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The Long Ride Home cycling along the Thai Burma Death Railway During The 75th anniversary year of the completion of the line - 1943-2018.
Nong Pladuk to Kanchanaburi.
Departed Nong Pladuk Station via Ban Pong to follow the line early hours today (day 1). Light rain and humid conditions along the way.
My day 1 objective is the war cemetery at Kanchanaburi on the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai – one of 688 bridges built along the length of the line. The Bridge over the River Kwai may have been made famous in the movie of that name but it was just one of 688 bridges and crossovers built by our Allied POWs and the thousands of forced labourers, the so-called Rimusha, pressed into service by the Japanese on the line.
Plenty of visual reminders today of F Force’s forced march to the area of the Three Pagoda Pass so many years ago now.
After arriving in Kanchanaburi I’m looking forward to an interview with a local icon, Sir Rod Beattie, a former Australian engineer who set up the amazing Death Railway Museum at Kanchanaburi after many years running the Commonwealth War Graves here. Sir Rod’s contribution to unlocking and preserving the history of the line has earned him a knighthood from the Dutch, a Member of The British Empire (MBE) and the Order of Australia (OAM ).
Interesting that on arrival in Kanchanaburi the local newspaper is running photos of unexploded WW2 bombs that were discovered four days ago on a construction site in Bangkok – another grim reminder of the Japanese Imperial Force’s presence in Thailand during the war and for two years after the completion of the railway.
Further information about F Force is available at https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/history/conflicts/thaiburma-railway-and-hellfire-pass/locations/camps-f-force.
Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home along The Thai Burma Death Railway in Thailand
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The Long Ride Home Moves to Thailand for the 75th Anniversary of the Completion of The Thailand Burma Death Railway - 1943 - 2018
Training rides through the beautiful hillside country around Hua Hin/Prachuabkirikhan ended at the weekend an I’m back in Suphunburi-Kanchanaburi region for about a month of solid build-up for my big Singapore-Myanmar pedal to mark the end of construction of the Thai Burma Death Railway 75 years ago this year.
The training rides will take me west from Dan Chang towards the infamous Bridge on The River Kwai along roads and tracks that will keep me as close as possible to the original line in preparation for my main 2500km ride in September/October, start and finish times to be advised.
They will take place during the Thai New Year (known as Songkran), which marks the start of the rainy season, summer and the rice growing period that is such an important part of Thai life, and extend on into April and the annual ceremonies conducted by the Australian and New Zealand governments to mark April 25 Anzac Day. Included will be the traditional ANZAC dawn service at the Hellfire Pass War Memorial Museum 80km from the town of Kanchanaburi followed by a memorial service at the Commonwealth War Graves in Kanchanaburi. Information about both services can be obtained on the Australian Embassy website at http://thailand.embassy.gov.au/bkok/events.html
Then comes the main ride itself, which will be timed to coordinate with the official end of the construction of the so-called death railway line in October.
This ride will in fact be my third expedition along the 315km stretch of the line, having completed walks back in 2002 and 2005 after losing my left leg in a parachuting accident in 1995. But this time the route will begin at Changi Prison on Singapore Island where the journey that was to take so many WW2 prisoners of war – including Brits, Indians, Dutch, Kiwis and Australians - began after the tiny island fell to the Japanese in 1942 and will continue up the Malaysian east coast into Thailand and on to Thanzbuyazayat, just across the border in Myanmar, an all up distance of 2500km.
I have a personal connection to Changi Prison because my father Private William Sams and an uncle, Private John Butt, were incarcerated there after their units were overrun by the Japanese and they joined Allied prisoners in the hastily-extended prison grounds. Those chosen to work on the line were sent by train and joined by an estimated 180,000 so-called Rimusha, forced labourers from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and anywhere else they could be relocated from - some shipped to Burma to start on the northern end of the line.
What followed has filled history books and become one of the most brutal chapters of WW2.
At the completion of the railway, some POWs returned to Changi in Singapore, some remained on as railway maintenance crew and some were sent onto other work camps and factories in Japan. Many POWs endured being torpedoed by allied forces whilst being shipped to Japan and others died back in Changi Prison Singapore and are now buried in the nearby Kranji War Graves cemetery.
I’ve since discovered the exact location of my father’s POW camp just this side of the Thai Burma border, but am yet to find my uncle’s camp on the other side of the border inside Burma. I hope to do that before I set off on the big ride from Changi Prison in September.
My father served with the 2/26th Australian Infantry Battalion and was part of F Force, railed in steel box cars from Singapore to Ban Pong near the start of the southern end of the line at Non Pladuk.
Made up of Australians and British POWS, F Force was forced-marched some 300km up country from Ban Pong to northern Thailand (note this was not the infamous Sandakan Death March), before being spread across at least six camps progressing toward the Burma border.
It is hoped I’m joined part of the way by British, Dutch and Rimusha riders who had relatives working on the Death Railway.
You can read more about the Burma Railway at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Railway
Truck Sams On The Long Ride Home, During The Year of The 75th Anniversary of the end of The Thai Burma Death Railway construction phase.
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Early hours riding for me now leaving at 3.00 am before the hectic traffic around Hua Hin and to avoid local Thais streaming to the markets on their motor bikes. Heading North to the beachside town of Cha Am and back giving me more kilometers than I need at this stage of my training.
Seaside humid temperatures in the early hours are bringing in the ocean mist and on passing Fort Naresuan home of the Police Aerial Reenforcement Unit (PARU) Thai Border Police, I couldn’t help notice a famous icon worthy of a photograph - A Caribou aircraft that I had parachuted from many times when training here in Hua Hin with the Thai Border Police back in 1982.
The old Caribou aircraft stands in an unkept part of the base close to the main road that I’ve ridden on many times. It reminds me of a monument of the days when it was the main jump aircraft for PARU and a work horse inserting border police patrols units along the borders of Thailand during its time in service.
I returned again with a team of para rescue jumpers from the Australian National Safety Council of Australia in 1987 for an emergency services Parachute demonstration at which time the team jumped into the Gulf of Thailand from the same Caribou before a long swim into shore to where now lays the main tourist centre of Hua Hin.
PARU is an active border police unit who have seen their share of action around the borders of Thailand. The old Caribou needs a new paint job and hopefully will stay there in years to come as a reminder of the Police operations and the ultimate sacrifice paid by some of them.
The Caribou cargo aircraft (also known as freight aircraft, freighter, airlifter or cargo jet) is a fixed-wing aircraft that is designed or converted for the carriage of cargo rather than passengers. Such aircraft usually do not incorporate passenger amenities and generally feature one or more large doors for loading cargo. Freighters may be operated by civil passenger or cargo airlines, by private individuals or by the armed forces of individual countries (for the last see military transport aircraft).
Following the end of WWII, there was great concern of a Chinese invasion of South-East Asia. Pro-communist radio broadcasts directed at the Thai Government were being heard over the radio in Bangkok. The remains of the anti-communist Nationalist Chinese forces has already fled into Burma and Northern Laos. Because of this fear, a decision was made by the United States government to support the staunchly anti-communist Thai Field Marshal Phibun Songkram.
As part of this support, the newly opened CIA station in Bangkok worked with the Thai government to form contingency plans in case of a Chinese invasion. Part of these plans involved the creation of a local guerrilla force. A choice was made to use the Thai Police as the source for these guerrilla fighters since the Thai Police were viewed as more flexable than the Royal Thai Army. In addition, Thai Police were already distributed around the country and could provide a faster reaction to events than the Thai Military. Strong support for the plans was given by the Director-General of the Thai National Police Department at that time.
The Border Patrol Police (BPP) is a Thai paramilitary under the jurisdiction of the Royal Thai Police, responsible for border security and counter-insurgency.
The Thai Border Patrol Police was organized in the 1951 with assistance from the CIA. Although technically part of the Royal Thai Police (RTP), the BPP has always enjoyed a great deal of autonomy within the national headquarters as well as in its field operations. The royal family was a principal patron of the organization. This traditional relationship benefited both the palace and its paramilitary protectors. Many BPP commanders were former army officers.
Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home Hua Hin Thailand
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I’m now back in the area of Hua Hin to keep the bike wheels churning. There are a few different route options in the region - cycling West from here into the National Park along the ocean, North back towards Bangkok, or along the Southern beaches towards Prachuabkirikhan. Now , if you thing that place is a mouthful, did you know that Bangkok’s real name has the world record for the longest name in the world?
Bangkok - In Thai, it is often called Krung Thep Maka Nakhon, or just Krung Thep. However, the full name is “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.” Now that’s more than a mouthful, and I don’t think I could pronounce the name over the length of one of my long distance rides .
It’s Chinese New Year here over the next few days so there’s lots of visitors to the town, parades, lights and festivals to see. Firecrackers blow off on a regular basis with locals burning their incense and lookalike money for good luck.
Red is the colour of the Chinese and local Thais who most probably of Chinese heritage are wearing red clothing whilst going about their business or simply spending up on shopping sprees around the city of Hua Hin.
Traffic comes to a standstill as a parade of beautiful young Chinese girls march toward the market end of the city to the sound of beating drums and bells as the Chinese dragon comprised of dancers take up the rear entering shops and business establishments for good luck as they perform the Wu Long.
Dragon dance wǔ lóng is a form of traditional dance and performance in Chinese culture. Like the lion dance it is most often seen in festive celebrations. The dance is performed by a team of dancers who manipulate a long flexible figure of a dragon using poles positioned at regular intervals along the length of the dragon. The dance team simulates the imagined movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner.
The dragon dance is often performed during Chinese New Year. Chinese dragons are a symbol of China, and they are believed to bring good luck to people, therefore, the longer the dragon in the dance, the more luck it will bring to the community. The dragons are believed to possess qualities that include great power, dignity, fertility, wisdom and auspiciousness. The appearance of a dragon is both fearsome and bold but it has a benevolent disposition, and it was an emblem to represent imperial authority. The movements in a performance traditionally symbolize historical roles of dragons demonstrating power and dignity.
We have now entered the Chinese year of the dog, In other words, experts on cultural matters say this year of the Dog may see people fighting for the causes they believe in. This influence could manifest itself as large-scale political movements or something as simple as local community work and small acts of kindness. We're inclined to believe we'll see more of the latter than the former, due to this year's representative element: earth.
"The earth element makes this a gentler dog than other elements." This element encourages us to take a cooler-headed approach to problems, rather than letting our emotions flare up and get the better of our reasoning. With that in mind, our activist spirit may be tempered slightly, but we'll have enough objectivity to see where our efforts would be best directed.
According to a widely held belief, those born in previous years of the Dog including 1994 and 1982 might be in for a rough (ruff) time this year.
Generally, the year of your birth is known to be a more difficult year than others, again some experts say, explaining that your birth year may present you with a string of bad luck or additional hardships, adding that the sign of the Dog is so good-natured that you might fare better than other signs during their respective years. "Dogs tend to play well with one another." But it never hurts to be cautious and especially generous during your native year.
They also say whatever sign you may be and if you don't know the year of the Dog it is a great time to reach out to those around you and become a friendly presence in their lives, if not a true friend. And, if you're already speaking out for your values, you just might get an energizing boost this year.
Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home Cause for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during Chinese New Year in Thailand
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Training in Thailand - Locals Eating Betal Nut
During all my years as a soldier traveling the Pacific Asia rim I’ve always been fascinated by people eating what is called Betel Nut or known as Maak in Thailand.
During my cycling in Thailand, I’ve occasionally dodged the gooey black or red remains along the roadside. I’ve nearly been hit by the flying matter as I’ve ridden up behind a motorbike carrying old women in a side cart chewing and casually spitting out the remains as they traveled along unbeknown that I was in their slipstream.
So what is Maak?
Betel nut chewing has always been an important part of Thai culture and tradition. In the past, Betel chewing was a popular daily activity among Thais all over the country. Betel comes from the plant known as Areca catechu, which grows wild all over Thailand.
In order to chew Maak the traditional Thai way, three main ingredients are needed: Betel leaf, Betel nut and red limestone paste. Before a Betel chew, the Betel nut is boiled, sliced and dried. A popular method is to cut the Betel nut into four smaller sections before solar drying, since Betel nut can be very strong. After the Betel nuts have dried, they are normally laced on a string (usually as long as 50 cm) and hung around the house to use as needed; this is a popular method because the dried Betel nut can be stored longer. Additionally, other ingredients can be added such as Plai (Zingiber Cassamunar) or Tobacco.
Before chewing on Betel, most Thais would mix all the ingredients together. Interestingly, many elders with no or weak teeth would mix and pound all the ingredients to use without it being wrapped by Betel leaf.
Maak also plays a major role in Thai traditions and ceremonies such as:
- Life prolonging ceremony: There is a belief amongst Thais that Maak can prolong life; this is done by taking a small Betel tree and casting spells on it before planting it at a temple or a public area.
-Kan Tung is a decorated tray that consists of maak and other offerings in a ceremony where students show respect and gratitude toward teachers from both past and present.
-Buddhist rituals: Maak is used as an offering for spirit houses, and used during ordination of Buddhist monks. Only leaves from male betel palm are used in buddhist offerings.
-"Kan Maak" (Wedding ceremony): According to Thai tradition, a couple becomes engaged during a ceremony called "Kan Maak" which is held during a wedding. Kan Maak is a decorated tray where Maak is the key item on it.
Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home NOT chewing Maak in Thailand
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Training Day with a boost of Thai ancient coffee and Doughnuts.
Time to get some long kilometres done today but first I took the opportunity to ride through the local markets in the centre of Dan Chang to catch up on what’s being sold and have a quick coffee and doughnuts before hitting the tarmac for the journey.
Dan Chang has a local produce markets with fresh local vegetables, herbs, slices, fresh cut meat and local fish on display. I eat well when riding up here and certainly below half price of what I would pay down in the bigger cities where I normally stay.
As everywhere in the world for some reason the country folks are much friendlier than the big city and that was no different here. I’m guessing it’s because I’m off the beaten tourism track and the old saying is; away from where it’s dog eating dog.
Tourism is the backbone of Thailand but it has pushed the prices up in major tourist towns like Hua Hin. Tourism does boost the town’s economy but it can be counter productive. The locals, to compete, push the prices up and in the end when the tourist season is over they suffer because there’s no one to sell to but the local Thais who cannot afford the high prices. Commonly known as shooting yourself in the foot.
I’ve noticed a lot more Bangkok folks buying land and building up country since I first started riding in the area 5 years ago. But like everywhere in the world the bigger cities are expanding and the poorer folks are getting pushed further out.
I can only ponder on those thoughts as I have a Caffe Boran - an ancient coffee which is rich and sweet as it is synonymous with Thailand. That’s no different here in Dan Chang where I get to enjoy one in the early mornings when watching the locals go about their business or a quick charge of the magnificent magical elixir along the roadside as I’m out pedalling throughout the villages of Thailand.
Drinking Caffe Boran has been a local tradition. Developed during WWII, it was the answer to scarce and expensive coffee. In order to reduce consumption, grains were added during the roasting process. The coffee typically contains dark roasted robusta with brown sugar, corn, brown rice, sesame, soy beans, salt, butter, or even tamarind seeds. Similar to the Vietnamese coffee. But the brewing method is what differentiates it. Ground coffee is put in a cotton bag filter or a ‘sock filter’ and steeped in boiling water. Sweetened, condensed, or evaporated milk is then added. Sounds yuk for those city dwellers and trendies who may go to the brand name coffee shops, but for me, I’m enjoying it whilst I can, deep in the countryside of Thailand.
Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home in Dan Chang Thailand
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A short training ride today to take in the local sights around the town of Dan Chang. It’s very common at the moment to see people out with long bamboo poles and hook blades attached at the end to cut and gather seed pods from the Makham trees throughout Thailand.
I have to be cautious whilst riding along with whistle handy to warn locals wheeling the bamboo poles not to inadvertently shove them across my path as I peddle along.
An elderly Thai woman sits awkwardly breaking open the dry Makham to extract the pulp from seeds which will eventually be put into jars and later used as a tamarind sauce ingredient in many Thai dishes such as Pad Thai, Tom Yum and Fish cuisines.
I take the short route around the city of Dan Chang to Krasiao Dam taking in the view as the sun is setting over the long stretch of water in the dam.
Local fisherman have taken rest and moored their small boats for the day but large fishing barges that resemble a fleet of navy boats remain on the dam continuously throughout the night pulling in the haul for the local fishing industry.
The clay dam, which is the longest in the country is located at Dan Chang, Suphunburi province of Thailand. The town is convenient to drive a car to and from Bangkok and once in Dan Chang it’s an easy access to the dam from the city centre with a bit of a hill climb if you’re cycling there .
Before the entrance to the dam there are many shops and restaurants to have breakfast or an evening meal. If you’re taking the 10km walk or cycle on the dam wall you should come early morning or evening when the views are very picturesque and it’s not too hot because of the dam wall being sheltered from the sun at that time of day.
Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home, Dan Chang Suphunburi Province of Thailand