Friday, March 09, 2007


When most people think of the "Bridge Over the River Kwai", they recall the famous film starring Alec Guiness and William Holden or the book written by Pierre Boulle. Like many historical movies (and novels), that one was a fictional story loosely based on fact and when you visit the actual Bridge, it looks like nothing like the one you've seen on TV (and given the ending of that film, how could it?)

The fate of the actual Bridge did differ from the one in the movie. In reality, the Bridge was bombed by Allied planes and the structure that remains today is merely a reconstruction (the curved pieces are still original though).

The area around the Bridge is nothing like the movie either. In my mind I had visions of the vast jungle that was depicted in the film, but when we got there, that was just not the case. The whole area is a city center and very touristy. There are a lot of restaurants, places to buy souvenirs and other stuff like that.

You can actually walk across the Bridge, but it's safer to stay in the middle, because the sides have huge, gaping holes where one could actually fall through. This wasn't the greatest bridge for a bunch of kids to cross, but since we just let them sit on a bunch of full grown tigers the day before, we were still feeling a bit adventurous.

Every once in awhile, an actual train would cross the Bridge and you would have to stand to the side to avoid being flattened.

Thankfully, there are still a few things around the Bridge to remind visitors that this is a war memorial and not just some tourist trap.

The Bridge was an OK place to visit, if for no other reason to say that you've been there. You could never say that about the other place made famous by author Pierre Boulle (that would be the Planet of the Apes).

Down the road from the Bridge is the Kanchnaburi War Cemetery. Like other similar places I've visited in the past (Arlington National Cemetary for example), this is a somber location where one can go and reflect on the tremendous sacrifices that others made during times of war.

The cemetery was a gift from the people of Thailand to the countries whose sailors, soldiers and military pilots died here.

While the Cemetery seems large enough, the 6982 Allied prisoners buried here only represents a small portion of the 100,000 or so men who gave their lives for the cause of freedom in this region.

The inscriptions on the gravestones are heartbreaking and one can only imagine how the families of the men buried here felt during this time. I don't want to get overly political, but it is sad to think that cemeteries such as these will still be necessary to honor the brave men and women fighting in the current war. You would think that after 50-plus years, the people in charge would find a better way, but that just doesn't seem to be the case.

There are many graves for unknown soldiers as well. So sad...

A trip to Kanchnaburi and the Bridge over the River Kwai just isn't complete without a visit to the Cemetery as well. Even if you spend just a short time there, it really helps put World War II (and the idea of war in general) in the proper perspective.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Located in the Thai province of Kanchanaburi, Wat Pa Luanga Bua Yannasampanno is a monastery dedicated to both Buddhism and the conservation of wildlife.

Instead of trying to pronounce the actual name of this place, most people just call it the Tiger Temple, as it's the home to seventeen full-grown tigers.
Seven were orphans rescued from poachers in the wild and the other ten were born and breed at the temple. The tigers seen here are native to Thailand, Laos, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Southeast China.

For Baht 300 apiece, you can visit the Tiger Temple and have your pictures taken with their inhabitants. I was a little leary about the whole process, but I know many people who've done it without incident, so for the sake of this blog, it seemed like a worthwhile trip.

The tigers appear pretty relaxed, and it is said that this is because they have been reared with compassion by monks and are used to interaction with humans. The fact that they are naturally nocturnal animals hanging out in the blazing heat, is another factor that supposedly contributes to their calm demeanor. Temple literature claims that no one has ever been attacked by the tigers since its inception.

The monastery was built in 1994 by Abbot Pra Acharn Phoosit (Chan) Khantitharo. On the day we were there, he was on hand to ensure that our daughter didn't become lunch (or at the very least, a light snack).

All proceeds received at the Temple are going towards a project to build a new 12-acre home for the tigers that will more closely resemble their natural forest environment. This new enclosure will be used for rehabilitating the next generation of cubs prior to their release back to the forest where they belong.

The current generation of tigers at the monestary will never be released back into the wild because they are too familiar with humans and have lost the ability to hunt and feed themselves. They are destined to spend the rest of their days living in peace at Tiger Temple.

The cost of this project is at least 20 million Baht, and the monastery still needs funds to complete it. Anyone interested in helping out with this cause should visit

We didn't spend too much time at the Tiger Temple. First of all, it was just too hot the day we were there and the place has inadequate areas for shade. Secondly (and most importantly), we felt it was just better to get in, take some photos, and get out. Despite the claims of the monks at Tiger Temple, you just never know with wild animals, especially ones of this size. Now we can say that we did it (and have the pics to prove it) and never have to worry about going back again.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


As a family, we've been to a lot of zoos over the years. When it comes down to it, they are all basically the same, but the kids like to go and never resist when we suggest another zoo excursion.

The Dusit Zoo in Bangkok has a lot of the same animals that you can see in pretty much every other major zoo on the planet, so I am not going to waste space here with pictures of elephants, lions, giraffes and monkeys.

This is the first time (at least that I can recall) that I have seen a hyena in person, so that fact alone made the trip worthwhile for me.

These really are disgusting, hideous creatures (check out that drool). The head on this one was bigger than mine and the huge teeth made it downright ferocious-looking.

The zoo was a bit run down and several of the exhibits had trash in them from careless visitors. It's really kind of sad to see a majestic creature like this orangutan with a piece of plastic hanging out of its mouth.

It was another hot, humid day in Bangkok on the day we were at the Dusit Zoo, so many of the animals there seemed totally wiped out and were just listless or asleep.

It should be noted that this lack of activity wasn't confined to animal exhibits.

One interesting phenomenon in Thailand for a white family is the fascination that Thai people have with our kids. Everywhere we go - to the mall, grocery story, restaurants, Dream World and the zoo - people are always looking at our kids and trying to take their picture.

You would think that with things lemurs and langurs around, they would have better subjects for their photo albums, but this doesn't seem to be the case. I guess the citizens of Thailand just like collecting images of kids with fair skin and fair hair. Here's a picture of a lady taking a picture of my son with her cell phone:

You can't really tell, but the lady in the striped shirt is videotaping my daughter Julia looking at a crocodile (not the crocodile itself). I'm sure that will make for some fascinating viewing back home.

My kids all react to this differently to this situation. Max (age 8) doesn't really care to be made a spectacle of and usually does his best to make sure the photo he is appearing in doesn't turn out. Julia (age 5) will feign indifference whenever someone tries to snap her picture, as if the whole act is beneath her. Olivia (age 2) loves the extra attention and is never shy about posing for strangers.

As a parent, I have mixed feelings about this custom. I think it's kind of strange. Based on the extra attention we receive, it's almost like hanging out with a bunch of celebrities. As long as people are polite about it (some even have the decency to ask for permission before snapping a photo), I guess I don't really mind, but when they start touching my kids it does kind of bug me. I think the next time I see some stranger pinching one of my children on the cheek or on the arm, I might be tempted to pinch them right back.