Swimming in the River Kwai: The joy of ditching plans

Erawan Waterfall in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

I used to have a plan.

Actually, many plans. Big, detailed, extensively-thought-out plans. However, since landing in Thailand, equipped with a surplus of time and a vague desire to ‘travel slow,’ all those plans seem so much less pressing.

Now, there just remain ideas, musings, and whims. I know where I’m staying today, but still not quite sure where I’ll be tomorrow.

What’s the point of making a schedule while you travel, of buying tickets and booking rooms, when anything could come along and make you want to change your mind?

Travellers at the Jolly Frog in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
When another traveller at my hostel in Bangkok invited me to Kanchanaburi with her, my old plans would have stopped me from going. Originally, I wanted to head north towards the archaeological cities of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, and finally spend a few days amongst the ruins.

I hadn’t really heard much of this Kanchanaburi anyways, so what interest did I have in visiting?

But then, that surplus of time came to the front of my mind. The archaeological cities would be there next week. Her invitation wouldn’t.

Sunset on the river Kwai
We left the next day. And, surprisingly, that spontaneous trip to a town I’d barely heard of provided some of the biggest adventures since I’ve been in Thailand.

We arrived in a riverside town with a beachside vibe. Our first day, we rented scooters and drove out into the countryside to visit waterfalls with scenery straight out of fantasy – dark green jungle, pale blue water, bird song and fish that nip at your toes.

Our guesthouse was directly on the River Kwai, and afternoons were spent jumping off the jetty to swim with snakeheads and glide past lily pads. We learned how to pick lotus pods from the river and break them open to get at the seeds inside.

I shacked up with a wannabe rockstar, a local with chipped black nail polish and a sweet-ass mullet, and took long drives on his motorbike to check out cave temples and coddle their soi dogs. And with the group at our guesthouse, a great big mass of nomads and locals, we spent hours on the grass, listening to guitar and trading stories and growing close only as travelling, transitory friends can – quickly, easily, fleetingly and openly.

And by night – oh, Lord – by night we caused trouble. Every night we stayed up far too late, playing pool and drinking whiskey, the great big group of us, Thai and American and Australian and English and Dutch, shutting down bars and going for 5 AM swims in the River Kwai, diving and yelling and bringing the sun up with all our stupid giddy laughter.

So, honestly, what’s the point of having all those plans, anyways?

Sometimes the towns you love, the experiences that mark you, and the biggest adventures are the ones you never see coming.

Sunrise over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Erawan Waterfall in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Boat on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Boy at the Erawan Waterfall in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Swimming in the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Soi puppies in Thailand

Cave temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Donation boxes at a temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Diving into the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

What spontaneous experiences have surprised you, travelling or otherwise?


65 Responses to Swimming in the River Kwai: The joy of ditching plans

  1. Sharon Loh 25 January, 2013 at 21:17 #

    Such a beautiful place!

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 12:12 #

      It really, really surprised me!

  2. Anne 26 January, 2013 at 04:38 #

    It sounds like such a wonderful place that hardly anyone has heard of!!! Beautiful photos.

    I agree, it’s usually, no ALWAYS, the things that you weren’t expecting which become the most memorable, and the greatest adventures. I’ve definitely found that this is true throughout life.

    I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Thailand and Southeast Asia! :)

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 12:12 #

      Thank you kindly, Anne! It was certainly a pleasant surprise :)

  3. Ross 26 January, 2013 at 05:25 #

    I’m a bit older than you are, and oh how I wish when I was younger I had the guts to travel like you do. We had so many “barriers to entry” back 25 years ago – things were so unknown and all you had was bad news on the 11PM news – so travelling to these places seemed foolish because “of course you’ll get killed there”
    But blogs like yours, and stories like you tell above – open up the world and make it less scary. I like that alot. My wife and I plan to do what you do here in a few short years when our sons are grown and gone. The good news for us is that we are discovering just how small the world is and we’re only in our forties – plenty of awesome travel years remain!
    thanks for telling the stories you tell! keep it up.

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 12:21 #

      Ross, thank you so much for the kind words!! It really makes me happy to hear that :) You’re right – the world is such a small place, and you have so much time to explore! Happy travels :)

  4. Lisa 26 January, 2013 at 05:51 #

    Spontaneous “plans” are always the best. I have had my best times travelling when the plans have fallen through! The photos from this trip are amazing. I absolutely loved Kanchanaburi. Is the waterfall Erawan Waterfall? Looks like it :)

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 12:22 #

      Yep, it is! Such a crazy beautiful place, isn’t it??

  5. Robyn Carter 26 January, 2013 at 09:31 #

    wonderful place by the looks of things! Sharing!

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 12:23 #

      Aw thank you Robyn! :)

  6. Oleah 26 January, 2013 at 12:38 #

    wow, looks like such a beautiful place to visit.

    xoxo, Oleah

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 12:24 #

      It really was…and certainly took me by surprise!

  7. Elizabeth 26 January, 2013 at 15:14 #

    fab photos! i love kanchanaburi, i can’t wait to go back now! hope your having fun floating through thailand, i miss it already :)

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 12:25 #

      Girl, this place ain’t nothing without you!! COME BACK! ;) xx

      • Elizabeth 30 January, 2013 at 02:32 #

        believe me, i can’t wait. love me some america but it sure is beige. see you in march :)

  8. Wil @ Where's Wil 26 January, 2013 at 16:48 #

    I’m starting my solo, slow travel, nomadic life this April with a flight to Bangkok. Reading this got me excited in a way I hadn’t been before, a sort of emotional excitement. Looking forward to the journey that awaits me, I hope your journey takes you where you need to be. Good Vibrations.

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 12:26 #

      Woohoo, right back at you! Happy travels :) Maybe we’ll cross paths??

      • Wil @ Where's Wil 27 January, 2013 at 13:21 #

        Maybe we will, that would be cool. =]

        • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 18:15 #

          Actually, I’m most likely going to be in Thailand during April for the Songkran festival in Chiang Mai! Drop a line when you arrive and maybe we can meet up!!

  9. Jessica 26 January, 2013 at 18:20 #

    I’m so glad you discovered Kanchanaburi – it’s actually one of my favourite places in Thailand. It’s so friendly, relaxed, and surprisingly pretty. Was Erawan the waterfall that you visited? It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 12:33 #

      Yep, Erawan! One of the most spectacular places I’ve seen in Asia…so cool to hear that Kanchanaburi is a favourite of yours! I’m actually glad I’d never really heard of it before going – made it that much more of a surprise!

  10. Flora the Explorer 26 January, 2013 at 18:45 #

    Only you would shack up with a wannabe local rock star and tour the Thai countryside on his motorbike! Does he wear a leather jacket? :)

    Sounds like Thailand is a great fit for you, and I’m glad you’ve got yourself into a rhythm of relaxation and spontaneity. I leave for Ecuador in less than two weeks now and I’m so psyched to get back into that mindset again! Keep writing up gorgeous memories like this one please :)

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 18:15 #

      …he did have one. But I think it was too hot to wear it, haha ;)

      Can’t wait to hear about your adventures in Ecuador! You’re gonna love it! xx

  11. Cengiz 27 January, 2013 at 13:16 #

    miss this place. your photography is great.

    • na-o-mi 27 January, 2013 at 18:08 #

      CENGIZ! Where did you wander off to, man?? Thanks immensely for the kind words – it means a lot, coming from you! The latest shots from Syria are sick!

      • Cengiz 3 February, 2013 at 12:15 #

        I’m in Chicago for the time being. Are you settling down in Thailand for a bit? That country is one of the best places in the world! Enjoy it.

  12. Andrew 27 January, 2013 at 19:51 #

    The picture of the tiered pools is pretty awesome.
    Sometimes plans are required to keep yourself moving or for financial reasons to be able to afford travel, but I agree it is often far far better to go hang out with cool people. Places will be there next week, and the memories of hanging with the people are usually much much better.

    • na-o-mi 28 January, 2013 at 16:09 #

      Too true, my friend :)

  13. Alana - Paper Planes 28 January, 2013 at 12:44 #

    These types of unexpected stories/experiences are THE BEST! Love it. Love it, love it, love it.

    • na-o-mi 28 January, 2013 at 16:13 #

      And it’s only January!! 2013, bring it on ;)

  14. Greg Goodman 28 January, 2013 at 13:59 #

    Beautiful post, gorgeous photography, and a wonderful experience. I especially love the Erawan waterfalls… still one of my favorite places in Thailand. I actually went for a swim in the River Kwai as well, but it was at 3am while chasing after a naked thief who broke into our room and stole my camera! Same same, but extremely different from yours :)


    • na-o-mi 28 January, 2013 at 16:14 #

      HA! What?! That tops any of my adventures in town ;)

  15. Ekua 28 January, 2013 at 14:57 #

    Love this! I’ve heard great things about this part of Thailand. It looks so beautiful and peaceful. On my first big independent solo trip in Peru & Bolivia, I printed out a calendar and planned out every single day. My trip had other plans that involved unreliable transportation, getting to popular spot and realizing I didn’t want to stay, and meeting cool people who I wanted to keep hanging out with. A week and a half into the trip, the plans were tossed out and I’ve never looked back! When I travel independently, I make basic plans, but leave plenty of room to change them. But I have to say, Ayutthaya is worth a visit if you get another chance. Went there at the end of my SE Asia trip when I was tired of seeing temples, but absolutely loved the ruins there.

    • na-o-mi 29 January, 2013 at 21:24 #

      Same same, my friend – I started out travelling with concrete plans, but that quickly went away! And good for us, I think ;)

      I did manage to make it to Ayutthaya, and am planning Sukhothai for an upcoming day – but that’s a post for another time! xx

  16. Audrey | That Backpacker 29 January, 2013 at 19:35 #

    Sounds like an amazing time! Seriously, sometimes the best thing to do is ditch the plans and let travel run its course. :D

    • na-o-mi 29 January, 2013 at 21:32 #

      True dat…give the reins to the universe and just hang on ;)

  17. This Battered Suitcase 31 January, 2013 at 16:03 #

    “The biggest adventures are the ones you never see coming”. Brilliant – I live by this philosophy. In fact, it’s what’s getting me through the fact that my 2013 plans just fell through…if you keep an open mind, who knows where the world will take you. Great post my friend! xx

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 15:12 #

      Girl, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll still have crazy adventures. Just new, unexpected ones! ;)

  18. vira 1 February, 2013 at 16:19 #

    omigod, these are lovely photos!
    and look at the cute puppies!! ^.^

    I heart Indochine!

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 15:14 #

      Thank you, Vira! The puppies appreciate the comment, too ;)

  19. Britany 3 February, 2013 at 08:19 #

    Sounds like an amazing time! Just found you’re blog and I’m really enjoying it. Looking forward to reading more!

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 15:24 #

      Thanks for the kind words, Britany ^___^

  20. Teresa Roberts 3 February, 2013 at 23:41 #

    Going with the flow, following your heart, letting go, living in the moment, tapping into your inner self, getting lost, finding yourself, making the most of things, flying by the seat of your pants, making peace with the world, simple things, giving up control……………..yep! That’s a, uh, um, uh an UNPLAN. Loving it!

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 15:31 #

      …I LOVE THIS. Well said, my friend! ;)

  21. Alli Campbell 6 February, 2013 at 09:14 #

    My friend, your photos have gone whoa! Keep doing whatever you’re doing!

    And I’m with you on ditching the plans :)

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 15:35 #

      Indeed…but, uhm, let’s make a secret plan together. To meet up and have adventures!! ;)

  22. Time Travel Plans 6 February, 2013 at 23:41 #

    Oh, to ditch my plans! That’s a challenge for me. I guess it’s because I still work full time, my travel time is limited, and so I always want to stick to my itinerary to ensure that I see and do everything I set out to do. Maybe I should challenge myself during some upcoming trips to just go and set my plans aside. You’ve inspired me!

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 15:56 #

      I agree; it’s difficult to do away with plans if you have a short time frame and a lot of things you want to see – but, just like you, I’m curious to try it sometime during a short trip!

  23. Kevin McCarter 7 February, 2013 at 05:50 #

    I love reading your blog. I hope to one day do what you do and this gives me wonderful hope. Keep writing and keep inspiring! Thanks Naomi.

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 15:58 #

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Kevin! You inspire me to keep sharing these adventures :)

  24. Noei 7 February, 2013 at 17:52 #

    Story and photos well captured! I’m from Kanchanaburi and love reading travel blogs about my hometown. I know that’s a bit odd… Haha

    Anyway, may I ask what camera and lenses you use?

    Khon khun ka :)

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 15:59 #

      Whoa, great to hear from a local!! I really wish I had had more than just four days, even, to see more of it…the temples were absolutely stunning!

      These were taken with a Canon 600D and the 18-55mm kit lens, I believe :)

  25. Shalu Sharma 21 February, 2013 at 22:32 #

    Really fascinating place to be this River Kawai. I remember this river because there is a story of a bridge that was blown up during the world war 2.

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 16:00 #

      Yeah, there’s a lot of WWII history in this town…I wish I could have seen more of the sites when I was there!

  26. Veronica 9 March, 2013 at 20:52 #

    This place is gorgeous isn’t it! I miss Thailand so much. I love spontaneous unplanned trips, they’re mostly the ones you’ll back on with the best memories :).

  27. John R 27 March, 2013 at 11:13 #

    I want to get to Thailand. Been to about 39 countries so far but not that place. Would be a good time and i like how you wrote about it on this site. Thanks so much

    I was on your site and i enjoyed reading all your articles. I figure i leave you an email to say i stopped by. I also Liked your FB page and follow u now on twitter. Just looking to backlink abit now
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  28. Jessica Hill 30 March, 2013 at 12:31 #

    One of the many reasons I love Thailand so much is that it has this effect on me as well – the urge to ditch plans, to not worry about anything, and to trust whole-heartedly that everything will always work out as it should. I’m going to Kanchanaburi sometime before I leave in the next month and a half, and your beautifully told story has me eager to pack up and go tomorrow! If only work weren’t getting in the way of my spontaneous plan making!

  29. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures 13 May, 2013 at 09:09 #

    These pictures are gorgeous! I agree with what Brenna said!!!

  30. Jacqueline 18 July, 2013 at 01:23 #

    Oh, what a great experience! Two friends and I had a similar spontaneous adventure back in 2009 when we ran into this group of local kids on the river and they pulled us along into joining them for some bridge jumping into the river kwai. not necessarily the safest but one of my most precious memories from that trip! i’ll continue to enjoy checking in on your travels!

  31. Shivvi 12 September, 2013 at 00:42 #

    Ah….. :)

    This literally makes me so happy and excited to be going travelling!

    I have a few plans for when i first arrive…but after that, i’m free.

    Your pictures are so beautifully captured. They seem to show the real essence of travelling, not of the new “gap year” student types.

    They capture spontaneity, culture and beauty.

    • Naomi Alyssa 13 September, 2013 at 20:35 #

      I’m so happy to hear that, Shivvi, and thank you so much for your kind words!! You’re going to have a fantastic adventure.

  32. Rashaad 13 December, 2013 at 08:07 #

    I visited Kanchanaburi nine years ago and mainly because I was looking for someplace in Thailand that seemed interesting. I greatly enjoyed my time there. As for spontaneous experiences, I ended up sharing a bungalow with a dude I met on a ferry to Ko Samet!

  33. Tracey Carisch 23 December, 2014 at 08:21 #

    Just recently found your blog and have enjoyed reading about the way I would have traveled if I’d thought to start this around the world trip I’m currently on without a husband and 3 young children. We’re currently in Thailand and will be going to Cambodia next. Your posts have given us some good ideas…although we’ll have to do the more tame version off them. :-)


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