Memories of Thailand

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Six Senses Yao Noi’s week-long culinary and wine events
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The hell of Hell Fire Pass
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Greetings from 1936 at Centara Hua Hin

Six Senses Yao Noi’s week-long culinary and wine events

 Six Senses Yao Noi wine 1SIX SENSES YAO NOI is introducing its third private labeled wine, the Syrah Red, on Aug. 11, 2015.

The event, to be held at the resort’s Hilltop Reserve restaurant, will be attended by winemaker Nikki Lohitnavy of GranMonte Estate, who will personally introduce the Syrah Red to guests and resort team.

The launch starts at 5:30 pm as a highlight of the General Manager’s Cocktail Reception.

The next evening, Aug. 12, a Thai wine and barbecue dinner will be held on the beach beneath the stars. Guests are encouraged to dress casually and comfortably to join Executive Chef Anthony Reynolds and Nikki on the beach as they cook and pair seven Gran Monte wines with freshly caught seafood.

The event starts at 6:30 pm with sparkling wine at sundown and is priced at 3,000 THB.  Later in the week Executive Sommelier Christian Maier will present a unique Champagne tasting set on a deserted island accompanied by delicious nibbles. Guests will be guided by the resorts’ wine expert in one of the most unforgettable surroundings at sunset.

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Several informative wine-tasting events paired with Thai food plus a wine game dinner will also be held at the Hilltop Reserve. They feature great wines and delicious food set against the dramatic backdrop of Phang Nga Bay.

The Master Thai Wine is priced at THB 1,500 per person; Champagne Tasting event is 1,800 THB per person; and the Wine Game Dinner is 4,000 THB per person.

Winemaker Nikki Lohitnavy is one of the youngest and most dynamic oenologist in Thailand. She studied her craft at Adelaide University in Australia, where she was the first Thai student to take the intensive four-year course, which involves both viticulture and winemaking. She graduated with honors and received several awards including the Fosters Wine Estates Prize for excellence in winemaking.

The Syrah Red is produced solely for Six Senses Yao Noi, and has resulted from collaboration between Six Senses Yao Noi and Nikki. The sustainably-produced wine is crafted from estate grown fruit of the Asoke Valley, and aged in French oak barrels for eight months.

It shows blackberries and blackcurrant fruit with a hint of pepper spice and is perfect with Thai food. Its freshness blends perfectly with the natural lifestyle of Six Senses Yao Noi.

 

The hell of Hell Fire Pass

Hell Fire Pass steps

IF YOU HAVE A BAD HEART OR HIP PROBLEMS, don’t even think about it.

Walking from the Information and Display Centre to Hell Fire Pass, about an hour’s drive from the River Kwai in Thailand, is a nightmare of steep, unforgiving concrete steps that seem to go up forever. From the Information Pavilion, the walk takes 10 or 15 minutes – if you’re in good shape.

If you’re not, take the alternative route that requires the services of a van and driver. But if you want to stick it out, be prepared for some pretty challenging climbs. In the toughest areas, you’ll find metal railings on both sides of the steps to help you along before reaching a rocky level path and then, another wall of stairs before descending finally down a long twisted flight to the pass, itself.

Voices cry out from the past as you walk through the pass – a rose inserted in a drill hole by relatives of POWs, a broken compressor drill still stuck in the rock where it was left 65 years ago, and here and there, a wooden tie peeps up from the gravel. In the middle of the pass a tree has taken root and grown up in the middle of the rocky railway bed.

That’s when you find out that there are only two ways to get back – by the way you came or by van. “Walking back is easier,” I was assured by one of the tour guides. Unfortunately, I believed him and was barely able to stagger back on my own.

On the way back, I kept thinking of the prisoners-of-war who had to make their way back to camp after an exhausting shift under brutal conditions day after day. If you pause along the way, as I did, you can hear the birds and cicadas in the bamboo grove that has grown up around sections of the pathway. Hell Fire Pass was the longest – and deepest – along the entire length of the Thai-Burma Railway.

It was also notorious as one of the worst places of suffering and cruelty faced by the POWs. The cutting was planned by Japanese engineers and carried out by the prisoners. It became known as the Hammer and Tap, because of the constant sound of hammering by the POW crews. who kept working long into the night by light from torches and fires, reminding more than one POW of a scene out of Dante’s Inferno.

Their suffering is retold in a series of display panels in the Information Pavilion, built by the Australians after the war to document the sufferings of their servicemen who toiled at Hell Fire Pass. As you enter the pavilion, you are asked to take your shoes off. This is customary in Thai homes and temples.

This is how one of the panels describes the work of the POWs: “If you stood at the top of the cutting, you could see fires at intervals of about 20 feet and the shadows of the Japanese, wearing Foreign Legion caps, moving around and beating the POWs with sticks.

Many of the POWs were almost naked under their slouch hats, moving rocks around and hammering. The shouting and bellowing went on all night ….

” Work gangs were divided into three groups: Moving gangs, who cleared the earth; tap men, who drilled deep holes into the rock for blasting and explosives; and rock rollers, who cleared the rubble after each blast. Men worked all day, even through Monsoon rains, stopping only at midday for lunch. And later, when the Japanese decided to speed up the process, the gangs were required to work through the night.

“Each morning, as the POWs arrived on the job, the Silent Basher, a guard, went down their lines, never uttering a word, punching the POWs in the head and face to make sure they were suitably motivated for the day’s work,” Gunner Keith Harrison, 4th Anti-Tank Regiment of Australia, was to write later.

Work on the pass started on April 15, 1943 – ANZAC – the day Australians remember their war dead. Many of the POWs fell sick and died. Reinforcements had to be brought in, continuing to work under “Speedo” conditions until the cutting was completed and rail-laying teams took over. Hundreds of men were working at the site at any given time.

Interestingly, the Japanese paid the POWs working on the railway. Hourly rates were low and payment at the whim of the Japanese. The POWs used the pay to buy extra food and contribute to camp funds to buy medicine and food for the sick.

The POWS were led to believe they were going to rest camps. Even sick POWs were asked to fill their quotas. By the time they reached their camps, most of the POWs were in poor shape and their possessions stolen from them. In fact, they had to build the camp and start work on the railway almost immediately.

“All we knew was that they want a work party to go to Thailand. It was supposed to be a land of milk and honey – with plenty of food and very little to do,” wrote Geoff O’Connor, D Force.

 

Greetings from 1936 at Centara Hua Hin

The Railway Hotel as it was in 1936

A POSTCARD DATED JAN. 15, 1936, depicting the Railway Hotel in Hua Hin recently come to light in the records of Centara Hotels & Resorts, which now owns and operates the hotel as Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin.

The hotel is about to celebrate its 90th birthday, having opened in October 1922 and had its grand opening on Jan. 1, 1923.

Regarded as one of the classic hotels of the East, and earlier this year enlisted as a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, the property dates back to the time when Hua Hin itself was evolving into Thailand’s first beach resort.

“The railway era brought great changes to Siam, as Thailand was then known,” says Thirayuth Chirathivat, Centara Hotels & Resorts’ CEO. “There were very few roads into the provincial areas, and places such as Hua Hin were known only to the local population.

“When the railway was built from Bangkok down to Malaysia, it suddenly became possible for the aristocracy of the day to travel to Hua Hin, and to enjoy the beach and the ocean.”

The beauty of Hua Hin was realized by the engineers surveying the southern railway route in 1909.  Land was set aside for a station, and when the first section of the line opened in 1911, Hua Hin became a destination where wealthy Bangkok residents built their holiday homes. The southern line to Malaysia was completed in 1921, making it possible to travel between Bangkok, Malaysia and Singapore by train.

Royal Siamese Railways (RSR) directed Italian architect A. Rigazzi to build a hotel, and at the same time commissioned a Scottish engineer named A. O. Robins to layout a golf course.

The Railway Hotel initially had only 14 guestrooms, but it was very well appointed and furnished and had an excellent standard of service to cater for its wealthy Thai and foreign guests. By 1928 the hotel’s reputation was international and to accommodate the growing number of visitors to Hua Hin, RSR added a new wing of 13 rooms, which were built to the exact same design as its existing building.

After the Second World War more guestrooms were added, along with three restaurants, a downstairs bar, and a lobby with a panoramic view of Hua Hin’s bay.

The value of the Railway Hotel as a building of architectural and historic interest was fully acknowledged by the Thai Government when in 1986 Central Group, the parent company of Centara Hotels & Resorts, acquired the property, with the preservation of the old buildings and extensive gardens an important condition of the contract.

The historical building has been meticulously preserved, with all the subsequent additions designed to blend with the existing structure and to maintain the air of elegance and leisure into which the hotel was born.

Hua Hin meanwhile has developed into a royal town, a resort known worldwide for its quiet charm, the old golf course now known as Royal Hua Hin Golf Course, the Hua Hin Railway Station regarded as an architectural design marvel, and Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin, which has become the centre of the town’s social life — as it was in the 1920s — and all the way through the subsequent decades.

“We regard ourselves as the custodians of this important part of Thailand’s history, and consider it our privilege to be able to present the best of Thai service tradition to the world,” says Mr Thirayuth.  “Having this lovely old hotel included as one of the Leading Hotels of the World is a great delight and honour for us, and our promise is that this heritage property will be maintained for the generations to come.”

Postcards featuring the hotel were very popular, said Mr Thirayuth , who also noted that the 1936 card was found among a collection of memorabilia, some of which can now be seen in The Museum Coffee & Tea Corner, which is set in the original hotel lobby.

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