River Kwai Travel Guide - Thailand- and Kanchanaburi and surrounding areas of Thailand
In case there was any doubt concerning man's savagery to his fellow kind, then the Thai-Burma railway, all 415 kilometres of it, stands as a horrific testament to human brutality. Constructed under order of the Japanese by prisoners of war and enslaved locals during WWII, the Death Railway's most famous section, 'The Bridge Over the River Kwai', now acts as one of Thailand's major tourist attractions.
The bridge is located in the small town of Kanchanaburi where the majority of guesthouses back onto the infamous Kwai River.
The bridge is, well, a bridge. The history behind it however is far from ordinary. As the Japanese extended their invasion of Thailand into the West of Burma, their success was hampered by the difficulty in supplying troops with provisions and so a supply line, the railway, was built. The Japanese, using POWs and civilian conscripts, adopted a brutal and barbaric work regime that saw the completion of the railway in one year rather than the three it was estimated to take. These 'speedo' tactics cost the lives of a staggering three hundred thousand men.
Apart from the bridge, Kanchanaburi's sites consist of two war museums and cemeteries. The museums, lacking any substantial government funding, have basic but interesting displays. The English is at times misplaced and a little macabre but it does stop those who are floundering from stalling altogether. One caption for example, commenting on the detonation of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, states that, "the city was destroyed in a jiffy". The main cemetery though, with its rows of gravestones cannot fail to touch upon the coldest of hearts. The ages of the dead are mind numbingly young; the average could barely be 25.
Having exhausted Kanchanaburi's city centre sights - and ourselves in peddling there - we opted to take a tour to 'Hellfire Pass'. The tour (you pay, they drive you places) included an hour-long elephant ride. So it was that we found ourselves seated on top of 'Daha', our means of mobility for the next hour. Plodding our way through the jungle the novelty soon wore off, elephants aren't half slow! Gimmicky as it seems, elephant riding is big business in Thailand and nearly every tourist tries it out at some stage of their trip. Our elephant delivered us to the stunning Pha That waterfall, where we were happy to cool off with a refreshing dip and change transport back to the four wheeled variety.
Eventually we reached 'Hellfire Pass'. The pass is the most infamous in a series of cuttings along the Death Railway's course, and was so named because of the gaunt shadows cast by torch light as the workers dug through the night. Hellfire Pass took just 12 weeks to complete, the tools available were staggeringly basic; one reason why 70% of the cuttings workforce were dead by the time the job was done. Walking between the solid walls was strangely eerie. A drill head sticking out of the rock was a vivid reminder that this wasn't an ancient ruin but one horrifically young.
Back in Kanchanaburi relaxing by the riverbanks, we passed many-a-day in idle bliss, swimming a little uneasily in the river - the bridge upstream a vivid reminder of its past - we soaked up the stunning beauty of the region. For those who stay longer than the half hour it takes to walk the River Kwai Bridges tracks, a peace and tranquillity so far removed from the horrors that have made this small town infamous await discovery in thailand.
There are some great places to stay along the River Kwai and I can recommend the River Kwai Jungle Rafts Resort in Kanchanaburi.
There are many more excellent and great value hotels in the River Kwai area, click on the link to Kanchanaburi Hotels to check them out.