Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi, western province bordering Myanmar (Burma), has an infamous WWII history. This is where 16,000 Allied POWs and 90,000 Asian laborers died during the construction of the Death Railway. The Bridge of the River Kwai - a small part of the death railway is one of the most visited tourist spot in Kanchanaburi.

Art Gallery & War Museum
Open 9am to 4.30pm daily

A smaller building opposite the main museum contains WWII relics, including photos and sketches made during the POW period and a display of Japanese and Allied weapons. Inside, a glass case contains 106 skeletons unearthed in a mass grave of Asian laborers.

Bridge over the River Kwai
Immortalized by the book and movie of the same name, the real bridge spans the Kwai Yai River, a tributary of the Mae Klong River 3km from Kanchanaburi's town center.

History
The materials for the bridge were brought from Java by the Imperial Japanese Army during their occupation of Thailand. In 1945 the bridge was bombed several times and was only rebuilt after the war - the curved portion of the bridge are original. The first version of the bridge, completed in February 1943 was all wood. In April of the same year a bridge of steel was constructed. It is estimated that 16,000 POWs died while building the Death Railway to Myanmar (Burma), of which the bridge was only a small part. The strategic objective of the railway was to secure an alternative supply route for the Japanese conquest of Burma.

Construction of the railway began in September 16, 1942 at existing terminal in Thanbyuzayat in Burma and Nong Pladuk in Thailand. Japanese engineers at that time estimated that it would take five years to link Thailand to Burma by rail, but the Japanese Army forced the POWs and Asian Labor to complete the 415km 1m width railway in 16 months.

Roughly 2/3 of the railway run through Thailand. Much of the railway was build in difficult terrain that requires high bridges and deep mountain cuttings. The rails were finally joined 37km south of the Three Pagodas Pass, a Japanese brothel train inaugurated the line. The River Kwai Bridge was in use for 20 months before Allied bombed it in 1945. The Japanese even tied Allied POWs on the bridge to discourage Allied bombing.

Only one POW was know to have escape, a Briton who took refuge among the pro-British Karen guerrillas. Although the number of POWs who died during the Japanese occupation is horrifying, the figure for the labourers, many from Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are even worse. It is estimated that 90,000 to 100,000 coolies died in the area.

Little remains of the original railway, west of Nam Tok, Karen and Mon carried off most of the track to use in the construction of local building and bridges. The Railway Museum in front of the Bridge have engines used during WWII on display. Every Year during the first week of December there is a nightly Light & Sound Festival at the bridges, commemorating the Allied attack on the Death Railway in 1945 complete with the sound of bombers and explosions, fantastic bursts of light and more. It ends with a firework display. The best way to get to the bridge is to catch a songthaew from town or a motorcycle taxi which is much cheaper. You can also take a train from the Kanchanaburi railway station to the bridge for 3B.

Kanchanaburi Allied War Cemetery
The Kanchanaburi Allied War Cemetery is better cared for with green lawns and healthy flowers. It's only 15 min walk from the River Kwai Hotel. This is a war cemetery for the Royal Dutch Army. The inscription on the wall depicts the events during the war. A book containg all the names of the victim used to be place here but was remove and put in cemetery office due to mishandling by the public.

Chung Kai Allied War Cemetery
Located across the Mae Klong River, take a ferry boat from the pier at the west end of Lak Meuang Road, then follow the curving road through picturesque corn and sugarcane field until you reach the cemetery on your left. The Chung Kai burial plaques carry names, military insignia and short epitaphs for Dutch, British, French and Australian soldiers.

Jeath War Museum
Wisuttharangsi Road, near the TAT office.
Open daily from 8.30am to 4.30pm.

Phra Maha Tomson Tongproh, a Thai Monk who devotes much energy to promoting the museum, speaks some English and can answer questions about the exhibits. The museum itself is a replica example of the bamboo atap huts used to house the Allied POWs during the Occupation. The long huts contain various photographs taken during the war, drawing and painting by POWs, map, weapons and other war memorabilia. The acronym JEATH represents the fated meeting of Japan, England, Austrialia/America, Thailand and Holland at Kanchanaburi during WWII.

Hellfire Pass - Sir Weary Dunlop's Memorial
The Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce completed the first phase of Hellfire Pass memorial project in 1988. The purpose of the project is to honor the Allied POW and Asian conscripts who died while constructing some of the most difficult stretches of the Burma-Thailand death railway, 80km northwest of Kanchanaburi. 'Hellfire Pass' was the name the POWs gave to the largest of a 1000m series of mountain cuttings through soil and solid rock, which were accomplished with minimal equipment.

Inscription on Sir Weary Dunlop's Memorial:
"When you go home, tell them of us and say we gave our tomorrow for your today."

The original crew of 400 Australian POWs was later augmented with 600 additional Australian and British prisoners, who worked around the clock in 12 to 18 hour shifts for 12 weeks. The prisoners called it Hellfire Pass because of the way the largest cutting at Konyu looked at night by torchlight. 70% of the POW crew had died, and were buried in the nearby Konyu Cemetery.

The memorial consist of a trail that follows the railway remains through the 110m Konyu cutting, then winds up and around the pass for an overhead view. At the far end of the cutting is a memorial plaque fasten to solid stone, commemorating the death of the Allied prisoners. There are actually seven cutting spread over 3.5km, four small cutting and three larger ones. Thanks to Walt Deas for the wording of the inscription.

Hin Tok Trestle Bridge (Pack of Cards)
The Australian-Thai Chamber of commerce also has a plans to clear a path to the Hin Tok trestle bridge southeast of the Konyu cutting. The prisoners called this bridge the 'Pack of Cards' because it collapsed 3 times during construction. Eventually some of the track may be restored to exhibit rolling stock from the WWII era. A museum containing artifacts from the era has been constructed on the site in 1997.

Three Pagodas Pass
One of the terminals of the Death Railway in WWII, and for centuries has been a major relay point for Thai-Burmese trade. There is really nothing much to see at the pass, the attraction lies in the journey and the impressive scenery along the way. Its an all day affair and well require you to stay at Sangkhlaburi overnight.

 

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