While Graham and I were staying in Kanchanaburi, Thailand there were a few things we had to see. After checking out OneStep4Ward’s post about Kanchanaburi, we had a plan of action for the days we were there. We travelled along the Death Railway from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, walked across The Bridge Over River Kwai, visited the war memorials, and of course visited Hellfire Pass.
While the rest of the places are in town, Hellfire Pass is about an hour drive out of Kanchanaburi. Our plan was to get up fairly early, have breakfast and head to the bus station to work out which bus to take. Once we finished at Hellfire Pass, the plan was to go to Sai Yok Noi Falls before heading to Nam Tok to get the train back to Kanchanaburi, along the infamous Death Railway. It would be a full day, but doable and full of history.
Aaah, the best laid plans ey.
The Kanchanaburi Bus Station for Hellfire Pass
As we were leaving our hotel, the lovely guy who runs it asked what we had planned for the day. When we explained, he kindly said he’d drop us to the bus station. We thought he’d drop us at the bus station, then we’d find somewhere close by for breakfast before finding out how the bus works.
In reality, he was overly helpful!
He parked, and walked us into the bus station and organised the bus tickets for us! Within minutes we were standing there, with tickets in hand. Our super helpful hotel man said to wait there, and the bus will be along soon – he then left. On his way out, he spoke to some people and then signalled to us, that this was our bus. Or so we thought!
We walked over, and saw him walking back to his car. We were quickly ushered onto the minibus – and we were off!
Oh, wait. What about breakfast?
The bus drove on, and we really were not sure how this all works. I said to Graham:
“I assume the driver knows where we’re going? Or do we need to somehow signal to him?”
We were at the back of a full minibus, and couldn’t get to the driver anyway. We knew it was about an hour drive, but apart from that, we were not too sure.
Driving straight past Hellfire Pass
After we’d been driving for about an hour, I started to get a bit nervous. Did the driver know we wanted to stop at Hellfire Pass? We really couldn’t reach him to ask, and I wasn’t convinced he spoke any English anyway.
I was trying to see all the signs we drove past, but as we were moving quite quickly, they were all pretty blurred. Most were also in Thai, which didn’t help me. At one point, I thought I saw a sign that said ‘Hellfire Pass’ – but I really wasn’t sure, and we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
I had a screenshot on my phone that said Hellfire Pass in English and Thai – I showed it to a woman sitting near us. She made a funny expression and a gesture with her head. We really were not sure what it meant, but it seemed to be saying it was still up ahead.
At this point, we decided to just sit back and go with the flow. Either we would end up at Hellfire Pass, or we would end up somewhere else. Perhaps we’ll find somewhere amazing, or at least have a bit of adventure. We tried to convince ourselves of this anyway!
Turns out, that was Hellfire Pass we drove past! Oh well.
Arriving at a random, small Thai town
Eventually, the bus stopped and a couple of people got off. We took the opportunity to get off, and speak with the driver. My suspicions were correct – no English. Lucky I had that screenshot!
He straight away had an expression of amusement and concern. We were clearly in the wrong place!
There was a woman who worked for the bus company, selling tickets etc. who he spoke to. She didn’t seem concerned or amused, just a bit annoyed. Our driver was all in a fluster, running around speaking to other people, coming back, then got on a motorbike and drove off for a few minutes.
The ticket woman and I tried to communicate through Google Translate, but it really wasn’t working for us. Google doesn’t seem to be good with Thai! It didn’t help that to start with she was translating to French, and I had to get her to understand I speak English, not French.
Meanwhile, I REALLY needed to pee… But was worried that if I walked off to find a toilet, the bus would just leave and we’d be even more stranded. So I held it. I couldn’t stand still though! ha!
After a while, the driver came back and signalled for us to follow him. We walked up to the street and he pointed down the street. Uuum what? Luckily somebody came by who spoke some English… “Bus stop. 100 metres”
Ok, let’s give this a shot. And see what else is in this town while we’re at it.
Finding the correct bus to Hellfire Pass
We did as we were told, and walked about 100m in that direction… And found what appeared to be a bus stop. YAY! Now what? When does the bus come? Will they understand where we want to go?
You know what? I don’t even care… WHERE IS A TOILET??
Just behind the (hopefully correct) bus stop was a local market, selling all sorts of crazy Thai foods. Surely there would be a toilet in there somewhere! So we walked through, trying to work out what some of this food was – and then found the toilet. Woohoo. Such relief!
Around 10 minutes after we returned to the bus stop, a bus showed up. And guess what? It had a sign in the window – in English, with a list of destinations on it – including Hellfire Pass. Ah, the relief – we would get to see Hellfire Pass after all. The woman onboard who sells tickets also spoke a little English, understood where we wanted to go, and even told us when we were approaching our stop.
This was definitely the bus route we were MEANT to get to start with, however this was the return direction. It turns out we’d gone about 30 minutes too far, and that sign I saw that I thought said Hellfire Pass – yup, that was it!
The return to Kanchanaburi, from Hellfire Pass
We’d finally made it to Hellfire Pass, and spent a couple of hours exploring the war memorial museum, listening to the audio guide, and walking as far down the trail as we had time for. I’ll write another post with more information about the experience and history of Hellfire Pass.
Unfortunately, because we lost so much time in the morning by getting lost, we only had time for Hellfire Pass and then back to Kanchanaburi. The waterfalls, and the Death Railway ride back to Kanchanaburi had to be skipped.
The way back to Kanchanaburi was a lot more straightforward. When we left the Hellfire Pass museum, and walked back to the road, we straight away saw a bus stop on the opposite side of the road. Within about 15 minutes, a bus came along with a sign in the window saying ‘Kanchanaburi’ – woohoo!
As the bus approached, we flagged it down and expected it to stop near us (as you would). Nope, this is Thailand! What actually happened was that they slowed down and a woman yelled out the window ‘hurry hurry’ – and we jumped on a moving bus!
An hour later, we were back in the familiar surroundings of Kanchanaburi – and could FINALLY get some FOOD! Those who know me, can just imagine what I was like at 6pm when I had not had breakfast or coffee!
At the end of the day, I’m still not sure whether it was the wrong bus, or the right bus but the driver just didn’t realise we wanted to get off there. I get the impression that the minibuses do not usually stop at Hellfire Pass – both the buses we caught that got us to where we were going were big buses, not minibuses.
So, if you’re trying to go from Kanchanaburi to Hellfire Pass – get the big, local bus NOT a minibus! Also, make sure you check with the driver or ticket attendant on board, to confirm where you’re going! This is something I SHOULD know, after 10 years of travel – but in this instance, I screwed up by thinking that my hotel man had done all the organising. 🙂
Have you ever ended up lost while travelling? Did it end up being a fun adventure, or a stressful and unenjoyable experience?
Let me know in the comments below!