Kanchanaburi Town is located 128 km west of Bangkok, and is home to a black iron bridge, called the Kwai River Bridge. It became internationally famous, when it was featured in movies and books (author Pierre Boulle wrote the original book). I think everyone has seen David Lean’s 1957 movie ‘The Bridge Over The River Kwai’ once in their lives… at least, I did. So, I was excited to see this bridge with my own eyes!
Although I learned that the film was actually shot in Sri Lanka and not in Kanchanaburi! And that the bridge did cross a river alright, but not the River Kwai! It actually crossed the River Mae Khlung. The confusion came from author Pierre Boulle who had never set foot in Thailand, and assumed wrongly that the ‘death railway’ crossed the River Kwae. When David Lean’s blockbuster came out, thousands of tourists came to see the Bridge on the River Kwai, and all they had, was a Mae Khlung Bridge! Disappointing of course! So, Thais decided to rename the river! Problem solved! Gotta love them for their thinking and easy, quick solution!!
Anyway, the Bridge on the River Kwai really exists, and still carries regular passenger trains from Bangkok to Nam Tok. So, for me, it was still worth seeing it!
Thus, Laureline (french girl I met in Siem Reap, Cambodia) and I took a bus from BKK to Kanchanaburi. As we arrived, first thing to do, was to find our guesthouse ‘Nita Rafthouse’… and we were quite surprised! I didn’t expect it to be a bamboo accommodation floating on waters. It was quite an experience to wake up and have a view on the river. But every time we set foot on the ground, it was like we had motion sickness. Everything was spinning for a while; weird sensation!
……………………………………………………………..To learn more about history, we decided to visit a couple of museums and cemeteries relating to WWII that were worth visiting.
First, we went to the JEATH war museum, located near our guesthouse. The acronym JEATH stands for the nationalities involved in the construction of the railway: Japanese, English, Australian, American, Thai and Holland. It’s an outdoor museum built to ressemble the bamboo shelters where the Allied POWs (Prisoners Of War) were kept and forced to work on the construction of the River Kwai Bridge.
…………………………………………….The living and working conditions were horrible! Many men were beaten to death by Japanese guards, and many others died from starvation, exhaustion and sicknesses (cholera & dysentery). There is a big collection of photographs displayed in the hut, showing the conditions the POW’s were forced to live in. The estimated total number of civilians & POWs who died during construction (1942-1943), is 330,000 people…
The main POW cemetery is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Around 7,000 POWs, who sacrificed their lives in the railway construction, are buried there. Mostly British, Australian and Dutch. Another 2,000 are laid to rest at the Chungkai Cemetery.
Of course, we went to see the worldwide famous metal bridge. For your general knowledge, the Japanese used Allied prisoners of war to build a railway from Thailand to Burma so they could supply their army without the dangers of sending supplies by sea. During its construction, many prisoners died, and therefore the line became known as the ‘Death Railway’. Because of its strategic location, it was the target of frequent Allied bombing raids during World War II. Therefore, it was rebuilt after war ended. Thus, the curved spans are the 1943 original sections, and the 2 straight spans are replacing ones damaged by US bombs in 1945.
Nowadays, you are free to walk across the bridge on the wooden planks. You just have to be careful when train pass by, and just stand aside! And at night, there’s a light and sound show. Just AMAZING!!
Now, I can say that I have set foot on a worldwide famous bridge. I know it’s not the same as setting foot on the moon, but close enough…