River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
It was hard to visit The Bridge Over The River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand, without being deeply moved and saddened by its history.
On arrival I checked into a room floating on the river, mostly for the novelty factor but it was rather grim but fairly apt given the location. The room stank of sewage, crawled with cockroaches and rocked sickeningly every time one of the floating restaurants and karaoke cruises powered past.
After one night on my floating hell I moved into a tiny painted hut, or shed, on the river banks which was really rather quaint and much less nauseating. That evening I took a water taxi up the river to the bridge to watch the annual light and sound show depicting the bombing of the bridge and a brief history of the bridge’s construction (given in English and Thai). The festival is held on November 28th to mark the allied bombing of the bridge in 1944.
The Bridge Over the River Kwai is in fact over the Mae Klong, but was renamed due to the book and subsequent film. Apparently the author of the original book got his rivers mixed up! Also note that this is not the bridge from the film, as the movie was shot in Sri Lanka.
But there is a serious history lesson to be learnt in this small corner of Thailand. The Thai-Burma Railway, or Death Railway as it became known, was constructed in 1943 under the Japanese occupation in order to connect supplies between Bangkok and their troops in Rangoon, Burma. Due to unsanitary conditions, poor treatment and the harsh terrain of the Hellfire Pass, 16,000 prisoners of war and 90,000 asian labourers dies during its construction. The dead POWs included 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans and a smaller number of Canadians and New Zealanders. They were buried along the track and in mass graves at the camps, but following the war they were repatriated to their homelands or relocated to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
I spent day two visiting the museums and the war cemetery which is the final resting place of many prisoners of war, the majority of whom were British. In the afternoon I took the tourist train across the bridge itself, which takes a slow and rickety journey over the river and a short hop into the countryside before returning back over the bridge. It only costs a few baht but you can also walk over the bridge, just be sure to jump into the little recesses when the train chugs past!
Top tip for Kanchanaburi: Although it might sound really cool to sleep on the river, the floating rooms are vile. Do not waste your money as there are plenty of places on solid ground in the vicinity of the bridge. Be warned though that if ou are near the river and after an early night, the karaoke cruises floating past at midnight will wake you up, more so if you find yourself swaying around on the waves as it goes past.