April 2015. Even if you’ve never seen the Oscar-winning movie, chances are you’ve heard of the bridge on the River Kwai, a key component of Japan’s so-called Thailand-Burma Death Railway line during World War II. A truly horrific chapter of Thai history, over one hundred thousand slaves and prisoners of war were forced to work on its construction, the majority of which lost their lives in dreadful conditions so that the Japanese could have their two hundred and fifty mile link between Thailand and Burma. Today you can visit the bridge, a central focal point of this sleepy river town.
April 2015. I’d been expecting the bridge to be swamped that day as I made my approach, but the tastefully landscaped gardens that lead to the entrance were perfectly peaceful. It’s amazing that so many people come here thinking it’s the bridge from the 1957 movie, but make no mistake it isn’t!!! The film was shot in Sri Lanka, while the river wasn’t even called the Khwae; it was the Mae Klong River. But the film and its fictional plot based around the real life bridge became so iconic the Thai government actually changed the river’s name to Khwae Yai in 1960.
April 2015. You can cross the 300-meter iron bridge on foot via the pedestrian side platforms as I did, or even take a tourist train as part of the guided Death Railway Tour that also takes in Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, The Death Railway Museum and Hellfire Pass. I’ve read many recommendations of the tour, despite it being a bit pricy and touristy. For me it was free to walk across and I was delighted with the solitude I managed to get that afternoon. I also managed to visit the cemetery and its adjacent museum independently.
April 2015. All the blood, sweat and tears… all those needless deaths and in the end the bridge was all but destroyed by Allied aircraft in a succession of bombings between December 1944 and the summer of 1945. Now only the outer steel spans remain, which were incorporated into its subsequent reconstruction. Watching The Bridge on the River Kwai would of course be an excellent homework project before coming here. But it’s actually the 2013 movie The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman that gives a better sense of the suffering that took place, thanks to its focus on the real life British Army officer Eric Lomax.
April 2015. The bridge is a popular attraction all year round, though things get particularly hellish in the last weeks of November and December when there are commemorative events to mark the date of the Allied forces attacks. Once you’ve crossed it why not dip into the handsome Chinese style Kung Im Temple, a Buddhist compound dominated by the towering white Goddess of Mercy statue. Once again, entrance is a brilliantly wallet-friendly FREE!
For more on this fascinating Thai Town, have a leaf through my other articles on Kanchanaburi.
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