It’s 4am and I’m disturbing the sleep of the hotel receptionists. I come downstairs, toting my laptop in the darkness with the objective of quietly writing and disturbing no-one. But I had forgotten that this is a real hotel rather than my usual standard shack of a guest house. Here, they have 24 hour employees! Dear god, the poor souls: they are peacefully asleep on the lounges when their only foreign guest shows up to scare the hell out of them.
Sorry guys. I tell them to please, continue sleeping, but now they’re over there trying to look busy and I feel bad for them. It’s not like they have a vagrant lifestyle to support.
I, however, do, and I’m not complaining: 4 a.m. is simply the best time to work. No-one disturbs you, and you’re not missing out on anything either. After all, if I wrote during the day, how could I simultaneously be gallivanting about in the sunshine, living the life of Riley?
Now it’s true that not everyone is asleep at 4am but whatever they’re doing, it’s probably not such a bad thing that I’m not participating in it. As the song goes, nothing good happens after midnight.
Speaking of living the life of Riley, I’m over here in Kanchanaburi doing just that. This is the westernmost region of Thailand, and every time I come here I hear the Tupac line in my head: welcome everybody to the wild wild west.
If you ride enduro, that’s not far from the truth. Kanchanaburi is the second hottest place in Thailand, with rough mountains burning under thin scrub. In the time honoured tradition of putting your visitors through hell, the local enduro guys can be relied upon to take you out into the gnar until heat stroke comes to claim you. Pack your electrolytes, boys, and know when to bail.
My friends came down here last year and ended up absolutely toasted. So much so, in fact, that I can’t even convince them to do it again. Yes, we’re down here with a CRF450RL on the truck and thus far that’s where it’s stayed, just spectating like your middle aged aunt on the Orient Express.
Don’t worry though, I’ve still been finding ways to get dirty.
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People say that motorsports are dangerous, and it’s true, especially if you’re just watching. Imagine this: insane off road buggies mashing a semi-vertical trials course, some of which can be driven, but most of which requires the co-driver to jump out the window and run for the nearest tree with a winch line and snatch strap. Now imagine how the forces applied are strong enough to pull down a medium sized tree, sending timber and tow ropes flying through the air. Now imagine that sometimes it’s actually the buggy itself which is flying through the air.
Now imagine that the spectators are welcome to run all over the track and surrounds, wherever they please, and especially in places close enough to get a good photo.
I think we’re all on the same page now. Welcome to this weekend’s 4WD motorsports event. It’s like High Intensity Interval Training, where you run towards the fun and sprint away from the hazards.
I love it.
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If you’re from a Commonwealth country, however, you may associate Kanchanaburi with far more sobering memories. It’s also the site of the infamous death railway, built by forced labour and prisoners of war under the control of the Japanese during WWII. Labouring under murderously awful conditions, it’s estimated that 16,000 prisoners of war perished, as well as some 80,000 to 100,000 local forced labourers from surrounding occupied Asian nations.
This last figure – the staggering number of Asian forced labourers who died alongside the prisoners of war – came as a mortifying surprise to me. I had no idea; my blinkered historical knowledge confined only to the tragedy of the Allied POWs, and blind to the wider human tragedy that unfolded all around it.
On Saturday, I went to the war graves cemetery and sat with the boys who had died so young. On Sunday, I went to the infamous bridge and thought about all the hands who had laboured on those sleepers and arches and railways ties. All the broken hearts across the Asian subcontinent and around the world.
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As usual, we create tragedy in the most scenic of places. As if nature is trying to inspire us to be less awful.
I took the ferry across the Sinakharin reservoir under perfect skies, with the most content dog on earth.
Just existing, in peace, for a moment.