Hellfire, 3 Pagodas a Ferry

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010
WHEN: 23-27 April, 2011
WHERE: Chiang Mai to Kanchanaburi Province & return
WHY: ANZAC DAY ride & some unknown tracks.
TEAM: D-Tracker, Sonic, BMW 650GS.
WEATHER: We had it all!

We set off at 'sparrows', around 5.15am, praying the dark skies portrayed a lack of moon-light rather than rain filled clouds. 'Blasted' down H11, the Sonic with throttle fully open clocking around 80km/tank rather than the standard 130km (!) - many an unprogrammed but enjoyable capuccino along the way. Onto H1 at Lampung & charging on towards Tak.

We stopped roadside for breakfast just north of Tak having averaged over 100kph on the bitumen though slightly less overall given the coffee/fuel breaks. Can you beat it - breakfast for 3 for 80thb!

With bellies happy & charged we 'roared' on down just south of Kamphaeng Phet where a U-turn is required to join our planned route to Kanchanaburi - R1117, 1072, 3504, 3456, 3282 (via 3438), 333 (via 3011), 3086 & on to 323 (via one that escapes me). R323 of course runs between Kanchanaburi & Sangkhlaburi out near the Burmese border.

A good run ducking heavy showers we swung left off the 1117 in to 1072 until down it came raining 'cats & dogs'....we decided on an early lunch:


Intriguingly the bill was again 80thb for 3 - magic!

Stu decided to press on in the rain:


The rain eased shortly thereafter & we followed.......funny how 'just around the corner' it can be perfectly sunny with the roads showing no sign of rain.

Stu was charging on ahead giving 'the beast' a good work-out. We managed to catch him having coffee at Ban Rai after he'd mistakenly taken a right rather than a left at Lan Sak. There are some nice rides down around Ban Rai. Stu then missed the 3086 turn out of Dan Chang continuing down the 333 to Kanchanaburi; it showed as when we arrived at our hotel, the BMW showed just short of 900km (+ 1 flat tyre) for the day versus 771km for the Sonic - great riding Myriama on your trusty stead!

We bunked in at the Pung Waan Resort, 44kms from Kanchanaburi but close to Hellfire Pass. The rain will clear 'just around the corner' - wrong, we arrived drenched.

(To be continued............)

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010

Despite the long ride of the day before, a wet night & an ale or ten, we were all up early keen to ride the 323 to Sangkhlaburi & the Three Pagodas Pass beyond. This is truly a fabulous ride along fertile valleys of rice, sugar cane & tapioca surrounded by magnificent limestone karsts in the forefront of vast mountain ranges, peppered by waterfalls, National Parks & reportedly home to many of the remaining wild elephants, tigers & gibbons. Sparse population & few tourists make this a rewarding outing.

Riding with author & war historian Stu Lloyd was an added bonus as he explained to us & showed us where the Thai-Burma railway traversed the road, old remaining sections of railroad off the beaten track, & where certain prisoner of war camps were situated - Cholera Hill just above Hellfire Pass left a certain impression.

Our first stop was for coffee at the turn-off just before Thong Pha Phum where the road swings right for Sangkhlaburi. Stu left his helmet on the ground whilst talking to the police at the control post, then replaced it on his head to dash back the 500m to join us at the cafe. He arrived doing what looked like a 'Polynesian Mosquito Dance' slapping his face & head repeatedly.........he'd placed his helmet on an ants nest; difficult enough even for those of us that have hair!

Onward we rode past these Buddhas watching over us & situated shortly after the control post:


They are in the forefront of a marvellous Wat flanked by majestic mountains.

When riding in Thailand one is constantly amused by the play on words local names deliver. Sweeping around a corner we were met with the ominous:


On this occassion, however, it was 'U Rite' - you are on the correct path, bloody oath you are!

The road skirts Khao Laem Dam affording a multitude of photo opportunities:


Then just above the descent to Sangkhlaburi we encountered the Karen celebrating the inauguration of a religious site with an enticing outlook over the township:





Tempted by the view from above we rode on into Sangkhlaburi. Its a wonderful experience - a slow, easy going town well laid out in gentle rises surrounding a vast fertile valley, populated by a wide variety of different peoples many who have fled Burma. The roads are wide, there's some thought applied in the buildings & the Buddahs on both sides of the road near the entry are captivating:


We rode on & found what is reportedly Thailand's longest wooden bridge which provides access to the Mon village of, wait for it..............................."Wang Kha", & we could not find a single sign to photograph to prove we'd arrived; bloody wankers!


(To be continued.............................)

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010
Just re-reading - you have to laugh to see the '****' added by the powers to be in paragraph 1. Of course the word writen was one meaning 'not dense'. How could the programme confuse this with one's backside!!!!!!!!!

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010
(Continued............(nice to see the **** rectified......)

We rode on up to Three Pagodas Pass - another great little ride in an area which is surely one of Thailand's hidden gems.

Three Pagoda's Pass is situated on a plain set high up on the western border between Thailand & Burma; its a famous area in both countries history as it was the pass through which invading armies from either country most often passed to wage war on each other from the 14th -18th centuries. As well as conquering armies - it was from here that the Burmese came to destroy Ayuttaya -for centuries Three Pagodas Pass also channelled traders, pilgrims, diplomats & migrants.These passers by would make an offering at the pass, adding a stone to 3 existing cairns seeking blessing on their journey. It was only in 1929 that the governor of Sangkhla Buri transformed the cairns into the pagodas as we now know them.

During WW11 the Japanese used the pass to launch their attack against Burma as it represented the only route for hundreds of kilometres by which they could forward large quantities of heavy supplies. It was also the point at which the construction of the infamous 'Death Railway' started simultaneously 415km apart in both Thailand & Burma would meet.

The mountains invite you to Three Pagoda Pass:


The three pagodas whilst not substantial nonetheless impart the sense of history the site commands:


The pagodas are situated right on the border & reflecting I suppose the constant movement of people between the two countries there's no effective barrier on the Thai side of the border. The following photo taken on the Thai side shows a no-man's land of around 15 metres immediately behind the Myanmar signage before there's a control point (1 x red & white painted bamboo pole) on the Burmese side. If you look closely you may be able to make out the Burmese flag on the building in the background with a solitary armed Burmese soldier seated thereunder. Its all very laid-back:


I found the ambience very relaxed indeed & understood moreso upon wandering around the shops which back off behind the three pagodas onto a street in Burma. The crossing is totally 'pourous' - people move back & forth between the 2 countries through gaping holes in the back of the shops. This should surely be the world's cheapest duty-free as there's absolutely no system to impose any form of taxation! I was quoted 150thb for 'top shelf' Myanmar Whiskey for those who like a drop. I photographed just one shop from the Thai side trusting the Burmese plates on the car behind could be read:


Clearly displayed beside the booze I found the following 'cure-all' concotion - the woman assured me it was not for drinking but was to be applied to the skin:


It looked like molasses in both colour & texture without any over-powering smell. If you are wondering - 'they' are 2 goat's heads floating in the liquid.

Like Sangklaburi, Three Pagodas Pass is another wonderful town rarely visited by tourists where the pace of life is easy going & there's a wonderful mix of different peoples, cultures & languages.

Despite a willingness to stay on we had to speed back to Hellfire Pass where the Australian Governor General was being given a private tour of Hellfire Pass the (late) afternoon before Anzac Day (I told you Stu knew his way around this part of the world):


To tell the truth Stu arrived to be greeted by his old friend Captain .... who called through to the Museum Curator (another old mate of Stu's) to get clearance for us to join 'the dignatories'. Stu took the phone, quickly indicated to the Captain it was all ok & in we rode......later Stu told me that no-one had been on the line!

A shot of the Peter Rushforth's 'Peace Vessel':


(More to follow..........................)

Tom Forde

Jul 6, 2004
Great slant on a trip to Hell Fire Pass, Rod, we must just of missed each other as Stu passed me on the way back to CNX.
You are both very brave soles to venture so far on small bikes.
Good on ya!


David Race

Mar 4, 2011
Great write up Rod.
Good to see the Governor General there.
I remember photographing the Governor Genaral for a magazine when she was just the Governor of Queensland a nice lady and spoke well.
Sounds like you have had a great trip.
Great pics and good write up Rod.

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010
I missed the grunt on H1 & H11, but only for a fleeting moment as the inability to 'fly' gives one far more time to 'smell the roses' as Ron/2 wheels puts it.
Stu & I talked about this in Kanchanaburi & again last night where he reconfirmed that in his rush to get home, the required concentration on the road had left little opportunity to see the surroundings.
Long live the Sonic - what a machine!

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010

We were away early on Anzac Day arriving at Hellfire Pass just after 3am & were rewarded with seats on the stone seating in the midst of where the dawn service would take place. All such seating was filled by 3.30am.

The history surrounding Anzac Day & the Thai-Burma Railway are well documented on this web-site especially in Ron/2 wheels report so I will not recover the ground here, suffice to say that it is also well documented with pertinent displays at the museums at Hellfire Pass & opposite the cematory in Kanchanaburi.

Hellfire Pass is truly the most moving of settings; there can be no better place to attend a dawn service. Don't forgo this one; get there early to take up a good position but DO NOT MISS the Hellfire Pass dawn service!

To walk down to the pass through lights provided by burning fire & to see the red of the surrounding rock 'explode' in such light makes one acutely aware of one facet of the significance of the site's naming.

It is well-known to military men that the light just prior to dawn can play tricks on one's eyes - hence the occurrence of many attacks at this time - & the setting at Hellfire Pass rams home the fact. It also makes photography difficult but a few photos follow in an endeavour to give you a feel for the event.

Prior to the service commencing The Governor-General of Australia left her seat & moved to talk with the 4 surviving Hellfire Pass POW's in attendance:


Later she gave the address:


And what a relevant address it was concentrating on the aftermath of such atrocity; thankful for the lessons learnt, for the growth in wisdom, for the sense & compassion in preserving the memorial to honesty, peace & understanding. "The fires will always burn here, as they should, in rightful remembrance of all they destroyed & all they nurtured."

The official Laying of Wreaths is always a moving moment & it was particularly poignant this year when the POW's stepped forward:


The Ode of Remembrance - Maj Gen Elizabeth Cosson (retd):


The Two Minutes Silence which followed was gut-wrenching yet beautified by the songs of birds in an experience which could not be overlooked nor forgotten.

The Rev Peter Cook who conducted the service made the Act of Commitment & offered the Final Blessing:


At the conclusion of the service the Governor General moved quickly to comfort the POW's who had been most visibly moved when laying their wreath:





I purposely furnished a series of shots as this is a G-G of great human qualities; engaging, genuinely interested in others, possessed of great empathy.

Those who served mankind & country, whose courage, devotion to duty & sacrifice gave others the opportunity to live in peace & freedom moved silently off before, in an act I have not witnessed before in such a solemn ceremony, being spontaneously acclaimed in sustained applause:


(To be continued.....................)


Dec 6, 2005
I think Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce is a real tribute to Australia...

I am on the Board of Directors of a Children Charity here in Australia, we are in no way one of the top tier Charities for either size or reach... each year we have a Gala Ball fundraiser, the last three years our guest speaker has been Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, and this year Her Excellency Ms Bryce... More than any of the others, her words were genuine and heart felt, she was very accommodating of our needs, rather than the other way around... and has since contacted the organisation again asking that we pass on her thanks to the workers who organised the event, including singling out specific people by name...

Sadly, true diggers are getting thin on the ground these days... I extend the term to include WWII veterans as well, even though the true meaning refers to WWI veterans... since many of the soldiers were formally gold miners... all of my relatives who fought in WWII have now passed... it is good to see these guys getting over to Kan to pay their respects, and being assisted and thanked for it...

Great report, I really enjoyed it...


Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010


We made our way solemnly back along the rail-track behind the Diggers, up to Gunfire Breakfast & its traditional shot of rum. People moved quietly, moved by the service before. As Daewoo mentioned on this thread its difficult to find a Digger - WW11 included - present these days, although there were many ex-Vietnam there. The following photo of part of the crowd leaving the service is a good example - although one is marked by the 'new dress code' of those attending one cant help but be reassured by the on-going values of a younger generation who have never known the ravages of war:


I will not flood you with photos of the Pass but feel some may be interested to see how the moments following the service treated the Pass, the wreaths laid & the position of the rail-line as it continued on past Hellfire Pass. I'll add another shot of the memorial to 'Weary' Dunlop with the note that it doesn't seem to have been mentioned that 'Weary' used to survey the work of Diggers from up on top of the ridge-line of the pass above where his ashes are scattered (you can see the spot mid-way up on the left of the above photo); its was from here that the sounds of bugles came during the service.





As has been often remarked ANZAC is not just about the destruction but also the nourishing & any gathering following an ANZAC service sees a mingling of all present irrespective of power or privilege. A couple of quick shots & some commentary:

Enjoying a moment with Ton Uren where we talked of several we knew, now departed, who'd been at Changi, although I feel this was snapped at a time we were stirring each other on politics:


The wonderful Cyril Gilbert, a man with the common touch, a man you couldn't help but like. Stu Lloyd interviewed him years before for his book "The Missing Years".
Cyril spent three birthdays as a POW & we talked of his 23rd birthday - in Cyril's own words: "There were 8 of us in total & we had 9 herrings. It took half an hour for everyone to agree on the way the 9th herring would be cut to ensure we all got an equal share". In the photo below Cyril was re-telling me his amusing story about how he passed his time immediately following the war: "for 2 years it was all wine, women & song; & I never sang a note!":


(To be continued........................)

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010


We made our way from Hellfire Pass via the Pung Waan Resort where we had stayed. Stu had recommended the Resort as it was here that one of or the largest hospital - if you could call it that - for POW's building the rail-line was situated. The remains of some 1200 POW's were uplifted from their graves at Pung Waan & moved to their final resting place at the War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi; a significant proportion of all those buried at the cemetery.

Down past the controversial Wat Luang Ta Bua Yanna Sampanno:


We decided we would visit the Viaduct, a famous section of the railroad built by POW's.
In 1974 flood waters actually reached a point just below the sleepers - its beyond imagination to contemplate:


At the norther end of the line is the cave photographed below. Stu told us that reports of atrocities there committed against POW's remain a matter of conjecture:


We made our way into Kanchanaburi & on to the War Cemetery. I will not not refurnish many shots as this service has been largely covered in other reports on this web-site; just a quick shot of the cemetery & 'the Bridge' to give completeness to the report:



The Governor General of Australia was again thought provoking in her address noting that we were there to commemorate the lives of those who gave their todays in order that we may have our tomorrows. She added that the names of those buried were not just engraved on stone but lived on in the acts of all men of good deeds. Excellent!

The service was followed by the traditional 'free beers' before all adjourned to another great ANZAC tradition of 'having a few beers with mates at the pub', of which four separate pubs appear below:





The bikes - & they were a great selection - were ridden up from Bangkok by the 'Anzac Riders', a group of Kiwi & Ozzies mates living in BKK. This is the 5th year in a row that they've attended the service/s.

If its of interest we stayed at the Jolly Frog - its centrally situated near the War Cemetery & bars, river-side with a restaurant that pumps; it oozes the ambience of a popular place with the young, with backpackers & adventurers & is 290thb/night (Pung Waan resort was 1500thb):



(The final chapter on the ride home will follow..........................)

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010

Stu had to speed straight home to Chiang Mai leaving the D-Tracker/Sonic team to ride what is surely one of the most delightful rides of Thailand.
Colin/Captain Slash - we now understand why this loop is amongst the top of your list of favourite rides.

Headed north-west out along R3199, a scenic run through fertile plains & past limestone karsts backed by cloud topped peaks, scenery typical of the area as reported earlier in this thread on the run out to Sagkhlaburi & Three Pagoda's Pass. There are numerous resorts attesting to the beauty of the surroundings, the Nine-Army Battle Historical Park for those interested in such matters & the spectacular seven tiered Erawan Waterfall which takes its name from the three-headed Hindu elephant.

The road skirts the exceptionally scenic Si Nakharin Dam, a massive body of water enclosed by several National Parks which in part make up the Unesco World Heritage Site constituting the largest mainland conservation area in SE Asia - you can well understand the pristine nature of the area covered in this ride.

At an intersection before the road continues on what is clearly a beautiful stretch following the shore of the lake at water's edge we opted for the alternative but equally beautiful crossing by ferry:


Colin/Slash - happy you steered us onto this route - the look of joy on my wife's face when she saw from above, then rode down to the ferry was priceless.
Some shots as we crossed the water:



The alternating ferry crosses by & a shot of the floating restaurant awaiting us on the other side:



The ferry is powered by an operation similar to that on a long-boat with the captain well positioned in his 'nest' (you can see the propeller mechanism in the first shot of the ferry):


The range of travel class options is limitless - here depicted is the basic sleepers option:


On continuing to Si Sawat we climbed - in great humidity - to the edge of the escarpment towering above to find the Stone Age paintings of people dating back over 3000 years!



Riding along the shores of Si Sawat has a certain magic. There are just so many photo opportunities that one feels compelled to return to do the site justice. A couple to wet your appetites:



R4041 swings around past more of the water past many a pretty wat. Its an interesting ride in that for a section of some 10kms or so one is constantly, non-stop, under the threat of landslides with stones & soil spewed endlessly across the route.

Back onto R3480 then R3086 we were homeward bound following the same route back that we'd used to descend to Kanchanaburi

Its a loooooooong ride, even on a Sonic, so we decided to break the journey just south of Khlong Lan staying at a new section of Orathai Resort situated atop a rise offering excellent views over rice paddies to distant hills. Swimming pool, billiards, breakfast - 500thb.


Tom Forde & others on this web-site have mentioned the draw of the areas covered in this report, an area which beckon the rider back for more & I agree with Tom that it is an area rich in history & in natural beauty that truly merits a longer stay for greater exploration & adventure.


Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010
For those that are interested the ferry was 5thb/bike with rider!
Slash - I'm at Davidfl almost weekly 'pushing' him to complete the Nan Map & the update for Laos; I'm almost lost without a GTR map & was wondering what you (or anyone else who's found something worthwhile) use?????

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010
Slash - you're a man of many experiences in remote Thailand; Lonely planet records that in the area to the north of R4041 (around Chaloem Ratanakosin NP) you can see "long-tailed cuckoos famed for their apparent fear of heights; they rarely go above 10m".
Tell me mate, in all your rides have you ever seen such a beast? (Or is the entry in the Oz version of LP only!)

Abg Acid

Jan 31, 2007
Great report Rod,

Love reading them. And the ferry thing at Si Nakharin Dam sure is an added bonus to this ride. I can imagine myself on the nice scenic body of water. I had always love water. Hope this will be my next destination if ever I came back to Kanchaburi. The last time we came there late last year we rode till Hell Fire Pass and did not ventured further up northwest as there was some trouble going on.

Good show man!



Oct 6, 2006
Thanks, Rod, for an excellent and informative report with some wonderful pictures.
Kanchanaburi has long been on my to-do list, and your report has help urged me to finally take the trip.

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010
There are many who take the run out to Hellfire Pass each Anzac Day. Some venture on to the Three Pagodas Pass, a true gem & lacking no less history than Hellfire Pass. The most adventurous continue on from there through the largest wild animal thoroughfare in SE Asia to Umphang in the north.

Add to this the current craze to tour Myanmar.

Adventurers in the areas concerned should be aware of the increased risks associated with malaria as this recent article from the University of Washington outline:

Thailand: Drug resistant malaria on the rise along the Thai-Myanmar border

The number of artemisinin/mafloquine-resistant cases is on the rise along the Thai-Myanmar border, according to Kanchanaburi health workers.

In October 2012, a girl from Myanmar’s Karen ethnic minority tested positive for malaria. She was back for a follow-up test after a combined treatment of the anti-malarial drugs artemisinin and mefloquine. “She has tested negative,” Malaria Post worker Laksanna Kaewlere said. Had she tested positive, she would have joined the growing ranks of patients for whom the most recent drug against the malaria parasite — artemisinin — has failed.

Artemisinin is usually used in combination with other anti-malarial drugs, such as mafloquine. The number of artemisinin/mafloquine-resistant cases is on the rise along the Thai-Myanmar border, according to Kanchanaburi health workers. “In 2012, 41 out of 207 cases of malaria proved resistant to artemisinin/mafloquine treatment,” said Wittaya Saiphromsud, head of the Vector Borne Disease Centre in Sai Yok district, Kanchanaburi, 125 kilometers west of Bangkok. Wittaya asks patients with a resistant strain of malaria to go for follow-up treatment at Sai Yok Hospital, but not all do. “Some people don’t want to pay the bus fare to the hospital. Others don’t have Thai identity papers so they are afraid of being harassed by police if they leave their village, and others are just disobedient.”

By refusing follow-up treatment, malaria carriers increase the risk of transmitting via mosquitoes their drug-resilient malaria parasites to others, including across the border in Myanmar, where health services are rudimentary after decades of neglect.

The rise in drug-resistant malaria is also due to counterfeit or sub-standard anti-malaria drugs, usually made in India or China, in the remote border regions of Myanmar and Cambodia. Sub-standard, or weaker artemisinin, allows the parasite to build up resistance, as it has to previous anti-malaria drugs including chloroquine, sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine and quinine-tetracycline, all of which have lost their effectiveness over the past 6 decades. There are now growing fears among international health agencies that artemisinin, still widely used and effective in Africa, is losing its punch.

The porous border regions of Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, have a long history as the cradle of antimalarial resistance, and have now become the breeding ground for artemisinin-resistant parasites. “The problem is still located in the western part of Cambodia and western part of Thailand,” said Charles Delacolet, Thailand director for the World Health Organisation. “These are the only two confirmed hot spots for artemisinin-resistant malaria.” The fear is that these artemisinin-resistant malarial strains will migrate across Myanmar to India and eventually Africa, which accounts for about 90% of the world’s annual death toll of 650,000 malaria victims. “Our country is the gateway for the spread of drug-resistant parasites westward, down to Africa,” said Saw Lwin, deputy director-general of Myanmar’s Health Department. “If we can’t contain the problem at the source of the infection, it can spread to other regions, so this is a global issue,” he told a recent seminar in Kanchanaburi.

The appearance of artemisinin-resistant malaria comes at a time when the Global Fund, which contributes 60% of the three billion dollars spent annually on internationally financed anti-malarial campaigns worldwide, is experiencing a budget crunch. The Global Fund will decide on its new malaria budget in Decem*ber 2012. The Roll Back Malaria Partnership, set up in 1998 to coordinate international efforts to wipe out malaria, is hoping that new funding will be focused on the hot spots on Thailand’s bor*ders to nip artemisinin-resistant malaria in the bud.

“The opportunity to deal with this resistance is relatively short,” said Roll Back Malaria’s executive director Fatoumata Nafo-Traore. “So what needs to be done is to say now that we have a small window of opportunity to contain the resistance, so let’s contain it.“