Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bridge over the River Kwai (Kwae)

Many people are somewhat  familiar with a tragic true story that occurred in Thailand during World War II.
Actual bridge behind us...... note the two spans with flat trusses - these are new spans replaced after the War - allied bombs took out the original rounded truss spans

The story is immortalized due to the Book The Bridge over the River Kwai (Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai) is a novel by Pierre Boulle, published in French in 1952 and English translation by Xan Fielding in 1954. The story is fictional but uses the construction of the Burma Railway, in 1942–43, as its historical setting. The novel deals with the plight of World War II British prisoners of war forced by the Imperial Japanese Army to build a bridge for the "Death Railway", so named because of the large number of prisoners and conscripts who died during its construction.

The furthering of the knowledge was enhanced by the Movie The Bridge on the River Kwai which is a 1957 Second World War film directed by David Lean, based on the the novel. It stars William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa. The movie was filmed in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). The bridge in the film was located near Kitulgala. The film was widely praised, winning seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture) at the 30th Academy Awards; in 1997 this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

On a recent on Saturday we hired a driver to take us to this historical site about two hours West of Bangkok in Kanchanaburi province.

During World War II, the Japanese were fighting the British in the Burmese & Indian theater.  After the Japenese defeats in the Pacific Ocean at Midway and Wake Island the tide began to turn in the South Pacific and they were unable to get all of their supplies to that theater of the War by boat with absolute safety.  The Japanese decided they needed a rail route from Thailand to Burma.  There was a 415 Kilometer gap to fill between the rail lines in Burma and Thailand.  With the surrender of Singapore, the Japanese had a large force of allied Prisoners of War to use as free labor. So they laid a plan to use the POWs and other local laborers to build the railroad in one year.  It took them 15 months.  The POWs and other laborers suffered drastically.  About 13,000 of the 60,000 POWs died.  Another 100,000 civilian also died building he railway.  The Railway operated for about 2 years before it was destroyed by the allied Air Forces.

The bridge described in the book didn't actually cross the River Kwai. The author had never been to the bridge. He knew that the 'death railway' ran parallel to the River Kwae for many miles, and he therefore assumed that it was the Kwae which it crossed just North of Kanchanaburi. This was an incorrect assumption; the bridge actually crossed the Mae Klong river.

When David Lean's film The Bridge on the River Kwai was released, the Thais faced a problem. Thousands of tourists came to see the bridge over the River Kwai, but no such bridge existed. However, there did exist a bridge over the Mae Klong. So, to resolve the problem, they renamed the river. The Mae Klong is now called the Kwae Yai ('Big Kwae') for several miles north of the confluence with the Kwae Noi ('Little Kwae'), including the bit under the bridge.

Please note the correct local pronunciation is Kwae not Kwai. 

Brother Mac - Our driver
The driver we hired for the day, happens to be Brother Mac (Chanawat Ratmate) the 1st Counselor in the Asoke Branch Presidency where I am serving as the 2nd counselor.  His Father was a young man during World War II.  After the War was over the people of Thailand were encouraged by the government to have large families (more than one wife if required) to replenish the population that was decimated by the Japanese atrocities. Brother Mac's Father had 19 children (four separate wives).  Brother Mac is one of the younger children/  Brother Mac was not aware of the details of the amazingly cruel things that the Japanese did during the War.  As the Day wore on and we saw Cemeteries and museums and War sites he got more and more upset at the Japanese. 

It was a very emotional and educational day and we enjoyed sharing the Day with Elder and Sister Seppi and Brother Mac. 
Cemetery in Kanchanaburi town - about 6400 Graves of Allied solders - many were relocated to this spot

There are three major cemeteries .... the one pictured above (the largest), another across the river and the third in Burma at the other end of the railroad. Remains of all of the American POWs were relocated back to the US - only about 60 or so. 

Note: bottom line - added by Family after Remains moved to this site

Another Unique family added quote

Train approaching the bridge - lot's of tourists

Other side of the bridge - just before the train came - You can tell Brother Mac is a fun loving guy.

View from the Bridge with Buddhist Temple across the river

Good View looking across the bridge - This section is one of the replaced sections

After leaving the Bridge site we traveled another hour or so North-northwest to the Australian Government maintained Hellfire Pass Museum.  It is located on a section of the Death Railway where many workers perished.
In the middle of the deep cut of Hellfire pass
The railway construction was primarily done by hand. Very little mechanical equipment was available. The name Hellfire pass comes from the fact that the Japanese had the POWs working 18 hours a day. After dark the lanterns and fires lighting the work area illuminated the thin workers and reminded the POWs of what Hell must be like. 

There is a self guided walk you can take along the abandoned railway.  Some of the scenery was breathtaking. The recording has specific numbered stops where they give you some additional information on the history of the death railway.
Beautiful lush forests - Burma (Myanamar) in the distance

Elder Meeker soaking in the surroundings while listening to some real history
When we saw this we decided it was time to turn back - Got back to the Parking Lot just as the rain arrived

On the way back to Bangkok Brother Mac wanted to stop at one more location.  It is called the Krasae Cave - which is right along he Railroad.  The word for Cave is Tham.  The Restaurant was closed - we arrived late in the day. 
Sister Seppi and Siser Meeker choose not to wander out on the trestle along the river.  We men did enjoy the adventure and we made it back in one piece.


Telling the wives - yes we are going to walk out on the tracks

Brother Mac pointing out - It is a long way down --- duh!
Yes that is us way in the distance on the track above the river

Entrance to the Cave

Buddha in side the cave

At the end we entered the cave along the Railroad which the locals have turned into a Buddhist shrine by installing a Buddha statue inside.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Throne Hall

On Saturday Sister Meeker and I had the opportunity to go see a Museum called Throne Hall.

The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall  (พระที่นั่งอนันตสมาคม) is a former reception hall within Dusit Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. It now serves as a museum and is from time to time employed for certain state occasions. In 1907, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) commissioned the construction of a reception hall.  The building architecture is Italian Renaissance and Neo Classic style. Marble from Carrara, Italy, and other foreign materials were used. The Throne Hall has a large dome (49.5 m high) in the center, surrounded by six smaller domes. The domes and walls are covered with paintings depicting the history of the Chakri Dynasty, from the first to the sixth reign.  King Chulalongkorn died in 1910 and the building was finally completed in 1915.
It was used as the headquarters of the People's Party during the four days of the 1932 Revolution, which transformed the country's political system from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. The first National People's Assembly convened on June 28, 1932 in this throne hall. After that, it was used as the Parliament House until 1974 when the new Parliament House was opened to the north. However, the old Parliament House is still used for the State Opening of Parliament marking the first assembly in consequence of a general election for the House of Representatives.

The Hall is at the centerpiece of Bangkok's own Champs Elysees. It is a very impressive two-story palace with white marble that sits at the end of Dusit's long, wide Royal Plaza, a leafy ceremonial boulevard that's often the focus of regal pomp and ceremony during royal celebrations.
The hall' neo-classical Renaissance architecture - particularly its central dome - dominate the scene just as Italian architects Mario Tamango and Annibale Rigotti intended. Today its ornate interiors serve as a prestigious locale in which to court visiting dignitaries, hold state council meetings and royal occasions.

Inside is a stunningly beautiful central dome, under which the Royal Throne sits. Lining it and each of the six other domes' walls are frescoes depicting Chakri Dynasty monarchs (painted by Galileo Chini). The long hall on the upper floor is embellished with embossed roman and floral patterns showing Renaissance and Baroque arts. Outside, visitors can find impressive views both from the large paved plaza in front of it or the trim gardens adjoining it with Vimanmek Mansion.

Photography is not permitted inside the building. So I don't have any pictures to show just how beautiful and dramatic the interior is.

One of the things I appreciate about Thai publicly important properties that they classify as Royal Property is the strict dress code that applies to visitors. What this means that you are not admitted if you are wearing flip-flops, shorts, sleeveless shirts or T-shirts.  Females are not allowed to wear pants - they must be wearing a dress or skirt. 

They do have some wrap around skirts for use by the guests if they arrive dressed inappropriately.  In addition the no camera policy was strictly enforced such that they even disallowed Cell phones. They made you put them in a locker provided free of charge.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Driving in Thailand

Below is a cool description of how people drive in Thailand. It was sent to me by Elder Sowards a Senior Missionary who is currently serving here.  I have found it so true .... based on my Driving experiences here in Thailand.  I took the President's Car and 3 Vans (2 mission and 1 from the Facilities Group) from the Office into the Toyota Dealer over the past two days for service.  As I was driving them I thought about the rules below.  I found myself driving just like described below.  Sister Meeker thinks I might need to be retrained when I eventually get back home. 

Picture from 3 years ago - I have seen much worse now

Written by Dennis Sowards and based on the RULES FOR DRIVING IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - Observations by David L. Johnson

1.    The “Right of Way” is determined by three things, in this order: Position, Speed and Size.       

2.    If there is space on the road, occupy it.

3.    To “Drift” from one’s lane is the same as putting on the blinker.

4.    A motorist owns the road from his peripheral vision to the bumper of the next car in front of him.  

5.    Motorcycles are not subject to any laws or “The Rules” of the road.

6.    Two short beeps on the horn is a “Courtesy Honk.”  It means: “I’m here, pay attention to me.”  Or, “The light is green - let’s go.”  Or, “Here I come; I’m going to pass you.”  Or, it can mean any other number of “Friendly” reminders on the road. The “Courtesy Honk” is never done with aggression or anger.

7.    One long blast on the horn is not a “Courtesy Honk”.  It means “You dirty ¡*&#?@%*!”.  This honk is aggressive and angry.

8.    There are no specified turn lanes.  ALL LANES turn right and ALL LANES turn left.

9.    There is no “High Speed” lane. Even if the “Super Highway” (a four lane divided highway) looks like it has an inside lane, it is not the “High Speed” lane.

10.  The inside lane is for all traffic, fast or slow.  The outside lane is for parking, motorcycles and passing.

11.  Cars are parked anywhere. If there is a spot, occupy it.  Cars are most often parked in the left hand lane of traffic.  “No Parking” signs have no meaning.

12.  Vigilance. Always pay attention to the road. Never be distracted. Always be on the lookout for pot holes, drift, missing manhole covers, intersections, speed bump, etc.

13.  Never talk on the phone while driving.

14.  80% of drivers obey “The Rules” of the road. Watch out for the other 20%.

15.  Lane markings do not exist. Paint on the street, like the double yellow lines that divide oncoming traffic or the white lines between lanes, are a figment of your imagination. They have no real meaning. At best, they are only “guide lines” for tourists.

16.  Always drive in the “Shadow” of a car that is “Blocking” traffic in front of you. 
(These are some of the "NORMAL things" Thai drivers do that we might consider bazaar, crazy and unsafe but if you ever expect to be a safe driver in Thailand you must learn, understand and expect these "NORMAL things".)

·       Drivers will pull right out in front of you and expect you to stop in time without hitting them.

·       Blinkers and rear view mirrors are available but seldom, if ever, used. 

·       Motorcycles drive at night with no headlights and no tail lights. The same is true for rear view mirrors, blinkers and helmets. They will drive on the opposite side of the road than the cars. Motorcycles are very dangerous - always be vigilant.

·       Traffic lights are obeyed by 80% of the motorist, even less by motorcycles.

·       Traffic lights often are not functioning.  In this case rule #1 above applies.

·       If an intersection is a “Log Jam” of cars, this is a normal and acceptable condition. Rule #1 above applies. 

·       Traffic lights have three colors. They are Green, Yellow and Thai Green.  So … You say to yourself, “The traffic light is red so why do the vehicles still go through the intersection?”  The answer is simple; there is a new color in the Thailand. The new color looks like “Red” but it is really “Thai Green”.

·       Directional street signs are very rare. If you come to a fork in the road, don’t expect a sign there to tell you where each road leads.

·       Signs in advance of a junction telling you that a junction is just ahead are rare.

·       Stop signs are very rare. Those that do exist are not observed. If a car is approaching a stop sign, do not expect it to stop or even slow down. Stop signs are irrelevant; vigilance is paramount.

·       Thai drivers are like little children on a crowded sidewalk. It is all about “ME”. They are in a hurry to be in the front. Like little children many lack common courtesy and decency. They never take into account the safety or feelings of other drivers.

·       The Thai driver’s motto is, “You can be first, right after me”.

·       You find yourself saying: “Why did he do that?” The answer is simple: because he can!

·       Driving the wrong way on a “One Way” street is a very common practice in the Thailand.

·       Driving on the wrong side of the road, against traffic, is very common. All drivers must be vigilant.

Thailand has most of the same traffic laws as the United States or any other civilized nation. All drivers are required to pass a written driver’s test and carry a current driver’s license. The real problem is lack of enforcement. A society without law slides into anarchy and chaos. A society with laws but no enforcement is very close to anarchy. Highway laws in the Thailand have little enforcement. Since there is no enforcement of traffic laws, traffic in Thailand resembles chaos.
Since traffic laws are rarely enforced in the Thailand, traffic here has been reduced to a chaotic tangle of “Every driver for him or herself” confusion. Over time this confusion has evolved into a discipline, such as it is, that most motorists follow and obey. It can be called “organized confusion, The Rules for Driving in the Thailand”.  These driving rules are obeyed by about 80% of all drivers.

Who are these 80% that are obeying “The Rules”? The 80% is made up of two kinds of drivers: the ones that actually obey the real “Laws of the road” and those that have learned to obey “The Rules” of the road. 

Those that obey the real “Laws of the road” have studied the law, they’ve passed the driver’s test, they hold a current driver’s license and they honor & obey the law.  The rest of the 80% are average Thais who have learned to drive by following the example of most other drivers. As a result, they know and obey “The Rules” of the road.  
The last 20% are the ones we must all watch out for. They obey no laws or rules of the road. They cannot be trusted for a moment. They are the ones that a good driver is always watching out for.

The 80%, those that obey “The Rules”, are all excellent drivers. They can be trusted to obey “The Rules” of the road and within those rules they are very safe drivers. Indeed, we trust them with our lives every time we get behind the wheel.

For the new comer to Thailand, the average Thai driver appears to not know how to drive, is discourteous, rude and dangerous. But this is not the case at all. Indeed, the new comer is the one that doesn’t know how to drive. In reality, the new comer is the one that is discourteous and dangerous. Until he learns the rules of the road, he will be the one that causes confusion and chaos.


The term “Right of Way”, as we know it, does not exist in the Thailand. Yield signs do not exist and the term “Yield the Right of Way” has no meaning. Thais usually do let others go first either because they were there first or because they feel sorry for one waiting so long. There are three things that determines who has “The Right of Way” in the Thailand.  They are: POSITION, SPEED AND SIZE. 

POSITION – In the Thailand, a driver can gain the right of way by positioning the nose of his car in front of the other car. When he pulls in front of the other car, that car is effectively blocked and cannot move forward until the first car has moved out of his way.  Therefore, gaining the right of way is simple; you must use your vehicle to block the path of the other car. Example: It’s rush hour and you are stuck in the inside lane and you are inching forward with the rest of traffic. You want to move to the outside lane.  The car beside you has left a small gap between his car and the vehicle in front of him. You pull forward and position the nose of your car in the gap in front of his car effectively blocking him. He has a car to his right so he can’t move around you and regain his position over you. You now have the right of way and as traffic continues to inch forward you can completely pull in front of him.

SPEED – All things being equal (no one has completely blocked anyone else yet) the vehicle that is going the fastest, goes first. Therefore, at a 4-way intersection if two cars approach at right angles to each other, the faster car goes first and the slower car must slow down to let him pass. This rule is true at any speed from one mile per KM to one hundred.

SIZE – All things being equal (no vehicle has position or speed on the other) the largest vehicle goes first.  Example: A bus and a car approach an intersection at the same speed. The car must slow down and let the bus go first. This rule is also true at any speed from one mile per KM to one hundred.


The new driver or visitor in the Thailand might think driving resembles chaos. He might think driving requires the skill of “Brinksmanship” or the nerve of a game of “Chicken” but it is neither of these. The rules of the “Log Jam” and the “Inch Game” illustrates that driving in the Thailand is orderly.  (Well… sort of orderly!)

The “Log Jam” is a traffic jam at an intersection because there is no traffic light or the traffic light is not functioning.  The “Log Jam” is very common in the Thailand. It looks like a bunch of cars squeezed in together, from all directions, each one trying to maneuver its way through the chaos and reach the other side of the intersection so they can go on their way. 
Even though it looks like chaos, what is really happening is the organized movement of traffic using “The Rules” (See No. 1 and 2 above, on page 1).  Each vehicle is inching forward to take away the position of the other cars around it. The driver that successfully gets position goes first and continues to inch forward until he clears the intersection.

The “Inch Game” is similar to the “Log Jam” because it uses the same rules: No. 1 and No. 2 above. It is used by one or more cars that are waiting to cross a busy intersection, trying to pull into a lane of traffic or turning left at an intersection.

The “Inch Game” starts when one or more cars (the “Inch Game” players) move their vehicles a little bit into the first lane of traffic without blocking the lane completely.  Approaching cars are not completely blocked so their speed gives them the right of way. They must slow down a bit to maneuver around the encroaching cars and, having done so, they go on their way. Again the “Inch Game” cars “Inch” a little bit more into the lane of traffic. The approaching traffic has already had to slow a bit because the cars in front of them had to pass the “inch game”. Now the new cars must slow down even more to get around the “Inch Game” players. This pattern repeats itself until the approaching traffic can no longer maneuver around the “Inch Game” players.  They have lost position and speed and they must stop.  This pattern continues into the next lane of traffic until it is forced to stop too.  Now the “Inch Game” traffic has successfully blocked all of the lanes and they proceed unobstructed across the intersection. 

At this point all of the “Inch Game” players are moving across the intersection and are followed by more cars following in the “shadow of the blockers” (See: “7. Blocking and driving in the shadow of the Blocker” on Page 8). They all move across the intersection because they have the right of way based on speed. The cars that used to be in the high-speed lanes have lost position and speed and are completely stopped.  Now they become the new “Inch Game” players and slowly begin to encroach on the faster crossing traffic until they gain the right of way again. 
This “Inch Game” is repeated over and over at intersections all across the country every minute of every hour. To the untrained eye, it looks like mass confusion and discourteous chaos.  But just the opposite is true. The system works; all drivers in the Thailand know the game and play it very well.


A motorist “Owns the road” from his peripheral vision to the bumper of the next car in front of him.  It is his to do with, as he likes. He can change lanes without looking in his rear view mirror or even glancing to the side to see if there is a car in his “blind spot”.  He can drive on top of the white strip and block both lanes of traffic. He can “Drift” from lane to lane without considering if anyone is behind or beside him. He can drive very slowly and block traffic.

In the US these antics would result in a ticket and a fine. They might even cause “Road Rage.” In the Thailand, these are not antics; they are completely normal and accepted driving behavior. No one gets mad or upset (usually). The Thai motorist knows he “owns the road” in front of him and accepts the fact that the next driver in front “owns the road” in front of him. (See also: “4. Drift, Blinkers and Rear View Mirrors” below)

To “Drift” is the act of slowly wandering from lane to lane. The driver in front of you may drift left and right and still stay within his lane or he may drift left and right from curb to curb. To wander about or “Drift” is normal and accepted in the Thailand. 

It is important to pay attention to the “Drift” of the car in front of you. The moment he starts to “Drift” should be taken as his intention to change lanes. The instant a car stops going straight down the road and starts to move left or right, even if only slightly, this is the same as putting on the blinker.

Blinkers and rearview mirrors are available but seldom used. (Use your blinkers and rear view mirrors anyway, even though they are not required by “The Rules” of the road.)

If you are driving beside and to the rear (the “Blind spot”) of the car in front and he starts to “drift” into your lane, you have two options. You can slow down and allow him to take the lane in front of you. Or, you can beep your horn twice (the “Courtesy Honk”), speed up and pass him before he finishes his move into your lane.

A motorcycle can be privately owned and driven by its owner but often they are a taxi for hire. Most carry fee-paying passengers and their cargo. They often assemble in groups around bus stops and at intersections hoping to pick up a fare. Many motorcycles are “Home Delivery” for small corner grocery stores, restaurants and other stores.
Motorcycle drivers feel they are not subject to any laws or “The Rules” of the road. They are very dangerous.


Taxis often drive in the gutters, against traffic in the oncoming lane or even on the sidewalks to get to a person standing at the curb, in the hope that the person wants a ride.


At intersections, try to drive in the “Shadow” of the car that is “Blocking” traffic in front of you.  Example:  Often you will find yourself sitting in the right hand turn lane waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so you can make your turn. Inevitably one or more other cars, taxis, etc. will come around and pull in front of you, effectively blocking you, making themselves first in line to make the turn.  This is common and no reason for alarm.  In fact, you can use their “Inch Game” tactics to your advantage.  As they inch forward and begin to block traffic, stay in their shadow and they will clear the road for you so you can make your turn too.

Driving in the country can be different than driving in the major cities. 1) Watch out for livestock. Dogs, cows, pigs, chickens, etc. are everywhere. Especially dogs, they feel they own the road and you must go around them.  They are often wandering free, unattended. Be vigilant every moment. 2) The roads are terrible. Potholes are everywhere. A driver’s attention must be focused on the road every second. 3) Small towns have speed bumps everywhere. They are almost never marked. Most are very high and vehicles may bottom out on them. Go very slowly over them.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mothers Day in Thailand

The Queen of Thailand, Queen Sirikit's birthday, as is the king's, is a national holiday, and is also Mothers' Day in Thailand. The Queen is particularly revered in the more remote and traditional parts of the country, where the monarchy is regarded as semi-divine. Her work in promoting tolerance and understanding for the Muslim minorities in the southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat have made her especially popular amongst local Muslims.

She married just prior to her 18th birthday in 1950, shortly before here husband the future King was crowned the King of Thailand.  As the consort of the king who is the world's longest-reigning head of state, she is also the world's longest-serving consort of a monarch. Sirikit suffered a stroke on 21 July 2012 and has since refrained from public appearances.

The Thai people revere and respect the King and Queen very much. Each year on Mother's Day many of the Businesses create a shrine to 'Honor' the Queen.  Most of them in our area are sponsored and erected by Banks or other major businesses.

A display set up in front of an office Building on the Way to the Office
Even in front of the Islam Bank of Thailand you will find a temporary monument to the Queen

Beautiful arrangement of potted flowers
An yes..... I called my Mother on Thailand Mothers Day, August 12th.