The province of Kanchanaburi is close to Bangkok and borders to Myanmar (Burma). Although there is plenty to see in this region, I went for the main attractions: the Bridge over River Kwai, the museum, Don-Rak Cementery and the ride over the Death Railway. I embarked on a full day tour, driving for over 2 hours from center Bangkok to the River Kwai Bridge.
After entering the Second War in December 1941, Japanese forces quickly overran most of South East Asia. In 1942, in order to find a shorter and more secure line of supply between Burma (now Myanmar) and Siam (now Thailand), the Japanese decided to use prisoners of war and civilian labour to build a single line railway. This railway linked existing railheads at Thanbyuzayat in the west and Ban Pong in the east. My first stop upon arriving in Kanchanaburi was visiting the bridge itself and having amazing panoramic views of the Kwai River. Do not miss crossing the bridge walking from side to side- you won’t be disappointed! From there my next stop was the Don-Rak War Cemetery and the Kwai River Bridge Museum. Two forces, one based in Siam and one in Burma, worked from opposite ends of the line, meeting at Konkuita in October 1943. The project cost the lives of approximately 15,000 prisoners of war and 100,000 civilians as a result of sickness, malnutrition, exhaustion and mistreatment.
The Don-Rak War Cemetery is the largest of three on the Burma-Siam Railway and is located near the site of the former “Kanburi” Prisoner of War Base Camp through which most prisoners passed on their way to other camps. The cemetery, designed by Colin St. Clair Oakes, was created after the war by the Army Graves Service. This Service transferred graves into the cemetery from camp burial grounds, as well as from solitary sites all along the southern half of the railway and from other sites in Thailand. More that 5,000 Commonwealth and 1,800 Dutch casualties are commemorated in the cemetery, including 300 men who died of sickness at Niecke and Changaraya and who were cremated. Their ashes are buried in two graves in the cemetery and their names appear on panels in the shelter building. The names of eleven soldiers of the Indian army whose graves elsewhere in Thailand could not be maintained are also commemorated by name on a tablet in the entrance building.
Next to the cemetery is the Kwai River Bridge Museum just across the street, which will give you a full understanding of the story behind River Kwai Bridge. My tour continued by hopping onboard the Kwai River Train, to cross the famous bridge and follow the original train tracks all the way to Thamkra Sae,. During the journey I got amazing views of the Kwai River, the area in general, and local people who finally arrive to the Death Railway. The Death Railway was intended to move men and supplies to the Burmese front where the Japanese were fighting the British. Japanese army engineers selected the route that traversed deep valleys and hills. The railway line originally ran within 50 meters of the Three Pagodas Pass which marks nowadays the border to Burma. Howev,er after the war the entire railway was removed and sold as it was deemed unsafe and politically undesirable. The prisoners lived in squalor with a near starvation diet. They were subjected to captor brutality and thousands of people perished. After the war the dead were collectively reburied in the War Cemeteries and will remain forever as victims to a brutal and tragic ordeal.
Video courtesy Carlos Melia Blog
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