals. Ice was brought in via boat numerous times daily.

There are many optional extras available when you book a stay here – I often noticed people hopping on and off boats as they were being taxi’d back to reality for a day trip. I opted for anything that was available within walking distance. Still plenty to choose from, I enjoyed a Thai massage, an Elephant ride through the jungle before exploring the local Mon village and numerous trips down the river Kwai, where you don a buoyancy aid before jumping (or lowering yourself) in at one end of the raft, floating or swimming in the current, before climbing out about 100 meters down-stream. I didn’t stop to think about what might be lurking in the clay-saturated water, though the howling monkey conversations that we all inevitable eavesdropped on each evening were a reminder that the place was wild. In fact, we were told that “this side of the river is fine, but that side of the river has monkeys, snakes, tigers…” thank god tigers and snakes can’t swim (oh wait…)!

I’ve never felt more relaxed than during my time at the floating hotel…certainly I’ll go back, maybe next time to share the experience with friends or loved ones.

A beautiful escape in the middle of nowhere, I could easily have spent more than 2 nights there…now though, back to the city…

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