August 23rd, 2006

Day 30: The Bridge Over the River Kwai

We decided to go to the small tourist town of Kanchanaburi today to see the bridge over the River Kwai, made famous from the 1957 movie about the bridge ( We took a city bus to the long-distance Southern Bus Terminal and were off in a flash on a three-hour bus to Kanchanaburi.

The town is very small, so we could walk everywhere with ease. Our first stop was the small JEATH Museum. Standing for Japan-England-America-Thailand-Holland, the JEATH Museum is a small bamboo structure resembling the living huts that prisoners of war (POWs) stayed in during the Japanese occupation of Thailand from 1942-1945.

This is a good time to explain the story of the bridge and the “Death Railway” that the movie and museums we went to are all about. In the 1940’s the Japanese occupied Thailand, and most of Southeast Asia, during the Pacific Theater of the Second World War. The Japanese Army wanted to create a railway between Burma (now Myanmar) and Thailand to send ammunition and supplies to the front when they took on India, as was intended.

The Japanese Army engineers surveyed the area and judged that the railway would take about five years to complete the large engineering task. Instead the Japanese Army enlisted the forced labor of POWs from the allied forced captured in the battles for Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia. The working conditions were extremely poor and the workers were feed poorly and worked long hours in nothing but loin clothes to wear. The project took a mere 19 months to complete, but the cost in human life was tremendous, with over 16,000 POWs dying during the construction of the railway.

The bridges were especially difficult to construct and when the allied war planes started bombing the railroad in 1945, the bridges were the main targets. The Bridge over the River Kwai is one of these bridges. Read more about it at

After the JEATH Museum, we walked down to two large graveyards occupying the main part of town. The first we went to was a Chinese/Thai graveyard dedicated to all the Asian workers that died constructing the railway. The next one we went to was the graves of the thousands of Allied soldiers that died as POWs on the railway.

Then we went to the Thailand-Burmese Railway Center, a very detailed museum about the railway, the conditions of the workers, the Japanese engineers, and the history of that part of World War II. It was a great museum and very informative. I learned a lot about how it was like during the war to be a POW, and I count my lucky stars that I was not born into a war generation.

Finally, after learning al about the bridge, we took a walk to the contraption itself, which is still in use today. In fact when we were walking on it, which is free to do, there was a train that came on the tracks carrying passengers to and fro. The base of the bridge is a small town center that resembles Port Townsend in the quaint way that people and tourists stand around chatting and having a good time as music plays on a jukebox and some Thai people stand around kicking a Sepak ball (

We walked to the other side of the bridge and back and then went back to the bus station to take a late bus back to Bangkok and then to the guesthouse for the night. All in all, a wonderful little day trip.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Southeast Asia. We are planning on meeting our friend Saa for lunch and to chat for a while before getting ready to return to the land of the rising sun.

Until then, take care.

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