The River Kwai, April 2015. I’ll never forget my first night in the Thai town of Kanchanaburi. Arriving late afternoon in a minivan from Ayutthaya, I checked into V.N. Guesthouse, where a floating raft room awaited me right on The River Kwai. Unspeakably hungry, I dumped my backpack, took a quick shower and headed up to V.N.’s stunning little restaurant terrace overlooking the river. Dropping onto a large straw mat of cushions and pillows, I ordered dinner (a rich tomatoey noodle soup), cracked open a beer and turned on my MacBook. With the sun beginning its slow decline, I sat breathing it all in before watching a download of the Academy Award winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. A really special night.
Death Railway Bridge, April 2015. Kanchanaburi’s real bridge, (not the one featured in the movie!) was constructed by the Japanese in World War two as part of their ambitious 215 mile rail track connecting Thailand to Burma. A key component in their plan to attack India, an incredible sixty thousand Asian slaves and prisoners of war were employed for the hard graft. Toiling away in awful conditions, around half the workforce had died by the time the bridge was completed twelve months later.
Death Railway Bridge, April 2015. Today you can take a train over the bridge as part of the Death Railway Tour, or simply walk across as I did. Ironically, with its history of brutality and great suffering, the surrounding area is perfectly peaceful and picturesque, with lush greenery, rolling mountains and a grand Chinese temple on the far side. It can be very touristy, but with a bit of patience the crowds eventually thin out and you’ll have the bridge to yourself, free from the distractions of ice creams and selfie sticks.
Death Railway Museum, April 2015. Having slept on the river and walked the bridge, my next step was to check out Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, a meticulous tribute to those members of the allied forced who died during the bridge’s construction. This museum and research centre sits right next to the cemetery and offers harrowing insight into the dreadful conditions workers were subjected to before death finally claimed them. The whole timeline is brought to life by engaging installations, historical photographs and a number of short films. The two-story building also includes a coffee shop, toilet facilities and a small shop.
Chinese Cemetery, April 2015. As fascinating as Kanchanaburi’s historical sites are, you’ll understandably find yourself a bit drained by it all come the end of the day. I just wanted a break from the grisly ghosts of the past, so I took an aimless walk through town to see what I could find. It was approaching sunset when I stumbled upon this deserted, run down Chinese cemetery. And while it wasn’t exactly the cheery distraction I’d been hoping for, I couldn’t help but head inside and wander between the colourful, spectral gravestones.