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Death Railway and Bridge over the River Kwai

The notorious Bridge over the River Kwai was built during the Great Pacific War when Japan declared war on the United States and UK. It took one year to build and was finished in October 1943. To speed up the work the Japanese built a temporary wooden bridge about 100 metres from the present one to transport the materials to build, what has become known as, the Death Railway.


We got on the train at a little station called Tha Kilen which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There were only tourists on the platform. Invariably the trains are late, in our case about 1 hour late. There was a mad rush to get on the train to get a seat on the left side and the train was crowded, with some people having to stand. The carriages were old with wooden seats with cushions on them and the windows dropped down into the frames for a perfect open view. After travelling through fields and jungle the train followed the river, clinging to the cliff face at the Wang Pho trestle viaduct. The train goes around a long curve on the trestle viaduct so you can hang out the window to take photos. Just beyond the curve is Tham Krasae station, where we got off.

Once the train has departed you can walk back along the railway line to Tham Krasae cave which houses several Buddha images and is a popular pilgrimage site for Thai people.  We then walked further back along the trestle bridge. There is a marker alongside the railway line that shows where the flood water rose to within feet of the top of the trestle bridge in August 1974.  At the station is a restaurant and a small market and a bomb from the war. The river area is beautiful.


Death Railway

In 1942 the Japanese army signed an agreement with the Thai government to build a railway from Burma (now Myanmar) to Thailand. The total length was 415 km -303km in Thailand and 111km in Burma. The prisoners of war from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and other Pacific regions were forced to build the railway. They were put on a train to Bangpong station then had to walk 51km to Kanchanaburi. The prisoners of war comprised British, Australian and Dutch soldiers as well as Malay, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Burmese, Javanese labourers totalling nearly 200,000. The railway construction was very laborious and difficult as it went through thick jungle and high mountains where dangerous animals roamed. They worked day and night amidst hunger and diseases, like malaria. The railway claimed the lives of over 100,000 workers.