AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Kanchanaburi: The Bridge on the River Kwai

We have travelled just a few hours north of Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, the location of the infamous bridge on the river Kwai.

The bridge is part of the Thailand-Burma railway, also known as the Death Railway, which was built by the Japanese during the second world war to link Bangkok to Rangoon (which was the capital of Burma at the time). The railway was built by POWs who were forced into slave labour to build railway line. About 90,000 Asians and almost 13,000 allies died building the railway. The railway was over 400km long and was built in 17 months. It was used for 22 months by the Japanese to supply the army there, who had defeated the British and forced them to retreat to India.

In the morning we visited the museum which had the information about the railway and the conditions the POWs lived in. The Japanese had little consideration for the lives of the POWs, they were severely malnourished, beaten whenever a guard felt like it and forced to work under awful conditions. Most deaths were caused by disease.

We then wandered around the War Cemetery, it is mostly British POWs but quite a few Dutch and Australian.

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After eating we decided to walk around the area finally reaching the bridge on the river Kwai. An interesting fact I learnt: The railway follows the Khwae Noi river valley north through the mountains towards Burma and for this reason the bridge was mistakingly located as crossing the Kwai (a mispronunciation of Khwae). But, at Kanchanaburi another (smaller) river merges and it is that river which the bridge crosses, it was mistaken for the Kwai. The Thai government renamed the river in the 1960s to be called the Khwae Yai. So the bridge does now cross the river Kwai.

When we reached the bridge a train was  crossing it. The train was the Eastern & Oriental Express, which starts in Singapore, then travels to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur and as an extra excursion makes a 2 hour trip to the bridge and back. The bridge can be walked on by anyone and when a train comes there is plenty of time to get off the bridge. I chose to stay on the bridge to feel it shake and judder as the train passed.

You might notice looking at some of the photos (on Flickr too) that some of the steel spans are arch shaped and some are rectangular. That it because near the end of the war the bridge was bombed by the Americans and they destroyed two spans of the bridge, which were replaced which the rectangular spans. The arch sections are original and built by the POWs in 1943.

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All our photos of the bridge can be seen here.

Posted from Tha Ma Kham, Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

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