The River Kwai

Kanchanaburi Travel Blog

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WW2 cemetery

Kanchanaburi, home to the river Kwai and it's famous bridge.

We wanted to make sure that we knew all about the history side of Kanchanaburi before we actually saw the bridge. The first place we walked past on our walk round town was the WW2 cemetery which seemed a good place to start. The cemetery had approx 6000 memorials and was for the prisoners of war who were based in the camps in and around Kanchanaburi, and had a large Dutch focus.

There were many nationalities represented though, and many many British. It was a nice day, and morbid as it sounds, it was a lovely place to just sit and chat, which is exactly what we did.

Opposite the cemetery was the Death Railway Museum which gave us a lot of background to the building of the railway which was built to transport supplies to Burma during the second World War. Unfortunatly we timed it wrong and soon after we arrived a huge tour group bundled in, turning our quiet reflective mood into one of annoyance. It was interesting and moving seeing reports and video footage of survivors, hearing their stories and equally horriic seeing the sheer numbers of people who died for the cause. They had a small section set up like the hospital and it was crazy to read that they had to improvise medical equipment from things they had around them, empty bottles became 'drips', hollow bamboo sticks as 'needles and tubes' and even part of a discarded bike as a centrifuge for blood.

Our first view of the bridge

Slightly out of town, the Jeath War Museum was small, and set up in a bamboo hut similar to how they would have been at the POW camp, very hot and cramped. It was called 'JEATH' to represent the initials of the countries affected, and also because it sounds nicer than 'death'. It was full of newspaper clippings from around the world, survivor stories and pictures. The newspapers told terrible stories of the treatment received in the camps, brutal beatings, food with maggots crawling on it, people being made to work when half dead from disease. The photos of survivors just after they were released seemed to just show staggering skeletons.

Finally we thought we were probably ready to see the bridge, and after a 3km walk (thanks Lonely Planet.

Walking along, taking care not to fall off!
..) we found it, way across the other side of town. Just as we approached it, we heard frantic whistle blowing and saw that a train was coming which was exciting! People were hanging out of the windows, and everyone hurried to get off the tracks and out of the way. The area was predictably abit of a tourist trap, with people selling souveniers, and boats trips, but it was quite late in the day so I imagine it could have been busier. After the train went past we were able to walk across the bridge ourselves, right along the tracks! There were huge gaping holes along the sides and no handrails of course, so it was abit precarious! Rather than arrive, point, go home, we decided to have a drink in a restaurant overlooking the bridge as the sun set. It was very surreal sitting there nursing our drinks, thinking about all the history we had learnt, sitting in the shadow of a bridge which claimed so many lives.

On the way back we decided not to walk, and got our first moto taxi after all this time in Asia! It was quite nervewracking for me, our last experience on a bike having been after I unceremoniously chucked us into a ditch. I was unsure of the ettiquette but pretty certain that throwing my arms around his waist and buring my face in his shoulderblades was a no-no. So I braced myself and just held into the little handle thing behind me, hoping I didn't fall off as his safety procedure didn't run to providing a helmet....!

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WW2 cemetery
WW2 cemetery
Our first view of the bridge
Our first view of the bridge
Walking along, taking care not to …
Walking along, taking care not to…
photo by: wbboy29