The central part of the day on the Kanchanaburi tourist train was to witness the main highlights of the trip. That’s the (in)famous Kwai River Bridge, the beautiful views on the river itself en route to Say Yok national park, and the much anticipated long stop for lunch and visit of the scenic Say Yok Noi waterfall.
“When you visit the fall, be careful with the current – you don’t want to be carried away by the stream” joked the Thai railway official who was using an old school megaphone in lieu or a proper PA system.
Ah, Mr railway official. A self-appointed MC, stand up comedian, who’d crack joke after joke while describing the scenic sites to come or, more prosaically, the on board dinner and snack menu – or so, at least, reported my translator Ek.
Cute at the start, I got sick of the piercing sound of his voice by take three. Especially when he’d keep waking me up from my hard earned naps. (That’s me, a perpetual light sleeper always grateful when I manage to catch a nap).
Yet, it’s funny what your mind can do when you’re continuously exposed to speech in such an alien language as Thai. After giving up on identifying a single word other than kop khun khrap (thank you) it starts looking for patterns in the intonation, changes in the pace, and subtle nuances in voice quality that signal when a joke is about to be told. A pretty unsuccessful quest, I realized after a while.
Time rolled by, and so did the beautiful forested landscape after Kanchanaburi, which afforded excellent views on the Khwae river. Eventually we made a stop for lunch, before the songthaew ride to the waterfall. It was in one of those typical open-air Thai roadside restaurants offering the usual Isaan staples.
“Let’s have a salad”, suggested Ek.
My first som tam, if I remember correctly. And probably the spiciest one I’ve had to date, as even my friend commented on it, cooly:
“It’s a bit spicy”.
Spicy indeed. Picture this: you’re hungry, yet every bite from the food you’re eating makes you cringe and sweat more and more profusely. You try every trick at hand to distract the fire on your tongue, but at some point there’s no more sticky rice left and you’ve downed most of your bottle of water. And yet you want more, you crave for another spoonful of the green papaya salad and eventually give in and the cycle starts again: fire, sweat and water…
Oh for a pint of Singha, I mused to myself, but decided it was too early in the day and that Ek must not put me in the same bag as all those other drunken farang.
So yes, eventually we got to Say Yok Noi waterfall, with the national park information panels, usual Buddhist shrines and hordes of tourists, mainly Thai. It was nice to walk for a bit after so long in the train, but of course it turned out to be a rather anti-climactic highlight.
Or, in hindsight, a most fitting excuse for everything else.