Inspirational People – Colin’s Story

Inspirational People – Colin’s Story

How would you cope if I were to tell you that you will never walk again?

What if you wake up from a sleep to discover that you have been in a coma for a month?

Read on and tell me, do you think that YOU could deal with this?

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Colin’s story

This is the true story of a man that I met in the Isaan region of Thailand.  Two years ago Colin was knocked off his motorbike by a car which was going the wrong way down a dual carriageway and which proceeded to turn his life upside down.

I was in the North East of Thailand and doing a work exchange with Colin and his wife Wichien on their small-holding.  I had learnt about them via the Workaway website (which I have used many times over the last few years).  I was very quickly made to feel a part of their family.

Colin who is originally from the north of England married Wichien five years ago.  They set up home together and after working in the remote mountains (that in itself is a fascinating story) they returned to her home village and they built a house.

Inspirational people

Wichien is a school director and Colin quickly established an organic farm, selling fruit and vegetables and fish and eggs from his bantams.  And then on the 4th October in 2013 their lives were turned upside down.

The accident left Colin with the 4th and 5th vertebrae in his back shattered, a broken hip, pelvis and femur.  He had four broken ribs, a torn diaphragm and his lungs collapsed several times during his time in hospital.

You will never walk again

While he was in his month long coma, Wichien fought relentlessly to get him the best surgery; spending all of her time either at the hospital sleeping on the floor underneath his bed or travelling to and from her work at the school.

The doctors pinned Colin’s spine back together with four titanium rods and forty screws, but when he finally woke from the coma they had to give him the news that he was a paraplegic and he would never walk again.

Coping with bad news

I asked Colin what were his initial thoughts on being given this news.

He told me, ‘I wanted to do away with myself.  I can’t live like this.  I would have to get someone to do it for me though because I was unable to lift a hand off the bed. I was now a paraplegic with no feeling from the chest down.  I begged Wichien to kill me. Without Wichien I would certainly wish that I was dead.’

inspirational people

Colin and Wichien

Prior to moving to Thailand Colin had a good job in construction in the UK.  He is a master stonewaller and he is the sort of man that can turn his hand to most things.

He told me that his dreams and aspirations prior to the accident were to get their organic farm up and running.  It was just beginning to take off and he was establishing a steady clientele.  Often Thais spray formaldehyde on their fruit and vegetables in the markets to keep them looking fresh but Colin refused to even use weed killer on his land.

And what of Colin’s aspirations now?

Colin said, ‘It’s a hell of of a thing to be told that you will never walk again.  My hopes for the future?  Not that I will walk again because I know that can never happen.  I hope that we both continue to have the good relationship that we have now.  I have no hopes or plans to go anywhere.  I’m happy at home.  I’m in a wheel chair but I never get bored.’

Inspirational people

dealing with the traffic

In the four weeks that I was living with Colin and Wichien I witnessed his determination to continue with as normal a life as possible.  He has designed a couple of hydraulic hoists to enable him to get in and out of bed and into the car and he is adept at catching escaped chickens and planting, weeding and harvesting his crops.

inspirational people

harvesting the crickets

Much of Colin’s vegetables are in a series of raised concrete rings and beds.  My first task was to construct a cement ramp for his wheelchair so that he could access yet more of the garden himself.

It must have been incredibly frustrating for Colin to watch me slowly mixing the cement and trying to smooth the path with a trowel, but give him his due, he was incredibly patient as he explained everything to me.

He did confess that he sometimes takes his frustration out on his wife and he wondered how she ever puts up with him!  He knows that he has become more bad tempered, but consider for a minute how frustrating it must be to find yourself suddenly in his position.

Colin and Wichien go to their local hospital every three weeks for physiotherapy and a check up.  That in itself is a drama as I saw for myself the time that I tagged along.

Firstly, the porters who used to ignore Colin and leave him in the car for ages now virtually run to help to transfer him onto a trolley.  He have had to resort to bribery/tipping them, despite this being a ke part of their job.

The day that I was there Colin had to hang around in the car park on a trolley for ages because several members of staff had parked their motorbikes at the bottom of the wheelchair ramp leading into the physio department.

Even after the porters went and explained the situation, half of them came out and stood around waiting before they could eventually be persuaded to move their bikes!


Colin told me that in the early days after his accident he actually requested that the surgeons amputate his legs.  They are after all no use to him and he would be able to move himself around a lot easier if he didn’t have them – but they refused to do this.

I asked Colin if he is a glass half full or half empty sort of person.  He didn’t hesitate.  ‘Half full’ he replied.

And then I asked him what his biggest fear is.

He said, ‘Previously – none.  Now – losing Wichien.  If that happened I would kill himself.  I wouldn’t or couldn’t continue’.

Colin’s message

And what is Colin’s message to anybody who is reading this?

‘Make sure that you always wear a helmet on a motorbike – or don’t go on motorbikes on Thai roads. (Colin was wearing a helmet at the time of his accident)

And finally – Is there anything that you (Colin) regret not doing in your life now that many doors are closed to you?  ‘No, nothing’.

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER go abroad without buying travel insurance first.  You never know what is around the next corner and the last thing that you want to be doing is relying on family and friends to have the heartache of dealing with an accident from afar.

I use Alpha Travel Insurance who are based in the UK – you can check out their site here and get a quote – Alpha Travel Insurance

Life in the Thai countryside

During my time with Colin and Wichien I worked on the land during the longest drought in that part of Thailand for years.  The temperatures topped 44 degrees every day for a week and there was little respite during the night when I would forgo my mosquito net and drag a mattress out onto the terrace where I could catch whatever breeze was there.

inspirational people

what an idyllic place to sleep

I learnt all about the life cycle of the cricket and how to rear the insects, harvest them and cook them and I learnt how to eat sticky rice with my fingers.

Under Colin’s guidance I learnt how to use an angle grinder and a chisel to remove a bit of old wall and I rebuilt it.  I made friends with the people in the village and I saw scorpions, a snake and a zillion insects.

I learnt so much about the Thai (Isaan) culture and family life from Wichien who cooked every meal from fresh ingredients and not one tree or plant in her garden couldn’t either be eaten , had medicinal properties or couldn’t be made into something.

While this is Colin’s story, it is what it is because of the quiet strength of Wichien.  Educated, intelligent and with a wicked giggle and a beautiful smile, Wichien works tirelessly and with a calm serenity.

She reminded me very much of my maternal grandmother who had more sense in her little finger that many people acquire in a lifetime. Brought up in the countryside she capably caught the scorpions which invaded us after the rain, cooked amazing dishes with spices and herbs and would give alms to the monks when they passed the gate early in the morning.

inspirational people

collecting alms

Live life today. Tomorrow may not be what you expect.

I bring you this story to remind you not to waste your days doing things that you will regret. Embrace your life and try to pack it with the things that you want to do.  It can all change in a heartbeat, no matter how careful you are.

If you want to know more about how you can make the most of your day to day life and embrace new challenges, click here and learn more about The Smash the Pumpkin Project.

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Which is the best?

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Which is the best?

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai: the ancient Siamese cities:  which one is the best?

This article was originally published in January 2016 has been updated with new information.  It also contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links

Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

If you don’t have time to visit both of the ancient Siamese cities of Sukhothai or Ayutthaya this article may help you to decide which one is the best or you could get a copy of the Lonely Planet Guidebook for Thailand (click here for the latest version).  Both Ayutthaya and Sukhothai lie to the north of Bangkok, each was once the capital city and both are brimming with ruins.

Sukhothai is older than Ayutthaya and was once the original capital city of Siam (the original name of Thailand).  The city was abandoned and the population were forcibly relocated south to Ayutthaya in 1583 after a battle, a Burmese invasion and an earthquake.  I visited them in reverse order as I made my way north up through Thailand.


Ayutthaya – A UNESCO Listed Cultural Heritage Site


The city of Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand for 417 years (after Sukhothai) and before the political power was transferred to Bangkok and it sprawls out, scattered with ancient ruins and temples.  The modern buildings in the town have been built right up to the edges of the rusty red bricks and the collapsed spires of the ancient city and an enormous central area is given over to grassy parkland that is peppered with relics.

Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 when the Thais were forced south from their previous capital in Sukhothai and it lasted as the capital until 1767 when the Burmese invaded and destroyed much of it. In the 17th century it ranked in the Top 16 cities in the world (how have I never heard of it before now?) and it was renowned as a centre of commercial prosperity, international trade and harmony; however what I find astounding is that 1 million people lived there at the height of its power.

It is now quite rightly listed as a UNESCO Listed Cultural Heritage Site and, I repeat, how on earth had I never heard of it before? The old part of the city is bordered by 3 rivers which almost form an island and the monuments and the ruins lie a deceptively large distance apart.  It’s a good idea to hire a bicycle or to tackle the sights over several days in a series of bite-sized chunks, but there’s plenty to see and to do here apart from the old temples.

Click here to compare the current grandeur of Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand to the ancient cities.


Ayutthaya or Sukhothai?

What did I see and do in Ayutthaya?

I hired a bike from my Ayutthaya hostel and my first port of call was to the very well laid out Ayutthaya Tourism Centre.  Here I collected a decent map and where I read the informative display boards that explained about the history, the geography, the art and the culture of the city.  I learnt about how and why Ayutthaya deserves its place as a UNESCO Listed Cultural Heritage Site and I also got information on some traditional homestays although sadly I didn’t have enough time to stay in any of them.

Wat Ratchaburana

This was one of the largest complexes inside the park and I felt like Indiana Jones as I climbed up into one of the towers – and then clambered down inside narrow stone steps to the bottom.  I held my breath as it fleetingly crossed my mind that if someone chose to close the hatch at the top I could be there forever until I had turned into nothing but dust – but seeing the ancient murals on a tiny patch of ceiling was worth the slight trauma, as was the special feeling of having the whole place to myself.

Wat Mahathat

Among the ruins of this particular temple is the much photographed head that was caught up in the roots of tree a long time ago and is now bound there forever.  I actually hunted around for ages until I gave in and I asked somebody who laughed and said ‘just find the crowd’.  And I turned a corner and there was a huddle of people all jostling for the best picture of it.  As a mark of respect you should try to avoid standing over a Buddha image so everybody was squatting to get their photos taken with the stone head.

Buddha head in Ayutthaya

Elephant rides

There is a well trampled route – sadly along the side of the main highway – where weary looking elephants ferry tourists along in the dusty heat.  I have to confess to once riding an elephant in India, although I would never do that now that I am aware of the damage that it can do to these huge animals. The training methods are usually based on cruelty and fear – but not withstanding that, it seems so wrong to walk animals along hard pavements with lorries and cars just inches from them and the pollution pumping out, not to mention the sharp hooks that get stuck into their heads by some of the mahoots.

You really shouldn’t buy into this depressing part of the tourist trade; but for now, until more tourists boycott them the elephants are a part of the Ayutthaya tourist scene.

Riding elephants in Ayutthaya

 River Trip

Talking to Annika and Robin from the UK who were staying at my Ayutthaya hostel I learned about the river trip and this was something that I was really pleased to do.  Early one evening a small group of us were ferried around the rivers and canal systems that circle the old city of Ayutthaya for a couple of hours.  This trip included short stops at three very impressive sights.

We visited

  • Wat Phananchoeng with the most massive golden Buddha ever
  • Wat Phuttaisawan with its weird cockerel statues and
  • Wat Chai Watthanaram where we wandered among the ruins as the setting sun showed off dark silhouettes of half broken spires and domes against the night sky
sunset view from the river at Ayutthaya

The Chao Sam Phraya National Museum

This museum had some interesting pieces in it with more Buddha images than you could shake a stick at – but the best bits were the gold and jewelled treasures in the special rooms upstairs.  There was an impressively huge bronze Buddha head and many intricate wooden carvings as well as loads of other stuff, although disappointingly there wasn’t much information in any language other than Thai.

The Toy Museum

Now this museum was just bizarre.  It had a huge collection of toys BUT some would be hard pressed to be called toys. They were grouped together in dusty clusters with, as far as I could see, no thought given to themes or historic relevance. There were cabinets full of plastic pieces such as you might get with a fast food burger meal, and just not one example of each, but hundreds.  There was a definite robot theme going on and some very battered dolls, as well as knives (toys?) pictures and, well, just strange stuff.  It was odd but for entertainment and giggle value alone it was well worth the admission price. You can still get something like these classic robots on Amazon – click here for some examples if you want to bring back some distant childhood memories!

robots in the toy museum at Ayutthaya

The Japanese Village

Ayutthaya was a thriving port and back in the days when it was the capital city the people of Ayutthaya welcomed traders of all nationalities – although they were not permitted to settle inside the old town walls.  Several villages were established outside the city perimeter – among them the Japanese, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch and the French.  I visited the Japanese Village which had a small information centre and a riverside garden but to be honest, not much else, although I was told that the garden is still trying to recover following devastating floods a couple of years ago.


Ayutthaya lies to the north of Bangkok and it was once one of the world’s most prosperous cities.  It ranked in the Top 16 Cities of the World in the 17th century when it contained 3 palaces and many other royal buildings and important temples.

I travelled the five hours to Ayutthaya by bus from the western city of Kanchanaburi (read that article here): home to the famous bridge (over the River Kwai), the Erewan waterfalls and Hellfire Pass. Ayutthaya was the only city in Thailand where I was warned not to go out alone after dark – not because of robbers but because of the packs of feral dogs.  Lying comatose during the heat of the day, these sleepy looking mongrels wake up and prowl the streets at night.  Like something out of a futuristic movie they follow you, circle around you and generally freak you out.  They have been known to attack people when the streets are deserted, and later lying in bed you hear the packs howl and call to each other like wolves. These dogs are no reason not to go to Ayutthaya though – all in all, it is a great city full of history and it gives you more than a glimpse into a past life.


I took the five hour bus from Ayutthaya to Sukhothai  and I spent a couple of nights here so that I could visit the city and compare it to Ayutthaya. I stayed on the outskirts of the modern town in a tiny cell-like room in a little guesthouse which had nothing much going for it apart from having a real wood fired Italian pizza oven in the garden, where the Russian owner made excellent pizzas and his Thai wife made superb pasta dishes and coconut ice cream.

Sukhothai is older than Ayutthaya and unlike Ayutthaya which has the old and the modern side by side, in Sukhothai the older ruins stand totally separate and are a 20 minute songthaew ride (open sided truck with bench seats in the back) along the highway. It was perfectly safe to do this trio by myself and once at the gates to the heritage area I picked up my map, hired a bicycle and I paid my entrance fee into the main site.

Sukhothai vs Ayutthaya - how can you choose?

There are 5 mains sites in the historical park – the central site, and areas ringing it to the north, south, east and the west where each commands its own entrance fee.  The major ruins are clustered in the centre and were once palaces, temples, and administration centres when Sukhothai was at the hub of the country. The ruins bear a similarity but are different to those in the southern capital at Ayutthaya; these are from an older era, but it is the location which sets them apart. Huge grassy fields are dotted with copses of trees around lakes and streams.

You can see any number of stone elephants, gigantic Buddhas and chedis and stupas. The pace is unhurried as people cycle around the paths and wander among the ruins, scooters buzz around and the minivans ferry coach loads of day trippers, but there is space for everyone and as the temperature climbed and the insects zizzed and fizzed, more and more people chose to flop under one of the shady trees and rest awhile.

elephants at Sukhothai?

I visited three of the five sites at Sukhothai – the central, the north and the west and by then I was done – I was all ruined out.  I collapsed under a parasol drinking an icy cold drink and watching an artist paint a Buddha onto canvas.  I bought one of her pictures as a memento of the region and the ruins before wearily heading back to my hostel.  It was extremely hot and dusty in Sukhothai and while there is plenty to keep you busy for a whole day or even longer in the historic area, I was done.

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Both are amazing

Cycling Sukhotha

On my second day in Sukhothai I joined a bicycle tour of the surrounding countryside, where the air was slightly fresher and I learnt about rural life in central Thailand. Our tour, operated by Cycling Sukhothai link here which promotes eco-tourism was led by Mem who led took 8 of us first to a local market and then to:

  • A mushroom farm
  • A (rice) whisky farm
  • A cock breeding/fighting home
  • A fish smoking factory
  • An ice cream maker
  • A frog farm
  • A furniture factory
  • A basket weaver
cycling around Sukhothai

We cycled from one rural enterprise to the next along dusty lanes and by canals and paddy fields where people were planting out the bright emerald green shoots.  They were ankle deep in water and wore conical straw hats and indigo shirts and oxen and buffalo pulled their ploughs.  We tasted the ice cream and the whisky and we watched a proud owner bathing and massaging his champion fighting cockerel.

We passed mums swinging their babies in cribs made from reeds that hung from the roofs of their porches and when I got into my tuktuk to go back to my hostel, the driver suddenly jumped off and ran into the bushes and then came back with a big honeycomb with some very angry bees buzzing around it.  I nervously shared the tuktuk with his oozing gold treasure complete with the still angry insects before collecting my rucksack from my hostel and hot-footing it to the bus station for Chiang Mai and the north.


Sukhothai bicycle tour

Ayutthaya vs Sukhothai

If you have time, I would certainly recommned that you factor in both cities on your trips especially if you are interested in history; although after a while you may suffer a little bit from ruin overload.

  • Ayutthaya has a much livelier feeling and there is a lot more to see and to do apart from visiting the historical parks but wandering around the ancient Sukhothai city gives you a chance to recharge your batteries.
  • Bus Ayutthaya to Sukhothai and enjoy the scenic countryside on the five hour journey
  • The climate is similar in both cities and both have more than their fair share of temples and glittery gold.
  • Ayutthaya has backpackers hostels and accommodation in dormitories (which I personally prefer) but when I visited Sukhothai only had guest houses (more expensive for the solo traveller and less opportunity to meet people)

Click below for the up to date prices and choices for the Ayutthaya hostels:

And finally – don’t forget to take out travel insurance.  I use Alpha Travel Insurance which works for me.  Check out their latest prices here

visiting the Buddha's head in Ayutthaya
Enjoying Ayutthaya with new friends
The slow boat from Thailand to Laos

The slow boat from Thailand to Laos

What’s the slow boat from Thailand to Laos like?

I asked this question of everybody that I met.  I wanted to cross into Laos from Thailand in the north but I am scared of water and the thought of two days on a boat was unsettling me. Beautiful, peaceful, fun, boring, best trip ever, boats often capsize……there were a wide range of responses but the majority of comments were positive.

I decided that I had to give it a go – after all, if I promote a course which contains a series of personal challenges then I should push my own boundaries.  Again! (read here about the time I took all my clothes off in public)

The day before my Thai visa expired I squashed into a minivan with my fellow travellers, some of whom would become good friends, for the journey to the small town of Chiang Khong which sits on the Thai side of the crossing point with Laos in the north. You have to love a country which names its land border crossings Friendship Bridges and I was very much looking forward to seeing what Laos was all about.

To accompany this series of articles on Laos, I have published a comprehensive 28 page travel itinerary of my month-long route around Laos. Simply enter your details in the box below to get your free guide.

The White Temple, Chiang Rai

But before leaving Thailand there was one more treat in store.  We were allowed a very short stop at the White Temple in Chiang Rai.  This temple positively dazzled in the strong sunlight with reflections glimmering off the water which surrounded it and starbursts bouncing off the mosaic tiles.

This was like no temple that I had seen before. After paying your money you cross a narrow arched bridge passing a cluster of stone hands which stretch out of the water as if they are reaching from the depths of hell.  Disembodied heads grimly hang in trees and there are many statues and silver and gold trees scattered around the grounds.

the White Temple in Chiang Rai

Unlike other temples there was little here in the way of religious adornment – it was all about the building, its frescos and the surroundings.  There is a small exhibition at the site but sadly, our driver had been very clear – we had twenty minutes and no more – so I joined my fellow travel companions and we climbed back into the minivan.

Several of the travel blogs that I follow have warned of the rather dubious quality of the accommodation on route to the slow boat – but I have to say that my hotel wasn’t bad at all.  I had my own little wooden bungalow set in nice gardens and there was even a swimming pool.  After checking in I wandered down the lane to get my first glimpse of the River Mekong.

At this point it was wide.  There was quite a strong current flowing and the river resembled a thick brown hot chocolate drink. The sight of it did little to quell my nervousness – if we capsized in that I didn’t rate my chances of survival at all! I tried to ignore my bubbling feelings of anxiety and I returned to my hotel for dinner.  The evening meal wasn’t anything special but it was edible and identifiable and then some of us settled down to watch a DVD before getting a good night’s sleep.

Crossing the border

The next day we were up early and breakfasted, given a small packed lunch and we were back in our minivan for Friendship Bridge #4 and the border crossing into Laos at the town of Huay Xai.

This was a VERY relaxed border crossing where you fill in the relevant form, add a passport photo, hand over the fee together with your passport and you wait around in the shade for your name to be called. Calling is not exactly accurate as the officials don’t call out your name but hold up each passport in turn at their window which prompts everybody in the small crowd to flow forwards to see the picture, somebody steps forward to claim their own and then everybody settles back down and chats until the next document is held up to the glass.

the border between Thailand and Laos

We were then loaded onto trucks and taken to another waiting point where people took the opportunity to sell us snacks, water and cushions as well as accommodation for that night and then, after another short truck ride we were at the river.

The slow boat from Thailand to Laos.

At the river people clambered carefully down the muddy banks laden down with rucksacks and wobbled over the rickety gang plank where a team of workers stowed the bags under the floorboards of the boat.  I had little time to be nervous as I grabbed a seat and the engines fired up with a blast of noise, heat and fumes.

I was perfectly placed in the middle of the boat – which was interestingly fitted out with rows of old car seats cobbled together haphazardly.  As our journey got underway, the back of the boat did indeed turn out to be very noisy and the front was where an impromptu party got going but I could read, work on my laptop and chat to my new friends in relative comfort.

boarding the slow boat

The journey on the river through the mountains was beautiful.  The river was mostly calm and wide, but every so often it would race faster past spiky rocks and bubble alarmingly in whirlpools. This was the dry season so many of the rocks were sticking up proud from the surface – it must be far more difficult to navigate when they are hidden under the water.

The boatmen must know every inch of the river although I was warned by many Thai’s not to ride on the fast boats as the drivers are reckless and can be careless. Those longtail boats would accelerate past us at high speed but they have a tendancy to hit hidden rocks and they capsize with alarming frequency.

This is probably a good time to remind you to get your travel insurance.  You can get a quote here from Alpha Travel Insurance

On the slow boat we had time to appreciate the huge cliffs hanging over the narrow chasms and we could watch the water buffalo bathing in the shallows. We could see how the farmers had reclaimed the silt beaches at low water to plant out rows of vegetables and small boys sat with herds of goats whose bells tinkled as they drank.  We pulled over to rickety wooden jetties to pick up both parcels and people or we were met by dug-out canoes in the middle of the river that transferred ladies and babies to us for their journey south.

on the slow boat

I spent my first night in Laos at the small riverside town of Pak Beng   My new German friend Miriam and myself clambered into the back of a truck for the transfer to our hostel for the night.  Pak Beng has grown up to service the tourists and villages who travel the river and is packed with guesthouses, bars and bakeries…and furtive guys who come out of the shadows and offer you weed and opium.

Choosing croissants and beer we had a good time at one of the bars before a good night’s sleep. We breakfasted on a deck overlooking the water and watched a couple of elephants chilling on the beach with their mahout before stowing our rucksacs on the (different) boat and grabbing some seats.  This time, we weren’t so lucky and we had to sit on hard wooden benches so I was very glad that I had spent 40 pence on a cushion.

The scenery changed as we rounded every corner and we spent the day chatting and mixing with the other passengers, taking photos and generally relaxing.

views from the slow boat between Thailand and Laos

The second day was a little bit cloudier and we did get a bit chilly as the wind funnelled along the river and I got a bit fed up of just eating snack food but I am very glad that I chose the slow boat to Laos, despite my fear of water.

Close to Luang Prabang we passed the caves high up in the cliffs – called Pak Ou this is the place where many pilgrims and tourists come by small boats to visit the 4000+ Buddha statues, and then we rounded a bend in the river and came to our final stop – a set of stone steps cut into the steep river bank and we were at the end of our two day transfer across the border on the slow boat from Thailand to Laos.

more views of the river Mekong
  • Don’t be tempted to take the fast boat – their safety record is poor.
  • Take a cushion, food and water and a good book or some music.
  • Make sure that your camera battery is fully charged.
  • You don’t need to pre-book accommodation in Pak Beng. It is a compact town with hostels and hotels to suit all budgets and where plenty of touts wait to greet you when the boat docks.
  • Pak Beng has ATM’s, plenty of places to eat and drink and some really good street food
  • You are not obliged to take the slow boat from the Friendship Bridge 4. You can head north once you cross the border and visit a very rural mountainous part of Laos or even branch off from Pak Beng after one day on the water.
  • You may find yourself on a ‘party boat’ – you can choose to join in or the boats are large enough for you to distance yourself you want to sit and chat or read.
  • The boats now moor up some distance from Luang Prabang so unless you want a long hike into the town I would recommend that you take one of the trucks. These have a fixed price with tickets issued from a little office on the river bank and they will drop you at the central roundabout in Luang Prabang

My favourite guidebooks are those from the Lonely Planet  You can get your guidebook here

If you would like to know more about personal challenges and how you can push yourself out of your comfort zone, you can read more here


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This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links



cruising on the slow boat from Thailand to Laos
Death Railway

Death Railway

The Bridge over the River Kwai – the Death Railway

(This article was first published in January 2016 and has been reissued with updated content)

Let me first clarify – the bridge which crosses the River Kwai is not the same bridge that appears in the film of the same name.  It is however a part of the Death Railway.  If you are coming to see the river and the bridge over the River Kwai from the film you are in the wrong place!

Where is the Bridge over the River Kwai?

This bridge is in the south west of Thailand close to the border with Burma, or Myanmar as it is now known.  However, this is the site of the bridge that was built using forced labour by the Japanese: although at that time the river was not called the River Kwai.

This river was a tributary of the River Kwai but following increased visits and interest from tourists, the canny Thais renamed the river the Kwai. And I suppose really it’s not even the actual bridge because that fell into disrepair and it has subsequently been rebuilt, but don’t let any of the above put you off. The bridge over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi and the surrounding region certainly does deserve a visit – and there is enough to keep you here for a couple of days, and I would certainly recommend booking a guest house or a hostel.

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Kanchanaburi town is long and thin and it stretches from the busy commercial centre around the market and the bus station along the river bank and up towards the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. Don’t be deceived by the scale of the map – when I say long I mean it is long – you would do well to hop on the back of one of the little mototaxis (motorbikes) that scoot around the town.

I met my friend and fellow travel blogger Jessica in the town and after checking in to our guesthouse we went up to the railway and walked across the bridge – timing it just as a train trundled across.

Death Railway The Bridge over the River Kwai

Standing to the side of the bridge on one of the little piers as the train rumbled past I thought back to another time when the river was so important and the countryside was fought over.

There is an immaculately kept war cemetery at Kanchanaburi to remember and honour the men who died in the area during the war but now the town is home to guesthouses, restaurants and museums and is also a good base to explore the area to the north and west towards the border with Myanmar.

Accommodation in Kanchanaburi

Jessica and I spent a couple of nights onboard one of the raft hotels that float on the river. The Tara Raft is like a giant pontoon with rooms that are built out onto a little wooden veranda which runs around the outside.  You walk across a tiny gangplank to the reception and dining area and you climb the steep stairs to a large metal decked area where swings and rocking chairs are the perfect place to watch the sun go down behind the mountains across the river.

Sitting on the little terrace at night we watched a local man who lived in his floating house next door, gently scull his canoe around the boats and check his fishing baskets.


Tara Raft guest house near the Bridge over the River Kwai

Jessica and I had the sweetest little room at the Tara Raft.  It was ensuite and had large patio doors which let in the light and let us out onto the tiny little wooden balcony.  The water gently shucked around the wooden pontoons outside and when a speed boat zoomed past and up the river the room slowly danced. Get up to date prices and details on accommodation in Kanchanaburi at this link: Accomodation in Kanchanaburi

The Erewan Waterfalls

Hiring a scooter Jessica and I set off to explore for a couple of days.  We drove an hour up into the hills to the Erewan waterfalls.  This nature reserve is popular with tourists and Thais.  After parking the scooter we hiked slowly up the mountainside, stopping to look at the different pools.

The water cascades down and through nine falls and pools, each with a distinct feel and personality.  The furthermost waterfall was the smallest but the climb up through the jungle was great – with the jungle smells and sounds all around.

Erewan waterfalls near Kanchanaburi

We swam in two of the larger lower pools – with tee-shirts over our bikinis so as not to offend the many locals who were more or less fully dressed in the water.  These pools had fish.  Big black nosy fish that made the water bubble like a cauldron on the boil when they found a part of a discarded sandwich.

Have you seen the fish spas which have gained in popularity over recent years? These originated in South East Asia and these fish were in this river.  Jessica and I tentatively dipped toes in and out of the cool water, giggling as masses of fish swarmed to our feet each time, and then just as we were plucking up the courage to put a whole leg in – I slipped off the rock and I was in up to my neck.

The locals were laughing and pointing and I shrugged and tried to look like I had meant to go in – being all super cool and then bimp, bimp, bimp – I was attacked all over by the fish who were determined to slough as much as my skin off me as they could whilst I was in effect a sitting target.  No matter that I was wearing a tee-shirt, they tickled and bumped me all over – but you must remember that these fish are substantially bigger than the ones in the little tanks in the fish spas.  It was freaky and nice all at the same time.

Erewan waterfalls near Kanchanaburi

Jessica swam across the deeper pool and climbed up to sit on the ledge under the waterfall while I sat on a log and played around in the shallows. Jessica was far brave than me and wasn’t put off by the deep, dark water – well she does blog as MissAdventureTravels! (click here for one of Jessica’s reports on Thailand).  We then bought coffees and sat on a rock watching the children play and families picnic on the grassy banks.

Hellfire Pass and the Death Railway

On our second day with the scooter we headed away from the Bridge over the River Kwai we went a bit further afield and heading west we went to the Hellfire Pass. After the commercialism and tourism which surrounds the bridge at Kanchanaburi the museum at Hellfire Pass was a sobering place.

Relatively new, and constructed thanks to the efforts of an Australian man to recognise the part played the prisoners of war and the forced labourers from S E Asia, this excellent museum tells why Hellfire Pass was so named and sombrely notes that one man died for every railway sleeper which was laid on this line.

Death Railway, Hellfire Pass

Graphic pictures and excellent informative text boards kept all of the visitors spellbound and there was almost a total silence as people read and digested the horrible information that they were given.

I like to think that I am relatively well informed about the Second World War and I already knew about the short rations, the tortures and the abuse that the prisoners of war were subjected to, but I wasn’t aware that the people of South East Asia were also an expendable labour force who were worked to their death.

Hellfire Pass was so named because the Japanese became fixated on completing the railway from Burma to Thailand in record time despite the totally unsuitable terrain and they worked the men around the clock, forcing them to cut a pass through the mountains with not much more than pickaxes.

Death Railway, Hellfire Pass

A wooden platform juts out over the jungle at the back of the museum and people stand here and look out over the glorious views while they quietly reflect on what they have just read.

Jessica and I also chose to hike along some of the railway into Hellfire Pass which really helped to understand the massive task which faced the men.  We continued to trek deeper along the path and got eaten alive by mosquitoes – a reminder of the malaria and dengue fever that claimed many of the workforce, but the beauty of the place also helped us to understand how many of the men refused to give up and die – they found a strength and a solace in the place despite the horrors and the torture.

After leaving Kanchanaburi behind I read the book The Railway Man by Eric Lomax which documents the daily struggle for life at that time by a man who was held captive and a subsequent meeting with one of his captors. If you would like to read the book by Eric Lomax, click on this link:

Tara Raft, The Bridge over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi

To sum up

  • For a better understanding of this region during the war, visit Kanchanaburi and the Bridge over the River Kwai.
  • Visit the museum at Hellfire Pass and explore the surrounding countryside (take insect repellent!)
  • Climb to the top of the Erewan waterfalls (you can hire a scooter to get there or take an organised trip)
  • Stay at the Tara Raft Guesthouse
  • Read the book or watch the film The Railway Man
  • I got to Kanchanaburi by bus from Bangkok
  • If you don’t feel brave enough to tackle Thailand and S E Asia alone, or you don’t have the time to do everything yourself then I recommend that you take a small group tour with Explore.  Whilst I haven’t travelled to Thailand with Explore I have been on 4 trips with them and I can highly recommend them – Get the latest tours here
  • And I KNOW that I am always banging on about travel insurance but it is so important.  I use Alpha Travel Insurance – get your own quote here


Thai cooking class

Thai cooking class

I enjoy cooking despite evidence to the contrary, I simply find no pleasure eating alone.  Over the years I have done several cooking classes so when I found out that a Thai cooking class was on offer as part of the pre-TBEX activities I jumped at the chance to apply.

I have to admit to not being too familiar with Thai food apart from the well-known Thai green curry but after just a few days in Bangkok I quickly realised that there is a lot more to the cuisine than that dish.

Visiting the market

Our group of travel bloggers were taken by minivan to one of the smaller backstreet markets where Jay our guide and chef showed us some of the main ingredients which are used in Thai cooking.

Jay from the Silom Thai Cooking School

Jay from the Silom Thai Cooking School

We saw bright pink (painted) duck eggs, lemon grass and tiny Thai eggplants.  We inspected the live fish and seafood and the thankfully dead meat.  We learnt about the huge variety of chilli and their differing strengths and we saw people going about their day to day shopping and then it was off to class.

Thai Cooking Class

At the Silom Thai Cooking School we each removed our shoes, put on a colourful apron and followed Jay up the stairs to wok heaven.

The cooking area was above the dining room and here in a long narrow room, 2 rows of woks were lined up waiting for us while underneath each work station (or should that be wok station?) was a little basket containing the ingredients for the first dish that we were going to learn to cook.

We learnt the correct way to rip the kaffir lime leaves, cut the lemon grass and how to chop the spring onions.  And before you ask, of course I know how to chop a spring onion but much emphasis is placed on the visual in Thai cooking and there is a right way and a wrong way to do things.

our Thai cooking class

our Thai cooking class

And then on cue we lit the gas under our woks and things began to really heat up in the room.  There was one temperature allowed – scorching – so with Jay nipping around the room with his instructions (that man has the most amazing capacity for remembering names and information) we sizzled our way to our first masterpiece.

When Jay was satisfied that the last person was ready to turn off the fire under their wok we served up and paraded with our dishes downstairs to  the dining room where we tucked into our Tom Yum (spicy sour soup) while upstairs a team of helpers magicked away our dirty utensils and provided the ingredients for the next dish.

one of my masterpieces

one of my masterpieces

The morning passed in a really pleasant, enjoyable, fun and sociable blur and to be honest, I’m not too sure which bit I enjoyed the most – the cooking, the eating or Jay’s banter.

But we turned out an impressive array of dishes, and we all contributed and helped to grind down the ingredients for a thai curry paste in a mortar (no jars, packets or monosodium glutamate here).  If you want to know more about Alice Nettleingham who is having so much fun in the picture below check out her travel blog here at Teacake Travels.  I met some amazing bloggers like Alice at TBEX Asia and I love her articles – all written with style and humour.

Alice Nettleingham takes her turn at the pestle and mortar

Alice Nettleingham takes her turn at the pestle and mortar

The school cater for vegetarians and they will swap ingredients if, for instance, you don’t eat seafood you can substitute chicken, and you are free to add your own level of spiciness when you chop your chillis.

At the end of the class we were each presented with a small cookery book from the Silom Thai Cooking School and all completely stuffed full, we rolled or rather waddled out of the door.

Scarlet Jones - Thai cook

Scarlet Jones – Thai cook

The Thai cooking class certainly stirred up my passion for cooking again and classes are offered at a VERY reasonable price (click here for samples of the classes that they offer and the price).  I have a real appreciation of the work which goes on behind the scenes; whether the food is being prepared for a nice restaurant or on a street food stall.

Cabbages and Condoms

While I am on the subject of food I would like to drop in a mention of a worthwhile project that you might like to seek out while you are in Bangkok.

Cabbages and Condoms – their motto is ‘our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy‘ was set up in part to ‘promote better understanding and acceptance of family planning and to generate income to support various development activities of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA)’

You can choose to sit outside in a pretty courtyard which is festooned with fairy lights or inside in one of the air conditioned salons.  The restaurant is quirkily decorated with condoms and with messages which support family planning.  There are life sized statues or sculptures of characters made up of numerous condoms – much as a flower display would be made of petals and even the carpet has a condom design.

our happy little condom family

our happy little condom family

There is a small handicraft shop here and instead of receiving an after dinner mint with your coffee you are given a condom.  As well as providing excellent food in wonderful surroundings, you can eat well and know that a proportion of your bill will be used to fund the social development programs of PDA

So here are two food options for you which you should certainly check out if you have the time while you are in Bangkok. My last blog article was all about my specialty one-off tuk-tuk tour around Bangkok at night during the Vegetarian Festival, although rest assured, there is plenty to do in Bangkok other than eating and drinking.


If you want to re-kindle a passion for something that you love or once loved whether it be food, art, music or anything else, but somehow life seems to have got in the way, make sure that you continue to read my blog as I will shortly be announcing the launch of a new course which will guide you to getting the zest back into your life again.

Disclaimer: whilst I received a complimentary cooking class from the Silom Thai Cooking School this has not influenced my article. All opinions and comments are my own.

Do feel free to Pin any of the images over to your Pinterest boards if you want a reminder in the future of this article.

heating up in the kitchen

heating up in the kitchen

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