Today’s port was Hangkewi, Malaysia, with arrival scheduled for 11:00am, so there was time for a Terry lecture entitled, “Thailand-The Land of the Free with a dark past and The Railway of Death.” Siam (as it was known up to 1939) never succumbed to European colonial interests. It has been ruled since the 12th century as an absolute monarchy under Buddhist law.
After supporting the Allies in WW1, the returning soldiers brought new ideas home. In 1927, a small group of 7 men started to develop six principles, for governing and citizens’ expectations. By 1935, the King, Rama VII, didn’t like the way things were changing and left, without naming a successor. A small cabinet group convened and ultimately chose a royal bloodline candidate, a nine year-old living with his mother in Switzerland. His first visit was in 1939 and he appeared small, frail, and nervous. When he shortly returned to Switzerland, one cabinet member named Phibun took over. He liked the way Germany and Italy were organizing their countries and made arrangements for Japan to occupy his country peacefully to provide them a way to British Burma, and its oil and rubber resources.
In the early 1900’s, Britain had surveyed this area for the same purpose but abandoned it as it was impossible with the rough terrain and rivers. Japan got the plans and started it from both ends on June 22, 1942 using 330,000 prisoners of war and slaves, mostly Chinese. History is familiar with their brutality and the jungle illnesses and diseases. Abuse was normal within the Japanese military, so POWs were considered the lowest level and abuse flowed down harshly upon them.
Bridge 277 over the river Mae Klang was renamed after the famous 1967 movie to Khwae Yai (pronounced Kwai). The Allies made several bombing raids on the tracks and they were rebuilt twice. In the end, 90,000 Asian slaves and 16,000 POWs died building that railroad, or one person for every 12 feet of track. Thailand was bombed by the allies to stop Japan’s advance toward Burma. This would be the first use of B-29 Super fortress bombers on Bangkok. A preview of what would come in August 1945 in Japan. After the war, in December 1945, Rama VII returned, and was mysteriously found dead from a bullet in his head six months later. No one was ever charged with the murder, but three servants were declared guilty of conspiracy. Conveniently, his younger brother, who was the only one with the King that night, succeeded to the throne. His reign of 70 years is a record for a monarch. He died in 2016. Rules are tough in that kingdom. Any insult to the King (or his dog) resulted in a 15-year prison sentence. The society is in the midst of some unrest between the Red and Yellow shirts. That is life there now.
After this, we packed for our “Langkawi Highlights” excursion. We always bring several bottles of water and some snacks, along with sunglasses, local money, and in Malaysia, my tissues. Today was 98 degrees and 80% humidity. Our clothes were sticking to us before long. We travelled to the Rice Garden and saw rice at its varying stages of development. Here, there were also some water buffaloes, used for plowing and preparing the ground. Scarecrows were set around to discourage birds from eating the rice as it developed.
A worker demonstrated how to open a coconut, first removing the tough outer layer. This is used for roofs, flooring, and other useful products. He opened the smaller coconut, now looking like the familiar one in our stores, and gave us a taste of the coconut milk. He then shaved the coconut meat with a sharp tool and gave everyone a sample.
We entered a small museum containing many types of tools used by farmers in the past and present. The museum was air conditioned, so we were reluctant to leave. After a pit stop, (literally a pit, it was a hole in the ground) we continued to the cable cars at Mount Machincang. After our guide obtained tickets, we got in line and were pleasantly surprised at how quickly we were able to get on. I guess it wasn’t very crowded today. The ride up the 2,500 foot mountain took about 10 minutes, but the scenery was lovely. It was slightly overcast, so our photos weren’t as vivid as on a clear day. We had 2 hours to ascend, take photos, descend and shop, before returning to the bus. This was adequate for us. We went to every observation platform, took our time soaking in the views, came down and still had almost an hour left to shop around. It was also slightly cooler at the mountaintop. This was our last day in Malaysia, so we were on a mission to spend the remainder of our local currency – and we did!
It took almost an hour to return to the pier, where we would get on a tender to return to the ship. The dock was not big enough to accommodate us, so our ship remained in the harbor. It was a 10-minute ride to get to shore this morning. We were shocked to see a large line waiting to board the tender. Usually we walk right on or only wait a few minutes. It was still hot and sunny and folks were wondering what the delay could be. We learned about 15 minutes later that our 2 tenders had mechanical difficulties, and the ship was lowering another tender to come in. This all takes time and tempers were starting to show. Water and umbrellas were handed out and the cruise director, Jamie, came ashore to try to sooth the few hundred passengers in line. Delays have happened many times on 3,500-4,000 passenger ships, but these folks weren’t used to having to wait. Jamie ended up recruiting local boaters to help shuttle our guests back to the ship. He even went to the local hotel and purchased cold water and soda to distribute. We arrived at the dock at 4:30 and didn’t get onboard until about 6PM. The captain told us later that netting and pieces of rubber had gotten tangled in the tenders’ propellers and stalled the vehicles. I guess this harbor wasn’t very clean. Crew later removed the foreign objects from the engines, tested them, and found them working again. This whole process delayed our leaving until after 9pm. We are very close to Phuket, Thailand, so we will only be an hour late upon arrival in the morning.
After this excitement, we needed a shower and got ready for dinner. Mac and I went to Sette Mare tonight, because they were serving swordfish. It was very good.
Entertainment tonight was an Australian comedian, Scott Williams, in “The Show of a Laughtime.” It was a clean, funny, and sometimes sidesplitting performance. We laughed through the whole thing. He will be back again in a few days.
Yours in travel,
Pat & Mac