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A vacation is supposed to be about taking a break from the stresses of life, isn’t it? But can you go offline? Completely? No electricity, no wi-fi, maybe one bar on your phone. For some people, this digital diet could be an ideal opportunity to relax.
Imagine a place where a river flows under your bed, and the stars provide most of the lighting at night. This is the unplugged experience at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts in Kanchanaburi Province in Thailand. It’s a floating bamboo lodge moored on the River Kwai Noi, surrounded by lush green mountains and jungle.
I stayed at this floatel for a couple of nights as part of a tour of Thailand with Explore! and, after a week of active sightseeing in the tropical heat, I was ready for some of this.
Sleeping in a Floatel
The idea of a floating hotel was based on a common Thai practice of building homes over water to provide a natural cooling system. The raft rooms are constructed with woven bamboo and teak wood. Rooms have standard, western bathrooms which use a septic tank (not the river). Of course, since there is no electricity, the water in the shower is cold, although this is not entirely unwelcome given the hot Thai climate.
The place is designed for relaxation. There is a private hammock on a balcony at the back of the room and another one, along with lounge chairs, on a terrace in the front.
Although some of my tour members were bothered by the dampness, I slept soundly in my floating bed. I’m not normally a good sleeper, but something about the sounds of the river and the jungle, and the gentle swaying of the raft on the current lulled me into a deep and restful sleep. Could it be that I also slept better because I wasn’t looking at a blue screen before going to bed? Maybe.
It’s no surprise that a number of the available activities centre on the river. One of them involves simple play. Guests (wearing life jackets) jump into the river at one end of the lodge, and float at a good clip in the fast current to the other end. Tours on long tail boats and bamboo rafts are offered, or you can paddle your own canoe.
You can also get a traditional Thai massage in the “Massage Raft” at the lodge. I tried several Thai massages on my trip, and while I didn’t find them very comfortable during the massage, the relaxation effects linger afterwards.
Nearby, there are jungle treks, waterfalls and zip lining.
Or you can learn about the sobering history of the Bridge on the River Kwai, made famous by the movie of the same name. During the second World War, Australian, Dutch and British prisoners of war were forced by the Japanese to construct two parallel bridges spanning the river as part of the Burma Railway. It became known as the ‘Death Railway’ because of the many lives lost. One of those bridges stands today, and not far from there, you can visit a museum and a war cemetery, where 7000 prisoners of war are buried. I found their stories to be both sad and shocking examples of human cruelty.
The River Kwai Jungle Rafts provides support to the local Mon people, a minority tribe that had a major influence on Burmese culture. You can visit a nearby Mon village, and in the evening, they give a performance of traditional dance.
As the sun goes down at the lodge, kerosene lamps are placed outside each room. At dinner, traditional Thai and local Mon dishes are served by lantern light in a communal dining room.
The real light show at night is in the sky. Given that there is no light pollution, I felt as though I had never seen so many stars before.
Did I succeed at going cold turkey on the telecom? Not quite. I admit that I checked my phone a couple of times a day. That’s how I know it was getting a “one-bar” signal. But for the rest of the time, I left it turned off and tucked inside my suitcase. My agenda had already been filled with high priority hammock lounging and stargazing appointments.