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I have never really been into history, but after my three month trip to Thailand I knew that seeing the River Kwai bridge was a must see attraction.
I researched the bridge and surrounding areas before committing to the trip, as I knew nothing about the bridge and its back ground.
After researching the bridge and its history it gave me a slight itch that needed to be scratched. I have to say this one of the most moving and eye opening experiences I had while me and my husband were touring around Thailand.
RIVER KWAI HISTORY
The River Kwai has some fascinating twentieth century history most of which revolves around the construction of the legendary river Kwai bridge and the Burma railway, during the Second World War.
The construction of the Burma Railway and Kwai Bridge took place in 1942 - 1943, it was constructed by prisoners of war of which only half of the prisoners survived during construction. The other half died from diseases, malnutrition, ill treatment or accidents that occurred during the construction.
The actual railway consists of 258 miles of railway track from Bangkok to Burma. It is said that one man died for every sleeper laid on the track so you can only imagine how many lives were actually lost.
Many think that the big metal bridge that stands there today is the original bridge, when in fact it is second bridge. The original bridge used to cross the river kwai was in fact a wooden bridge that was completed in 1943, but as it disintegrated very quickly they replaced large sections of it with the steel that you see today.
When the allied bombing took place in 1945 part of the bridge was destroyed so certain sections have since been replaced, but the majority of the bridge is the original construction.
WHAT THE RIVER KWAI & BURMA RAILWAY HAS TO OFFER
* The river Kwai Bridge still exists and can still be crossed, either by foot of by train. While we visited we crossed the bridge on a train during a daily tour we took of the Burma railway and we also walked along it on foot
Both methods are worth trying but both have you petrified. While walking across the bridge you have to walk across the wooden sleepers situated directly down the centre of the bridge. It sounds easy but if you have people coming at you from the other direction you need to manoeuvre yourself accordingly as you could very easily fall from the bridge into the river below.
If the people coming from the other direction is not really an issue for you then think about a steam train consisting of sixteen carriages coming at you head on. All you have is a few viewing platforms located on several sections of the bridge, where you can escape the trains. We found these got very cramped with all the people waiting for the train to cross, so your best chance was to run for it, which sounds very risky but the trains do go very slow and honk so loud you know they are coming at least five minutes before they arrive to cross the bridge.
* The death railway, is another attraction in Kanchanaburi that needs to be seen, this was also constructed by the prisoners of war and is still in use today.
Three daily trains travel the distance from Bangkok Thornburi train station to Nam tok, and this is the best way to experience the railway.
The Wampo viaduct it the hairiest part of the railway with these massive trains consisting of sixteen plus carriages travel along this section of the railway the train is clinging to solid rock faces on one side and sheer cliff edges that drop into the river kwai. At certain parts of the railway you are just chugging along on the wooded track that was originally erected in the world war two.
Experiencing the death railway is certainly an experience but not for the faint hearted.
* Hellfire pass is a memorial museum dedicated to the prisoners of war, this is located just outside of Kanchanaburi and in my opinion is worth a viewing as it gives you an insight to how the bridge and railway were erected and what people went through to get the job done.
Before visiting the museum I didn't fully understand the significance of the bridge and the railway, but this opened my eyes to realise what the prisoners actually went through. I found the whole experience at hellfire pass very moving.
After visiting the museum we actually walked through hell fire pass, which is a valley of solid rock, which was chipped through by the prisoners in order for them to lay the train lines for the Burma's train line.
While you stand there looking through the large expanse of solid rock you find it very difficult to comprehend how these prisoners got through the rock with just hammers and chizzles.
The river Kwai bridge and Death railway are located in a small town called Kanchanaburi, it is located a few hours drive away from Bangkok so it is very easy to get to by either using Trains, buses of Taxis.
Kanchanaburi is situated at the edge of a mountain range, so it is much cooler than other parts of Thailand. It has two parts to the town, the downtown which consists of small l streets with office buildings, shop fronts, and a shopping centre and the riverfront area, which mainly revolves around the bridge and the river itself. Here you will find tourist shops and museums which rely on your custom.
If you are staying in Kanchanaburi the bridge is just a short walk from anywhere within the kanchanaburi town, so this is a sight you can see off your own steam. To see the bridge and walk it won't cost you a penny, but I will guarantee that you will end up parting with some money.
I found I was giving to beggars situated along and around the bridge just to get them out of the way and at the end of the bridge you had make shift shops where they sold bracelets and key chains, here you get roped in to as the women would get hold of you and won't let you go until you buy something.
If you only want to do a day trip from Bangkok you can do, as they run trains three times a day. This is an option if you really want to see the bridge but I strongly advise you spend a few days as is a stunning little place to visit and it is packed full of history that will not fail to keep you interested.
You can undertake all of the above attraction on your own steam but it could work out very expensive in taxis and train fares.
Me and my husband made our own way to Kanchanaburi by taking a train from Thronburi Bangkok to Kanchanaburi for about £3.00 each, which was very reasonable considering it was a three hour trip.
After checking into our hotel we booked a tour which took us to the hellfire pass memorial museum, riding the death railway, walking the bridge, bamboo rafting the kwai and some hot springs. The tour included all travel and meals and cost 600 baht each which worked out at £12.00 each.
When we arrived in kanchanaburi we planned to do most of the stuff on the tour alone but we would never have been able to do it all in just the one day, so a guided tour is strongly recommended as you get to see everything of interest, as well as some time at your own leisure.
For anyone interested in 20th century history, a visit to Kanchanaburi on the infamous Burma death railway is a must. You can see Kanchanaburi as a tourist day trip from Bangkok, but it's much better to go independently and spend two or three days as there's a lot more to see than just the Bridge.
I have to say this was one of the best things I did while visiting Thailand, we only stayed two nights which was adequate, but I would have been happy staying that little bit longer.
The only down side to Kanchanaburi is the mosquitoes, I was eaten alive at night but this was because we stayed right on the river. So if you ever visit make sure you have plenty of mosquito repellent.
The famous bridge of the Burma Railway crosses the river at the town of Kanchanaburi.