Whether you are a lover of military history, or just a fan of old, war movies, a visit to Kanchanaburi is absolutely required during your next Bangkok, Thailand visit.
Located about one and one-half hours outside the city of Bangkok, the bridge over the River Kwae (not Kwai) is still operational. Repaired after allied bombers destroyed it (unlike the movie depiction), you can still ride a steam locomotive and see what is now referred to as the Death Railway.
In actuality, over 100,000 conscripted Asian workers and 12,000 Prisoners of War died while building a bridge for the Japanese Army that would connect Thailand to Burma (now Myanmar).
After you ride the train and marvel over how a railway could have been carved in the Thai mountains using just rudimentary tools, you have to visit the JEATH Museum.
You may think that I spelled DEATH incorrectly, but JEATH is correct – it is an acronym for Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland – the five nations who lived and died on the ‘Death Railway’.
The museum has been constructed to resemble a Prisoner of War barracks and has many artifacts on display. There are also drawings made by some of the prisoners. It doesn’t matter what country you come from, you will not be able to walk away from this building unmoved.
A short walk will take you to the military cemetery honoring those who died during their internment. Memorials to the war dead adorn the meticulously manicured grounds. The Thai people take very good care landscaping the area by hand.
Many of the deceased POWs were returned to their home country, but there are still numerous graves marked by simple headstones. For most of the brave, young soldiers, all that is left is their name, rank, service number and country. To let it all sink in, take the time to walk each row and read every name. These heroes need to be remembered.
If you saw the movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Alec Guiness, you may see a lot of differences when you visit. The movie is a classic, but is riddled with fallacies. The POWs did not blow up the bridge, but they did their best to delay building it and sabotaged the work along the way.
The real senior commander of the camp, LTC Philip Toosey, was not an enemy collaborator as was depicted in the movie. He encouraged his men to do whatever possible to ensure that the bridge was not completed on time. This included collecting white ants to eat away at the wooden structures, and mixing concrete improperly.
In reality, there were two bridges. A temporary wooden structure was erected, and a permanent steel and concrete bridge was built. Both bridges were destroyed by Allied bombers and the steel bridge was repaired and is still operational today.
Pay a visit and pay your respects to some very brave men that lived and died in a real hellhole. You will never forget your visit to the JEATH museum and the Bridge over the River Kwae.