Bridge over the River Kwai
Kanchanaburi province is in the west of Thailand, 129 km from Bangkok and bordering Myanmar. It is the country's third largest province, after Nakhon Ratchasima and Chiang Mai. The province has long been famed for its Bridge over the River Kwai, known worldwide for its famous movie and the significant role that it played in the Second World War.
Because of its magnificent landscape and natural beauty, Kanchanaburi has become a major tourist destination with numerous attractions including several well-known waterfalls, national parks, tranquil rivers, caves and large reservoirs. Kanchanaburi is truly a perfect destination for nature lovers.
There are very few historical records about Kanchanaburi Province before the reign of King Rama I (1782 – 1809). However, some historians believe that the province was of strategic importance during the Ayutthaya period (1350 – 1767), since it was the first line of defense against the Burmese, who invaded through the Three Pagodas Pass at the border.
According to most historians, the old town of Kanchanaburi was located near Ban Lat Ya, a small village located about 16 kilometers north of the present town. The present provincial town is a new one built by King Rama III in 1831. The evidence of this still can be seen from the remains of the city gate and walls at Pak Phraek Subdistrict.
But for many foreigners, they are well aware or at least have heard of the Death Railway which is part of Kanchanaburi's recent history. During World War II, both allied POWs and Asian labourers were ordered by the Japanese army to build a Thailand-Burma railway. Eventually, more than 100,000 people died from horrific working conditions. They had to work with simple tools in rugged mountains and deep jungles full of dangerous insects and animals. The weather was too damp and hot most of the time, especially for the Whites. Due to the urgency of the task, they were made to work more than 10 hours a day and 7 days a week but were given little to eat. And when there were epidemics such as cholera and malaria there was hardly enough medicine to go round. As a result, at least 90,000 labourers and 16,000 POWs lost their lives from cholera, malaria, dysentery, and starvation.
Later known as the Death Railway, the line included an infamous bridge crossing the Kwai River that became famous all over the world when it was featured in the movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in 1957.
There are numerous attractions in this large province. Here are some of them.
Bridge over the River Kwai & Death Railway
The Bridge over the River Kwai is part of the infamous Death Railway, built during World War II from 1942 to 1943. The Bridge, together with the Death Railway, is now regarded as the significant symbol of peace and also the symbol of Kanchanaburi province. The bridge was built by the prisoners of war under the supervision of Japanese Army. It was part of a strategic railway route to send supplies to Burma. It was 415 kilometers long and passed through the Three Pagoda Pass in Sangkhla Buri District, the northern most part of Kanchanaburi province.
After the war, the Thai government bought the railway from Britain for 1.25 million pounds sterling in October 1946. The middle section of the bridge, destroyed by Allied bombers towards the end of the war, was rebuilt, and the western end of the bridge, originally wooden, was replaced with a steel structure. When completed in 1952, the whole bridge measured 322.90 metres long.
The River Kwai Bridge Week is held annually during late November to early December. It features a remembrance ceremony held at the Allied War Cemetery, light and sound presentations with a battle scene with simulated effects such as explosions, bomber planes, and trains running through fire. The event also includes folk performances and other entertainments.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (known locally as Don Rak War Cemetery) is the main prisoner of war (POW) cemetery associated with victims of the Burma Railway. It contains the remains of 6,982 Allied POWs who died during the construction. Each year thousands of family members and relatives of these POWs come to visit this war cemetery.
Chong Kai War Cemetery
This war cemetery is smaller than the one at Don Rak, located near Kanchanaburi Pier. A former site of a large POW camp, it contains the remains of 1,740 Allied POWs who were mostly British soldiers.
The JEATH War Museum
The name JEATH is derived from countries engaged in the WWII death railway construction: Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland. This small museum displays photographs and illustrations narrating the living condition of prisoners of war during that cruel time. The museum building itself was turned from the detention hut used during that period.
Ban Kao National Museum
This is the first prehistoric site museum in Thailand where human skeletons and artefacts such as stone axes, ornaments and pottery were unearthed in 1963. The museum is open daily during 9.00 a.m. – 4.30 p.m.
SAI YOK DISTRICT
Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum
Established by the Australian Government in 1998, it houses a mini-theatre and collection of data, photographs, equipment and utensils used during the construction of the Death Railway. There is a nature trail leading to Hellfire Pass which was part of the Death Railway where a stony mountain was drilled manually by the POWs to serve as a rail bed, traces of which still remain to be seen.
The pass in the Tenasserim Hills was a particularly difficult section of the railway line, as it was the largest rock cutting on the railway, measuring 11 m. high and 17 m. wide. Therefore, it is noted for the harsh conditions and heavy loss of life suffered by its labourers during construction. It is called Hellfire Pass because the sight of emaciated prisoners working at night by torchlight was said to resemble a scene from Hell.
Prasat Mueang Sing Historical Park
This ancient structure is one of the important evidences of the Khmer Empire in Thailand. Historians estimated that Prasat Mueang Sing, as well as its surrounding architectures, was built during the 13th and 14th centuries as a religious temple of Khmer Kingdom. The place was later abandoned until the reign of King Rama I when the area of Mueang Sing had become one of border cities of Kanchanaburi. During the excavations, historians found precious artifacts, antiques, pottery and religious ornaments dating back to over 2,000 years.
Sai Yok Noi Waterfall
Sai Yok Noi Waterfall is a well-known waterfall with high limestone cliffs. The upstream falls from the mountain and flows along the limestone cliffs about 15-meter high, spreading over the sloping ground in the area. The waterfall has some large pools for swimming.
THONG PHA PHUM DISTRICT
Vajiralongkorn Dam is one of major dams in Thailand. It is a rockfill dam made of reinforced concrete with 92 metre height and 10 metre width, and stretches 1,019 metres across the Kwai Noi River. Visitors can take a boat ride to enjoy beautiful views of the lake.
Pilok is a former location of tin and wolfram mines on the Thai – Burmese border. Ban I-tong, its main village, has become a tourist destination for its rustic atmosphere and the fog which regularly rolls in over the surrounding hills. The site of the abandoned Pilok Mine, with its old buildings and machinery, is open to the public. Apart from Wat Mueang Pilok temple on a hill overlooking the village, there are some picturesque waterfalls nearby.
Hin Dat Hot Spring
Hin Dat Hot Spring is a well of natural hot water of 45 – 55 degrees Celsius discovered by Japanese troops during WWII and later two pools were built for bathing. It is believed that the water from this hot spring has a healing property for various ailments such as beriberi and rheumatism.
Pha Tat Waterfall
Pha Tat Waterfall is a large single level waterfall, with the water flowing downward from a wide and high cliff. With quiet and lush surroundings, it is a great place for relaxation.
SANGKHLA BURI DISTRICT
The Mon Tribal Village is a small ethnic village at the northern end of the Vajiralongkorn Dam. The Mon people of this village still maintain a rural way of life.
The highlight there is the longest wooden bridge in Thailand, the famous Mon bridge, measuring over 400 metres long. It connects the Mon Tribal Village with Sangkhla Buri town.
Wat Wang Wiwekaram
This is the most important and most revered Buddhist temple in Sangkhla Buri district, where Thai and Mon people live together peacefully. The temple was built to replace the previous one which is now underwater. Wat Wang Wiwekaram is the home of Luangpho Uttama, a deceased monk much revered by the Thais and Mons, including the Karens and the Burmese living in the region. The temple comprises several buildings in a mix of Thai and Burmese styles, as well as a large golden Indian style chedi (Buddhist stupa).
Three Pagodas Pass
The Three Pagodas Pass is located on the border between Thailand and Burma. The pass is named after the three white chedis that were built to commemorate battles fought between Burmese and Siamese armies during the Ayutthaya era. It is also the site of an active border market.
SI SAWAT DISTRICT
This waterfall, situated on the Kwai Yai riverside, flows down from the top of the mountains and a 2,100-metre-high cliff. It consists of 7 levels each of which has a swimming pond. The Erawan nature study route is also provided with a distance of 1,060 metres.
Huai Mae Khamin Waterfall
Huai Mae Khamin is one of the most beautiful waterfalls of Thailand because of its natural beauty. The stream is flowing down step by step from limestone cascade. This seven-tier waterfall, surrounded by lush forest and mountain range, is situated on the east of Sri Nakarin Dam national park.
Srinakarin Dam National Park
This famous national park covers 3 districts comprising Si Sawat, Saiyok and Thong Pha Phum districts with an area of 1,532 sq. kms. The dam offers panoramic views of the lake surrounded by green mountains. Thus it is a popular place to enjoy a relaxing holiday and boat trip.
Wat Tham Suea (Tha Muang District)
This hilltop temple features several buildings in various architectural styles as well as a large seated golden Buddha image on top of the hill. From the top visitors have great views of the surrounding rural area and the mountains in the distance. The top can be reached by climbing a steep stairway or using a cable car. Located next to the temple is Wat Tham Khao Noi, featuring a multi storied Chinese style pagoda.