Thai-Burma Railway 2018

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75th Anniversary of The Completion of The Burma-Thailand Railway

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17th October 2018 being the official 75th Anniversary of the completion of the Burma-Thailand Railway has just passed with a service organised at the Australian War Memorial Museum Hellfire Pass Kanchanaburi by the Australian Embassy Thailand and a sunset service administered by the British Embassy Thailand.

Out of left field due to a huge personal commitment and being part of the Seoul Olympic Skydiving Exhibition Teams’ Path of Excellence Award presented by the International Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame in the USA has taken up a much of my time during the last 3 months thus delaying the ride from Singapore to Myanmar during the 75th Anniversary events in Thailand.

However, all was not lost with the Australia Embassy Thailand extending an invitation to attend as a guest speaker at the Hellfire Pass service held on the afternoon of the 17th October.

In attendance; His Excellency Paul Robilliard, Australian Ambassador to Thailand and Defence Staff Australia, Netherlands , United Kingdom, The United States Defence representatives , Officials heads of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Australia & United Kingdom, and Thai General Commanding Officer for the district, Staff and a Thai military ceremony party laying wreaths on the day.

Squadron Leader Don Wilson the official master of ceremony got things going with the local Thai Military doing as they always do in support of Australia including playing of the last post, reveille and raising / lowering the flags of those nations who participated during the Burma-Thailand construction 75 years ago.

A fantastic opening speech by His Excellence Paul Robilliard Ambassador to Thailand whose father served with the Indian Regiments in Burma under the British command during WW2.

My speech was specifically based on the hardships of my father William (Bill) Sams and Uncle John (Jack) Butt both members of the 2/26 Australian Infantry Battalion of which formed F Force sent to Thailand from Singapore.

F Force then endured a force march of another 300 kilometers in a very short time via a muddy jungle track at night North before working under extreme conditions by their Japanese captors during the construction of the railway in the area of the Thai Burma border at the Three Pagoda Pass.


An extract from my speech;

“ There’s no doubt the fact that Dad and Uncle Jack were bushies played a big part in their survival, but, they suffered terribly “

“ They talked about malnutrition, dysentery, the increased work hours, ‘Speedo Time’ imposed on them by the Japanese and the interminable beatings they were dished out to keep the poor sods at work.”

“ Like many others, Dad came down with Beri-Beri and a very bad tropical ulcer on one of his legs meant - his mates had to use a spoon to scoop the poisoned flesh out to keep him going - I can still image that terrible scar on his leg to this very day.”

“ But they got through it and made it home only to be hit by depressive symptoms we now recognise as post traumatic stress disorder PTSD.”

“ I well remember Dad’s fits of anger, especially if anything threatened the family as though he was protecting his mates on the railway.”

“ Him sitting night after night in a dark room as if in a defensive position cursing his captors.” “ Dad died relatively young at 56 but uncle Jack made it into his 70s.”

“ Although a introverted and very lonely man right to the very end he reckons the Beri Beri took my dad, having weakened his heart all those years before.”

“ I’m not ashamed to say that I suffered effects after my time in the Vietnam war, as so many of my mates from then, and since are battling its effects.”

“ But it is those memories of my father and uncle that I recall to this very day.”

“We are here today during the 75th Anniversary of the railway completion to honour all those men who paid the ultimate sacrifice during that time here and to also salute those who survived and individually dealt with their own scars of war.”

The sunset service later held at the Commonwealth War Graves in Kanchanaburi was somewhat different to the Anzac Day ceremonial service that I’m used of but was special in its own British way.

In attendance;

-Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, KG, GCV

-Khun Princess Sirikitiya Jensen a member of the Thai Royal Family, Niece of the current King of Thailand and daughter of Princess Ubol Ratana Rajakanya and American Peter Ladd Jensen,

-His Excellency Paul Robilliard Australian Ambassador to Thailand and Defence Staff,

-Heads of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Australia and The United Kingdom,

-The Netherlands Government representatives, and

-Members of the Royal British Legion to Thailand.

A small and subtle service held by the British set the scene with the sounds of the drums and bagpipes setting the British tone for the ceremony as the sun set over the mountains with Burma to the West and the River Kwai a very short distances away.

For those that saw the fictional movie “The Bridge Over The River Kwai“ the only thing missing during the service was the tune to the Colonel Bogey March synonymous to the British POWs who served on the railway line.

However instead of the movie character an American Commando played by William Holden who originally escaped only to be sent back on a covert mission to blow up the bridge over the River Kwai both services today saw an attendance of three US Special Forces soldiers representing the USA to lay a wreath in particular at Hellfire Pass in remembrance of all POWs who died but also paying respect to those 133 American whose bodies were repatriated back to the USA at the end of WW2.

A very important day in Thailand during the 75th Anniversary commemorating the end of the Burma-Thailand Railway construction line 17th October 1943.

Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home

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The TRUTH Behind the movie 'Operation Torrent' from Veteran Josh Collins

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Khao Laem National Park To Srinakarin Dam Raft Homestay

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Khao Laem National Park To Srinakarin Dam Raft Homestay.

After some hilly climbs in the Thong Pha Phum and Itong area it was turnaround time to head back to Hin Dat Springs then divert off the Thai Burma Railway route section into another region. Even more very steeper climbs over another National Park towards the Srinakarin Dam for a two day stopover at a friend’s raft house.

Tested the body today with some 2 hour straight climbs and big downhill descents, but where’s there’s a down there always an up. Some serious off road cycling involved which kept the mechanic busy changing tyre after tyre.

Some beautiful jungle in this part of the world between the River Kwai Noi (small) and River Kwai Yai (big) fed by two huge adjacent dams the Khao Laem and the Srinakarin Dams. The National Park well off the beaten track was like the lost world and getting to the raft was quite a mean feat in itself.

My friend’s raft is a world away from the maddening crowd and smog created by the big cities, fish in abundance and not a soul around.

A couple of ferry crossings to get in and out after some heavy cycling but well worth the effort for the adventure and to simply chill out.

I’ll return here again soon for another training period and get back to the raft for a break, take the watch off and in future will certainly bag the mobile phone for a week or two whilst recharging my body and mind.

We managed to just avoid cycling into a herd of wild elephants on route to Erawan falls after leaving the ferry which was the excitement for the day.

Truck Sams dodging wild elephants on The Long Ride Home in the national parks of Thailand.

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The Long Ride Home at Tha Khanun Railway Siding and POW camp location on the Thai- Burma Railway.

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Passing through Hin Dat Springs riding North from Hellfire Pass, we were able to have a brief stop to ease the aching muscles in the local hot springs.

Hin Dat Springs is located 33km North of Sai Yok Yai National Park entrance and 20km South of the small town of Thong Pha Phum just in off the main highway linking both locations.

The springs were once known as Kuimang Hot Springs. They are natural hot springs with temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Celsius.

The original spring was discovered by a Japanese soldier during World War II and blocked off by large stones to form a bathing pool by POW labour. Later two more pools were built for swimming and relaxation. It is believed that the mineral water here can cure many kinds of diseases, including beriberi and rheumatism. There is a cold stream running past the hot pools where you can cool off from your dip in the hot bath to stimulate the blood circulation. Located close by is a Japanese shrine with a small hot pool 50 meters from the main bathing area that was built for the Japanese commander and now reserved for the local head monk only.

I wasn’t so relaxed a bit further on from the springs in a small Thai town Thong Pha Phum that lays amongst the mountains of the Khao Laem National Park. The base of the Khao Laem Dam is known for it’s close proximity to one of the most ruthless POW camps along the Thai Burma Railway during WW2.

500km behind us since leaving Hua Hin and on arriving in Thong Pha Phum town we took a short ride across the old swing bridge to the vicinity of a few old POW camp locations of Tha Khanun, including a large mound of earth a grim reminder of where Tha Khanun railway station once stood.

I could still see where the line used to run through the old siding for about 3km towards the Khao Laem Dam wall.

In 2002, after walking up here from Nong Pladuk, I interviewed a 92 year local villager who told me that she and her family smuggled food into the starving POWs who had little to no shelter or food when slaving away in the camps that stretched along the river here 75 years ago.

I’ve marked a rough overlay of the railway line on some photos where the railway once went through Tha Khanun, now located on private property or in overgrown parts of the jungle around the East side of the River Kwai Noi.

Australian Department of Veterans’ Affair’s article in brief: Like many camps along the railway at this time, Tha Khanun was a cholera camp. The first case was diagnosed on 9 July 1943 . By 8 August there had been 59 cases and 21 deaths. 'It has been hell—accommodations inadequate and even then muddy, Insufficient men to look after them, insufficient containers to boil water for them—pouring rain', was how POW Roy Mills described the situation. During July being well into the rainy season dysentery and other related illnesses were rampant.

Truck Sams and co riders on the long ride home along old sections of the Thai-Burma Railway.

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Along What Remains of The Old Thai Burma Railway

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There is very little of the Thai-Burma Railway still standing with only 118km of active line remaining from the Nong Pladuk Railway Junction to Nam Tok near Hellfire Pass.

If you’re wanting to visit the Thai-Burma Railway to experience and travel along what railway still remains there are tours that will bring you to Hellfire Pass Museum 72km north west from the city of Kanchanaburi by road transport then bring you back 26km to Nam Tok station.

The train trip will take you around the banks of the River Kwai Noi through Wampo cutting to Kanchanaburi. You can opt to get off the train at a pre designated point to be picked up by the tour van or do the whole journey back into Kanchanaburi city including crossing the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai then onto the War Cemetery and the adjacent Thai Burma Railway Research Centre after arriving back in town.

The steamy jungles along the remaining railway length are long gone and over the years have been replaced by sugar cane fields and tapioca crops. It has been reported that farmers when turning over the fields have occasionally uncovered mass graves of Asian force labourers buried along the length of the railway.

A public hearing was held recently in the western border province to hear the views of local residents, majority backing a proposal by a national committee on the protection of cultural world heritage sites to have the railway line recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

After a well deserved overnight stop in Nam Tok we cycled onto Thong Pha Phum today passing by the Australian War Memorial Museum at Hellfire Pass which is currently under renovations and soon to be unveiled in October during the official 75th Anniversary of the end of the Thai - Burma railway construction line 1943.

The mist was rising up from Hellfire Pass when riding by early hours. A slight down pour of rain cooled our hot bodies but did not dampen our spirits whilst ascending a steep hill to the old Malay Hamlet that housed Asian force labour above Hellfire Pass during the construction.

The sun suddenly broke out allowing beams of light to shine from above almost like rays of hope carrying a message that we were on sacred ground leaving us to only visualise the hundreds of POWs and Asian labourers who died just below where we were passing by.

Truck Sams and Co Riders on the long ride home along the Thai-Burma Railway

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The Long Ride Home Singapore to Myanmar preparation ride

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Just reached Kanchanaburi after leaving Hua Hin a couple of days ago with my co rider Merle Oates from Narrogin Western Australia, Khun Ning guide and Khun Bird the mechanic. We’re now resting up before changing the training mode, that being an introduction to some steep climbs in the Khao Laem National Park area.

The laden saddle bags haven’t altered much to my formula of time over space over ground in other words getting to our destinations before the tropical sun is at it’s peak.

I’m still fascinated by the locals, mainly women out in the fields in the extreme heat working and hacking away with their tools preparing the earth for new sugar cane crops. All I can say the women in this part of the world are bloody tough.

The tarmac below passes under me endlessly as I clock up the required training kilometers each day, but at the same time I try not to avoid lifting my head to view out to beautiful Thailand - the distant mountains, rice fields, corn crops beautiful temples and the people themselves going about their way as they’ve been doing for hundreds of years.

I’m away from the tourist haunts which to me isn’t real Thailand, but at the same time I’m very understanding that tourists find the bigger cities like Bangkok, Pataya and Phuket to their liking.

Like in most parts of the world, country folk are more hospitable, easy going, polite, non aggressive, not so money driven and take the time to smile even though they’re doing it tough. At the moment I’m in that zone, certainly whilst riding off the beaten track for another 10 days at least.

Kanchanaburi today is another city becoming bigger and tourist driven due to a more recent border post opening up close by linking Thailand to Myanmar. Regardless, I’m here for a rest day and taking advantage of easing those tight muscles before moving on tomorrow along the adjacent road of the infamous Thai Burma railway to Khao Laem National Park to test the body on some big mountains as mentioned.

Wikipedia: Khao Laem National Park is a park of about 1,500 square kilometers in western Thailand, located in the northern area of the Tenasserim Hills, Kanchanaburi Province. It is a part of the Western Forest Complex, a system of protected wilderness in the Dawna-Tenasserim Hills area of western Thailand.

The park surrounds the Khao Laem Reservoir in Kanchanaburi province about 340 km northwest of Bangkok. It is cut through by Road 323. The vegetation consists of mixed deciduous, hill evergreen and dry evergreen forest. It is adjacent to the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, which is situated to the northeast of Khao Laem National Park. Large animals of the area include tigers, elephants, gaurs, sambar deer, barking deer and wild boars.

Truck Sams and riding crew on The Long Ride Home training in Thailand

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TLRH Training Day

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Now well into the preparations for the Singapore to the Myanmar/Thai border with continuous training over the next 3 months until the start in September.

I’m getting a last training ride here in the Hua Hin area before throwing the saddle bags on the bike to ride North for 2 weeks soon.

This morning I headed towards the Hua Hin hinterland amongst the pineapple fields. Plenty of trucks laden with the juicy sweet product passed by knowing that too much speed on the sharp bends would result in their top heavy load heading for the roadside and not the Hua Hin markets close by.

A quick stop over at the Temple of the famous monk Luang Phor Thuad before heading back along pineapple alley.

A description of Wat Huay Mongol by trip advisor for tourists coming to the area; The Wat Huay Mongkol temple complex located some 15 kilometers west of Hua Hin is famous for its enormous statue of one of Thailand’s most famous monks, named Luang Phor Thuad.

Giant Luang Phor Thuad statue is about 12 meters tall and 10 meters wide and is set on a large mound overlooking the temple grounds.

The image can be seen from far away reaching higher than the trees. You can climb up the wide stairways to the giant statue. The temple itself is a place very popular with Thai people from all over the country, who go there to pay respect to Luang Phor Thuad and to ask for things as favours, good luck, health, fortune and happiness.

On each side of the giant statue, there is a huge wooden elephant. Local people walk in circles under the belly of the elephants wishing for good luck. The complex also holds a Buddhist temple, a statue of King Taksin the Great on horseback and shops where Buddhist amulets can be bought.

The whole complex is set in a park like environment, very well suited for a couple of hours of relaxing. The area has a lake, waterfalls, streams, bridges, a number of pavilions and lots of shady places. Thai food can be bought in several restaurants. Apart from the very impressive Luang Phor Thuad statue, Wat Huay Mongkol is a very peaceful and serene place worth a visit. It is best visited on weekdays, as it can get very crowded on weekends and on Thai public holidays.

Luang Phor Thuad, whose name is sometimes spelled Luang Phor Thuat, lived some 400 years ago in Southern Thailand. He is now famous all over the country for the miracles that he performed. It was said that Luang Phor Thuad turned salt water into fresh, drinkable water on multiple occasions

A great number of miracles is attributed to the famous monk Luang Phor Thuad. Therefore, many Thai people believe that amulets created in the image of Luang Phor Thuad hold great protective powers, especially from natural disasters like tsunamis and flooding and from accidents. Especially old amulets are considered very powerful and priceless. Amulets can be bought in Wat Huay Mongkol at a number of shops.

I cannot help but being fascinated by the huge statue and the surrounding area when visiting here. It’s hard not to move on, but when you’re on the bike reality sets in that’s exactly what you’ve got to do in beating the dark clouds closing in from Myanmar ready to let loose with an almighty daily downpour.

Truck Sams On The Long Ride Home avoiding fallen pineapples on rainy days in Thailand

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Going Coconuts

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Back on the road again after a short stint in Australia. A full medical and I’m told by the medicos I can go ahead and ride another 100,000 kms. Now it’s time to focus on the long ride home events through to 2020 at least. I’m in Thailand and it’s an early morning training routine again rain hail or shine during the rainy season through until November.

Some big rides ahead for 2018 but the focus is on retracing the steps of our former POWs by cycling from Singapore to The Three Pagoda Pass Thailand to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Burma-Thailand Death Railway

It was an honour to receive an invitation from the Australian Embassy Thailand to be part of the commemoration of the 75 years since the railway was completed in October 1943 but also to be part of the opening ceremony of the newly upgraded Hellfire Pass Museum. The museum has undergone a multi million dollar overhaul which comes the Australian Government’s Department of Veteran Affairs and the watchful eye of the Australian Embassy in Thailand.

More to follow on the 75th Anniversary Ride as we move closer to the start from Singapore in September 102 days away.

My first training ride back in the saddle takes me 125kms from Hua Hin to Amphawa in the area of the floating markets well known to foreign tourists visiting Thailand .

Riding beside the river one can see the many local tributaries and streams called klongs that run into local village farms, in turn, are supply routes back to the local community direct to homes and floating markets by way of small hand driven boats laden with fresh products.

I’m surrounded by thick jungle and coconuts trees by the thousands as I ride along. The area famous for producing popular coconut crops but an area to watch out for working monkeys picking and tossing down the sought after fruit to their handler below. It’s always hit and miss with the odd coconut thrown onto a passing car or cyclists Oooow !!! But what can you expect from a monkey working for peanuts ?

I’m in the area of Wat Bung Kung an area famous for a former king who was passionate about training his warriors in the art of Muay Thai boxing combined with the art of sword fighting to be used against his Burmese foe during that time.

I walk through the grounds of the temple with only a few local tourists and encounter visiting an Infantry company compliment (100) of full Muay Thai boxer statues in different fighting stances, some and with swords in a striking pose.

Wikipedia: Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is a combat sport of Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. This physical and mental discipline which includes combat on shins is known as "the art of eight limbs" because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, shins, being associated with a good physical preparation that makes a full-contact fighter very efficient. Muay Thai became widespread internationally in the 20th century when practitioners defeated experts in other martial arts. The professional league is governed by The Professional Boxing Association of Thailand (P.A.T.) sanctioned by The Sport Authority of Thailand (S.A.T.), and World Muaythai Federation (W.M.F.) overseas.

Located in Thailand’s Bang Khonthi district, this area was once set up as a military camp called “Kai Bang Kung” for southern provinces troops fighting the Burmese army. After the fall of the Ayutthaya kingdom, King Taksin restored the camp as a base for Chinese soldiers and renamed it “Kai Chin Bang Kung”. The life-sized statues honour these heroes and are spread out behind a monument of King Taksin the Great.

The temple itself features a ubosot lodged in the roots of large sacred Bodhi and Banyan trees that have helped preserve the structure of the temple. Inside the ubosot is a large Buddha statue and mural paintings, depicting the Lord Buddha’s past life.

Truck Sams On The Long Ride Home Thailand watching out for airborne coconuts.

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Lieutenant Colonel Barry Petersen MC, MID (Rtd)

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