Tour report 2016

TOUR REPORT QUIET LION TOUR 2016 Friday April 15th 2016 saw a group of people congregating at the check-in desk at Perth International Airport, mostly strangers to each other. The same was happening at Brisbane International Airport, Melbourne International Airport and Sydney International Airport as well. We have become an organisation for the whole of Australia not just Western Australia as was in the past. We are doing all travel arrangements for travelers coming from all over Australia as well as flights being met to assemble our group together. This creates cohesion into the Quiet Lion Group rather than an "us and them". We also accommodate ”land content only" for those who join the tour whilst in Thailand or are arriving from other overseas destinations. As take-off time was approaching it was noticed that our group was starting to intermingle and were helping each other with documents and getting through the different stages that go with international travel, a lot for the first time. Up and away, we left Perth with our full compliment as did the flights from the other airports on the eastern seaboard and later in the evening we had ourselves AT the Quiet Lion Tour for 2016, assembled and ready to get into the story of the Thai Burma Railway. Day two had to get everyone into the habit of early wake up calls so we can leave on time. No wake up call, panic, are people still in bed, fortunately most had set an alarm. No Panic. Made us aware to check that wake up calls had been ordered before going to bed, not the next morning. Left around fifteen minutes late to go to the Summer Palace at Bang-Pa In, as per usual it was hot and gave our group a taste of Thailand weather. Next on to Ayutthaya to the United Nations declared world heritage area of the ancient capital of Thailand that was invaded in 1767ad (or 2559be) as we were told, being the Thai calendar year. Owing to a change in approach to hasten our visit, we lost time and had to curtail our next stop to a few minutes. Mental note to self, go back to previous arrangements. Lunch proved to be a great success on a new ferry down the Chayo Phraya River into Bangkok which took approximately three hours and gave everyone a chance to get to know one another and to talk among them about what their expectations of the trip would be. Arrived back at Royal Benja Hotel in time for those that had missed the retail therapy component of the day. Unaccompanied students and the Geraldton group were taken to Terminal 21 shopping complex for an evening’s outing. Day three started without a wakeup call as well, no problems, day went very well with a visit to the Teak Factory, an initiative by the Queen of Thailand to train Thai artisans in the art of wood carving and furniture making. From here we went to the Palm Sugar Factory to see the traditional way of making Coconut Palm Sugar and to stock up on palm sugar for the morning coffee. The Damnoen Saduak floating market was well received arriving after a tour of the klongs and a chance to make purchases from the long-tail boats in which we were traveling. A sumptuous lunch was put on at the Sampran Riverside Resort, formerly the Rose Garden Resort, followed by the Thai Elephant and cultural show. We arrived back in Bangkok around 5:30pm with time to get cleaned up for dinner with our guests, Khun Tang Sitipong and her parents, (they are the daughter and granddaughter of Khun Kanit and Khun Oonjai Wanachote). The Wanachote family are keen to keep contact with the Quiet Lion Group as we had a very long association with the Wanachote family through Home Phu Toey. Day four saw wake up calls functioning with everyone eager to begin the official start of the Railway Story, we had been spoiled by the Bangkok traffic on the previous days as it was the end of the Thai New Year or Sonkran Festival. Today was the start of the working week and the traffic was horrendous, finally arrived at Nakom Pathom, the site of the big hospital camp that was constructed after the railway was completed. It was here that Weary Dunlop and Albert Coates along with other doctors from the railway and dedicated medical staff did so much work to assist the men that came down from the camps along the track to recover some of their health and get attention for a multitude of illnesses that plagued them during the construction period. Most that came here were in very poor condition, food was just adequate but being closer to Bangkok they were able to get supplies from the "V" organization, a group of Thais and expat English and Dutch that had been interned for the duration of the war but still had contact to the outside. A main conduit for this activity was Boon Pong and his Daughter. Next on the list was Nong Pladuk station on the railway line from Bangkok to the southern states of Thailand and eventually to Singapore, this is the 0 kilometre point of the railway to Thanbyuzayat on the Thailand side of the border. Thanbyuzayat is the 0 kilometre point for those that started in Burma. A large camp, mainly British, was at Nong Pladuk along with workshops, foundries and oil refineries. Not far from Nong Pladuk is the town of Ban Pong. (The railway station where POWs alighted from the trains that had brought them up from Singapore). The "lucky few" which arrived here was taken by truck to their areas of work. The remainder was force marched at about twenty-five miles per day until they reached their destination up to three hundred kilometres away. As we get closer to Kanchanaburi, we stop at Tamuang, a large camp area that is now mostly market gardens that supply fresh vegetables to the local market in Kanchanaburi. Most of the POWs that came to work on the railway travelled through here on the way up the line and most definitely on their return. Those returning to Singapore and some of the Japan Parties were selected from here. The camp was not a work camp and was mainly for administration, the discipline was strict but the rations were considerably better than up the line. Those suffering with amoebic dysentery, tropical ulcers, and most of the debilitating disease that were hard to treat were sent from here on to the hospital camp at Nakom Pathom. After Tamuang we travel through the city of Tamuang and Kanchanaburi to Tamarkan, the site of the Bridge over the River Kwai, and to lunch at Tida Loa's Restaurant overlooking the bridge, after lunch we had time to have a look over the bridge and for those who needed to change currency, after a quick look at the market it was time to go to the Thailand Burma Railway Centre and the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. By this time the day had got into the low forties and was starting to get uncomfortable so after the TBRC it was by unanimous decision that we head for Pung-Waan Kanchanaburi Resort and the swimming pool. We would pick up the end of the day in the morning when it was not so hot. After the welcome dinner and karaoke we all retired for the night. Day five saw us picking up where we had left off the previous evening after a group photo at the front of Pung-Waan Resort, onto the buses and visited Chungkai War Cemetery and landing on the Kwai Noi River after the cemetery we went to Chungkai Cutting and embankment which was built from the Chungkai Camp. Chungkai was also a "Base Hospital" that was used before the facility at Nakom Pathom was built, a lot of amputations took place in the Chungkai Hospital. Skipped JEATH Museum and went straight to TBRC to wait for the train from Kanchanaburi over the Wampo Viaduct. The train was due at 10:40am, arrived Thai time around 11:00am. Quiet Lions had a carriage to themselves and the track has been re-laid, re-ballasted and new heavy gauge rails, it was a very pleasant ride, no bumps or square wheels. After crossing the Viaduct and alighting at Wampo Station we then went back to Tam Krasae Station where lunch was served at one of our favorite stops, the Jungle Training Centre, and watched the train return on its journey back to Bangkok. Everyone that participated in this exercise certainly had a good look at the bridge and all agreed that the construction was a great feat in engineering and allaying fears of precarious positions. It was a very positive manoeuvre. From lunch we were back on the busses to the site of the Tarsao Hospital camps, another "base" hospital which the extremely sick and injured were sent from camps further north. The Pung-Waan River Kwai Resort now occupies this location and the different uses are incomparable, from death and disease and starvation to a luxury resort it was a place of desperation. A short bus trip took us to the town of Tarsao, the terminus of the railway at the station of Nam Tok. Off the end of the railway stands a Mitsubishi C56 locomotive which ran on the railway during the war and after with the State Railways of Siam until 1956. Above the engine is the site of the Tonchan South POW camp from which was built a long trestle bridge across the front of the Sai Yok Noi Waterfall. Owing to the lack of rain the stream and waterfall was not running. The next stop was across the road at the 7 Eleven store to buy supplies for our home for the next five days at Home Phu Toey Resort, what a relief to be able to stay here without having to check out. Day six saw us on the road again to Takanun, and the Khao Laem Dam and Lake Vajalongkorn built by the Snowy Mountain Authority under the Columbo Plan in the 1980's. First stop is Wat Takanun and a chance to climb up to the Buddha Image at the top of a limestone Kaste to take in the lay of the Kwai Noi Valley and the Takanun POW camps. The position of the railway is visible from here until it passes under the dam wall. From here you also overlook the town of Thong Pha Phum, a regional centre in Kanchanaburi Province. From the temple complex we went to the Khao Laem Dam. We have been informed that our group is the only ones that have access to the dam itself and we are guests of EGAT. A set menu lunch was served at the staff social club which was very well received; a chance was taken to be able to enjoy the cool breeze that comes off the dam. Lunch finished we headed back past the camp sites of Brankassi and Hindato where there is a deviation to take the railway past the Hindat Hot Springs. We arrived at the rest station on the Hintok road at 2:00pm, gave everyone water and electrolyte and after a short briefing everyone headed to the Hintok Cutting and the site of the Three Tier Bridge. After an address at the bridge site we headed down the stairs to the bridge footings and up onto the “seven metre” bank and through to Hellfire Pass Museum. It was hot but the route of the heritage track meant the sun was nearly always behind the hill and we were in shade most of the way. Last ones got through between 4:00 and 4:15 pm which meant it was time to hit the pool. Sleep-in on day seven, call at 6:45am, time for a leisurely breakfast and walk up to Weary Dunlop Park for the Buddhist Ceremony. This is a very pleasant and meaningful ceremony conducted by the monks from a nearby temple. The Ceremony that is performed is the ceremony to release the spirits of those who have passed away in the last twelve months. The next item for the morning is the Obelisk to commemorate the Doctors and medical staff that did so much to keep up the spirits and health of the men working on the line and defending them from being sent out to work when they were incapable. This is followed by the Memorial to Khun Kanit and Khun Oonjai Wanachote, our dear friends who looked after us at Home Phu Toey all the years we have been staying here. We also tell of the first meeting of the ex-prisoners of war and Kanit and Oonjai Wanachote on the River Kwai Noi including Sir Edward Weary Dunlop and lasting connection with Home Phu Toey. After the Buddhist Ceremony, the Obelisk Ceremony and the Kanit and Oonjai Memorial, we board the busses to visit the site of the Hintok Road Camp, now an arboretum. The attempt to place an obelisk here in memory of the doctors and medical staff was thwarted by Thai “red tape”. Hintok Mountain Camp is also known as Hintok Road camp, the road that runs through the camp was an elephant track to Burma which was open to vehicular traffic during the dry season. Dunlop Force walked to here from the Konyu River camp and started on the railway as soon as they arrived, the camp was built in spare time and after work on the railway, the accommodation was mainly defective R D Tents often with only a single fly, they were not water proof and when the monsoon set in it rained for one hundred and eight days straight, everything was wet and had no chance of drying out. Sickness and disease started to spread, any semblance of clothing soon disintegrated leaving only slouch hats and "g" strings, boots had rotted away before they had left Java. During this big wet, the railway work went on for ninety-three days and with the wet came cholera, at first nearly everyone that got cholera died in a matter of hours until the medics came up with replacing the electrolytes by intravenous injection. Major Alan Woods had built a water reticulation system by damming the stream above the camp and using bamboo he had supplied running water to the cook house. He broached into this system near the kitchen and built a still capable of producing one hundred and twenty litres of saline a day thus saving the lives of more than sixty percent of cholera victims. Back on the busses and we head for Sai Yok Yai National Park to see the POW camps and the Japanese camp area. There is a huge embankment and bridge footings that were built by the Romusha (forced labour). After a swim and a paddle in the coldest water we encounter in Thailand we then board Houseboats and travel down the Kwai Noi River with lunch provided. The houseboat trip was very well received and enjoyed by all, we alighted at the Hintok River camp and after a short talk we moved onto Konyu River camp and then returned to Home Phu Toey for dinner and bed. Day eight after another sleep in and a photo we headed for Thadan where a road bridge was built after the completion of the railway, as the original structure had been washed away during the extreme monsoon. The site of the camp is now an Elephant Park where you can hire elephants for transportation. From here we travel to Lat Ya, which is the site of the Temple Camp also known as Rajah camp (a corruption of the words Lat Ya). This camp was a transit stop as the road to Burma followed this route. The Shinto Peace Park is funded from Japan as atonement for the atrocities that took place during World War 2, on behalf of the Japanese nation. Lunch taken afloat on the two rivers - (Kwai Noi and the Kwai Yai). On the Kwai Noi we traveled as far as Khao Pun, the mountain which the Chungkai Cutting and embankment are built on and passed the landing of the Chungkai Hospital and cemetery. As we returned down the river and came into the Kwai Yai the two rivers can be seen running side by side, one brown the other blue. We were able to come up the Kwai Yai and travel under the "Bridge over the River Kwai " and see the abutment of the timber bridge that was built in conjunction with the steel bridge. On the way back down to the landing we pass e new style Buddhist Temple and Stupa which contains the Ashes of the last Head Abbot of Thailand that was born in Kanchanaburi. We left the lunch cruise at the JEATH landing for a visit before heading back to Home Phu Toey for our Concert Night. Concert Nights just seem to get better and better as time goes on. Every year is absolutely amazing, and becoming more professional. Thanks to all of those that participated and gave us all a night to remember. Day nine and we visited Hellfire Pass Museum to give everybody a chance to go through the exhibition and have time to take in all they have to offer without being pushed for time. Next item on the itinerary was a session for the students to practice their marching and presentation of wreaths to be laid on ANZAC Day at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Our students went reasonably well at this exercise with some more polish they will be good on the day. Discovered “After Dawn” Coffee Shop which served espresso coffee made with real milk a nice little bonus for the connoisseurs of good coffee. The main reason for coming to Kanchanaburi was the ANZAC Cup AFL Football match played between the Thailand Tigers and the Malaysian Warriors. The Malaysian Warriors ran out winners after being the runners up in the home and away season. The afternoon was very enjoyable and particularly the hamburgers, fries, pizzas, hot dogs, steak sandwiches, pies and sausage rolls went very well thanks to Tenderloins Steakhouse from Bangkok and a sponsor of the Thailand Tigers AFLFC. We had a pleasant trip back to Home Phu Toey with a short stop at the Tarsao 7 Eleven who by this stage almost knew the Quiet Lions by name. Dinner was a quiet affair and all turned in for the night. Day ten was our free day for most however those who took the optional trip to Three Pagodas Pass on the Thailand Burma border. Eighteen people took advantage of this option led by Ian Holding with his knowledge of F Force and the movements of those who worked on the northern part of the railway and the site of Dr Bruce Hunt's hospital at the Songkurai camps. Mention should also be made of Neil MacPherson OAM who served further north again over the border in Burma itself, starting at Thanbyuzayat and coming right to the border at Changaraya. The rest remained at Home Phu Toey to have to visit the Weary Dunlop Park and Museum and the other exhibits in the park. They saw replicas of the equipment made from bamboo; a dentist chair, an orthopaedic bed with pulley system for raising and lowering limbs and for traction, various physiotherapy equipment that was used for the rehabilitation of patients suffering from tropical ulcers, amputations, broken limbs and various other ailments that required this treatment. At 5:00pm in Weary Dunlop Park there was a press conference where Neil MacPherson OAM and Harold Martin, both ex-POWs on the Thailand Burma Railway were interviewed by press from SE Asia and Australia. This ended at 5:30pm. The Quiet Lions Group then joined other invited Guests for a reception followed by the light and sound show in which they managed to set the mountain side ablaze. A few anxious moments and all were back on track. Dinner was served on the lawn in company of the invited guests but being ANZAC Eve most took the advantage of leaving early to get ready for an early start and pack bags for an early check out before we head to Hellfire Pass for the Dawn Service. Day eleven, ANZAC Day, wakeup call at 2:15am, bags at the lobby and on the bus by 2:45am and leave for Hellfire Pass. The service started at 5:30am and was very well and ended at 6:15am. As daylight broke over the gathering the birds became very noticeable and the light spread through the pass, it was a moving experience. We then headed back to the car park at Hellfire Pass for a gunfire breakfast and back to Home Phu Toey for breakfast and place luggage onto busses. We said goodbye to Home Phu Toey as we headed to Kanchanaburi for the Wreath Laying Ceremony at 11:00am. Arrived in time for the students have some more practice at the wreath laying before the service began. With the Service in full swing, it came to the wreath laying which started well but in no time gremlins stared to appear but the students laying wreaths stepped up and laid the wreaths as if nothing had happened, no-one noticed the programme change and the students are to be congratulated for their initiative. After the Service, we left the Cemetery and walked to the Baan Rao Restaurant for a very enjoyable lunch and all you could eat ice cream which delayed our departure for Bangkok slightly. Our trip back to Bangkok and the Royal Benja Hotel was a rather quiet affair as everyone had had a big day and realised that this was nearly the end of the Quiet Lion Tour 2016. Our final dinner was held in the dining room at the Royal Benja. It was time to thank our tour guides, Ake and Alex, our Thai agents at Pacific Horizon, Kaye and Vivatchai, and our drivers and crew. Neil MacPherson received a very warm thank you for his part in the tour as did Alan MacPherson who helped Neil throughout the tour. Ian Holding had done a fantastic job organising the tour and Krishna Vanderweide for making sure there were no loose ends and for being mum to the unattached girls and boys. We must say a big thank you to allow those who stepped up during the tour and took on roles that were necessary for the smooth running, Vicky Vincent became the concert organizer and Michael Vincent was the "sheepdog" that made sure everyone was on the bus but also on the right bus. We also need to thank our regular supporters from Esperance Senior High School, Miles Senior High School (Queensland), Christina and Kerry Ross with the Geraldton contingent, Carnamah and Three Springs RSL for their input, Melville Rotary Club for the sponsorship of the Melville Senior High School students, Mt Lawley Senior High School, the Lions Club of Wagin, Mandurah RSL and Ramsay Medical Group (Hollywood Hospital). All of the students had outside sponsorship and BTRMA support to help them attend the Quiet Lion Tour, thanks to all who helped in this way. Day twelve was a day for pure retail therapy, lookout MBK we are coming, all unaccompanied students were supervised by appointed carers, lots of souvenirs and clothes were purchased and last minute gifts to take home were acquired and the tour slowly wound down. Back to the Benja for dinner and onto the busses to go to Suvanaphumi Airport to catch our respective planes to home. Thank you everyone for your input into a wonderful QLT 2016. David Piesse, Tour Leader,

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