“ City: Kanchanaburi / Country: Thailand / World Region: Asia „
I took a great interest in the Thai- Burma railway construction while I was visiting Thailand on a recent holiday, I have always wanted to see the River Kwai bridge which was not as spectacular as I imagined however it history surrounding it got me hooked.
Me and my husband both decided to visit the Hellfire pass memorial museum so we could get the full picture of what actually happened during the construction of the bridge and the railway during the war.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE BURMA RAILWAY
The construction of the Burma railway was started in 1942, when the Japanese and British were fighting against India during the peak of world war two. To ensure a safe route from Thailand to Burma it was decided that a railway would be constructed so that the armies could ferry supplies and extra man power to fight in the war.
Over 330,000 Prisoners of war (POWS) that were captured by the Japanese, these were made up of Asian, British, Australian, Dutch and American soldiers. After their capture they were used as labourers to build the railway.
The railway itself ran from Ban Pong Thailand and finished 415 kilometres away in Thanbyuzayat Burma, It was erected through thick jungles, rocks and mountains which were all cleared and cut through using basic tools such as Picks, shovels and by hand.
The Prisoners were expected to work on the railway for long hours, day and night with very little or no food at all. Many of the prisoner's lives were lost due to malnutrition, The Cholera outbreak, the lack of medical facilities and brutal treatment from the guards and railway supervisors.
Many POWS died during the "Speedo Period" which was the time leading up to the August 1943 completion deadline, the prisoners were made to work through the night on the most torturous part of the railway, using only the light from nearby bonfires. It is here where it was aptly named hellfire pass as so many died during construction.
Once the railway was completed the Prisoners of war were either kept in Thailand or Singapore, but it was not until the war ended that the survivors got proper food and any medical treatment they may have needed.
THE HELL FIRE PASS MUSEUM
The museum is an Australian built museum that is situated at the Konyu Cutting, also known as Hellfire pass. The memorial museum was opened in April 1996, nearly forty three years after the war ended, it has been designed to pay tribute to those who were involved in the railways construction during the war.
The Museum is very light and modern, which is something I didn't expect so I was pleasantly surprised. Within the museum we were allowed to view a limited collection of artifacts and actually read about the true history of the Thai- Burma railway, the history was displayed on large Perspex stands scattered around the left hand side of the Museum, here we learned the truth which seem even more realistic by the added pictures and artifacts surrounding you.
If reading is not your thing then you can stand and watch a six or seven minute video, which also consists of the history, construction of the railways and brief talks from ex- Pows. I strongly advise that you both watch the video and read the displays as I found them both equally as interesting.
If you want to take pictures, this is not allowed within the memorial museum. However they do provide you with a big suspended lookout where you can take in the breath taking views and the railway beneath you.
The museum was built here as it is one of the most impressive sections of the railway, as it is sheer rock which has been cut through. Once you walk through Hellfire pass you truly realise the work that was involved in the railways construction.
You can actually walk down to the railway and actually walk through Hellfire (Konyu Cutting). This can be very difficult for some as you need to walk down over a hundred very steep steps, which is not to bad but the climb back up can be very difficult.
If you can take the steps then it is worth it as you get to walk along the railway, we walked though the cutting which surprised me at how tall and thick the actual rock was. The original sleepers were still in place at certain sections but most had been removed years previously.
We only walk for half an hour to the Kwae Noi lookout, which at the time could not be accessed as they had recently suffered a land slide and it was considered unsafe, however during any other time you can walk the railway for miles. Even though we didn't get to walk the whole railway I was not disappointed with the museum.
We visited the museum as part of an organised tour so we didn't actually pay to visit, but I think this works out at 200 Baht (£4.00) a visit. Which in my opinion is worth, every penny as we got to fully understand what truly happened here.
If you ever decide to visit this outstanding museum then you can visit every day of the week, and it is open from 9am to 4pm.
You are best making your way to Kanchanaburi for either Bangkok's Hulampong or Thornburi train stations, which will only cost you a few pounds. It can be visited within a day but I strongly recommend you stay in Kanchanaburi for a few days as they have so much to see.
If you want to go as part of a tour you can get trip directly from Bangkok and these can be booked from any travel agency within the city.
The memorial museum is located 80 kilometres from kanchanaburi, but if you take the train directly to Nam Tok you only need to travel 18 kilometres, so it all depends on if you are staying in kanchanaburi as to where to dis-mount the train. At both places you can get either buses or taxis very cheaply to the museum.
During my visit at the Hell firs pass museum I could not believe how effected I was by this, It was actually reality and people actually had to endure this brutal treatment. I thought to the survivors of the war and truly sympathised with them as they would never get over this, yes they survived but they had all the mental scars to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I found the whole day very moving and I strongly advise anyone within the area to take a day to visit the memorial museum, as it really does make you appreciate how lucky we actually are. I got to fully understand the work and loss that occurred during the construction of this railway.
For me it was the walk along the railway that was the most appealing, however if you have bad health or you are disabled in any way this will not be possible for you to do as the path is very uneven and you would find it very difficult to scale the very steep steps leading to and from the museum itself.
The scenery is amazing so if this is something you do decide to see than a camera is defiantly needed as well as mosquito repellent as you will get eaten alive.