In our taxi and into the town of Kanchanaburi, along the River Kwai. Yes, that River Kwai. Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson in the movie version of The Bridge on the River Kwai. Fantastic, sad wartime story. You remember. If not, you really need to go to the library and check out a copy.
A few international phone calls via Mike's mobile by the taxi driver and rapid conversations in Thai, craning our necks to find the sign and our driver persevered in finding our next home, the Oriental Kwai Hotel.
It was absolutely, stunningly beautiful.
We were welcomed with iced lemongrass green tea, a refreshing beverage I'd never tried before, and invited to settle in the open air restaurant, all teakwood and orchids overlooking the river, which we did with gratitide. I made sure the taxi driver got a drink too, especially after putting up with us.
And a gem it was. Tropical cottages in a natural setting, carefully tended gardens, hammocks, orchids, strange jungle birds calling ka-wha, ka-wha and phroooot over the River Kwai as it flowed majestically past, and the mysterious thick jungle beyond.
Our hosts were just about the nicest people ever, a slender blonde Dutch woman, Evelien, who was 38 weeks pregnant with her third child, (and looked far more like a model than any woman in that state should) and her Thai husband, Djo, a friendly fellow with a great smile.
Our riverfront tropical cottage was a dream. A gratifying view of the Kwai from a sloping hillside. Three bedrooms, simply and elegantly decorated with rich colors of reds and creams. Heaven. A place to read a book, relax...as perfect for a family getaway as it would have been for a romantic escape for just two.
Fed and watered we let all the stresses of travel fall away and melted into our deckchairs.
After applying copious amounts of bug spray.
The jungle across the river was absolutely alive. Crickets, frogs, birds, monkeys, all adding to the chorus. The sunset glowed off the river and the christmas lights strung in the trees came alight. This was the most luxurious camping I'd ever done.
In our bathroom I was surprised to discover a water strider bouncing around on the surface of the water in the toilet. It became a daily ritual to rescue them to a more suitable habitat out by the river.
Evenings at the Oriental Kwai looked like this:
Gin and tonic, with lime
or in Mike's case, the Thai whisky that tasted very much like really, really good rum,
and plate after plate of the best garlic bread we've ever eaten. We bribed the kids the entire time we were there into good behavior with the promise to give or withold this treat.
Mornings looked like this:
a steaming hot cuppa on our private veranda. Then breakfast which included the exotic fruits of Thailand and all the other things that make for a good beginning to the day; eggs, bacon, croissants, crepes, and so forth. The kids each had their own room in the cottage, and we borrowed DVDs from the hotel library for them and books for ourselves. I even found a bird watchers' guide, though I failed to figure out what the birdcalls were. Frogmouths? Drongos? It was a quaint, outdoorsy, fantastic setting where we immediately felt on vacation and at home.
We watched the river level rise and fall daily, even hourly, due to an upsteam dam. The best part for the kids was probably the resident animals, which they were allowed to play with as much as they liked. I mentioned that there are plenty of stray dogs in Thailand. Evelien told me, laughingly, that once it got around that they would care for animals, cats and dogs showed up uninvited to stay.
The dogs lived in doghouses on stilts with thatched roofs in the Thai style and the cats came by our veranda on a regular basis for petting and to see if we had saved them any pats of butter from breakfast. They were glossy and well-loved.
Here is Bethy with Tiger and his portrait:
On our first morning a longtail boat drove right up to the riverbank for us, much to the kids' amazement and delight. We set off under the warm sun to find the bridge on the River Kwai, Thais onshore waving to us as we bumped gently and swiftly along.