The Islands and the Death Railway

I spent most of my time in Thailand under water off the island of Kho Phi Phi. The only way to get there is a ferry ride and at times the ocean can be very, very rough.  Fortunately, the boat’s narrow shape gave the passengers a quick path to run and lean over the side. I didn’t need to do that, but the three hour trip won’t be forgotten.  The photograph below shows the boat nearing the island. Finally!
Ferry to KoPhiPhiWell, not exactly “there.” From the ferry we got into a small outboard taxi boat for a short ride to the hotel. The waves were crashing around us, soaking us and our packs. When we got near the shore within sight of the hotel, the boatman told us the good news. He couldn’t go closer to shore in those conditions. We’d have to jump out of the boat and wade in. So we jumped out into chest high water and he handed us our packs. We waded in to shore holding our bags above/on our heads. Then we slogged across the deserted beach and into the hotel lobby, dripping copious quantities of water on the beautifully polished wood plank floor. The hotel workers greeted us cheerfully and gave us some juice before asking us to check in. They obviously were used to this type of arrival.

When I recovered my equilibrium, I realized there was a full sized Christmas Tree in the corner of the lobby and Christmas music–American style–playing softly over loud speakers. Well, it was Christmas Eve, but I found this scene rather disturbing, actually. What’s the point of going to out of the way places to experience different cultures only to find the same things you’d find at home? Oh well. So much for the war on Christmas?

But I digress. Anyhow, welcome to the island of Kho Phi Phi! Such an idyllic spot. (Unfortunately for the residents, several years later a tsunami completely trashed this island. I used that event as character background for a family in my second novel, Deadly Traffic.) Anyway, Here’s the island as I saw it.


After a week of diving and snorkeling, I spent a few days in the city of Bangkok. It reminded me way too much of Los Angeles, but with ten times the air pollution. There are some interesting byways there, however, smaller canals with a local character. Welcome to the suburbs! The only way to get around is by boat.

Bangkok8Bangkok7 Vendors paddle around and people visit.

Bangkok5As in Kho Phi Phi, the spread of American culture continued in Bangkok. I do wonder why our junk/fast food spreads around the world so much.

DairyQueenI decided not to try the frozen treat. Instead, I bought some food from a street market. The woman dumped the food into plastic bags, and I took them and watched the bags slowly leaking the lentils and seafood juices on to my feet. Luckily, I was on my way to a place where they’d have dishes!


Here’s the restaurant, the roof and the ceiling inside. They supplied tea and plates! Odd “restaurant.”



You’re probably wondering by now, “Where does the Railway of Death come in?” Okay! Here!



During World War II, the Japanese forced prisoners of war to build a railway through the jungles and at the terminus, set up a camp to hold them. If you’ve seen the movie, “Bridge on the River Kwai” you might be familiar with the location. It’s a museum and memorial cemetery now. You’ll see the real bridge in a moment. It’s still there and the train goes right over it.

The jungle is so dense, it’s easy to see why escaping meant death. Staying in the camp also meant being worked and starved to death, accompanied by possible torture.

Railwayto Bridge3On the train we were offered snacks.


Upon arrival, there’s a museum to visit. There are upsetting photographs of the prison camp inmates and descriptions of the harsh and inhumane conditions. Right outside, there’s a bridge. Yes, THAT bridge!


The woman walked right down the tracks after a train came. I’m glad it was after… Here’s the etching I composed later from sketches and the above photo.


The cemetery is sobering.  When I see one of these, after the sadness comes anger about the endless wars we humans wage.BridgeCemetery


And back to the city again. I don’t think the prisoners who built this expected people like me to be riding it decades later. What are we leaving for our descendants?

Mickey Hoffman is the author of the Kendra Desola mystery novels, School of Lies and Deadly Traffic.

~ by mickeyhoffman on December 14, 2012.

3 Responses to “The Islands and the Death Railway”

  1. As always, a journey to somewhere else with Mickey! Great photos, and a wonderful bit of travel writing about a place I’ll certainly never see.

  2. Great travel stories!

  3. […] The Islands and the Death Railway […]

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