Back in the day my dad and I used to sit around and watch old war movies, this probably partly contributes to my Naval Career (its hard to pinpoint all the reasons why I ended up here), but it so happens that “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” used to be one of my grandfather’s favorite war movies. My grandfather was stationed on Iwo Jima after they had taken over the island in World War II. He was quite a funny guy and a model citizen, and I wish I could have known him back in the day.
Recently I rifled through my movie hard drive and watched the Bridge Over the River Kwai, that was when I was submitting my leave chit to Thailand for the 3rd time in a row (third times a charm right?!) and I looked up some information in preparation for the trip. First and foremost, the bridge was never made of wood, it was always constructed of medal, its a popular misconception.
Also, when Pierre Bouelle wrote the book, he did not know exactly which river the bridge crossed so when he looked it up and saw that the Death Railway ran parallel to the River Kwai he used that as the crossing where the bridge was built. It was actually the Mae Khlung river the bridge was built across. To fix the problem, they just renamed the river. In total over 13,000 allied prisoners and 80,000 Asian laborers died building this railway. Its original purpose was to send supplies to military in Burma so they didn’t have to deal with the dangers of sending supplies by sea.
The Bridge Over the River Kwai is located right next to Kanchanaburi Thailand, and you can actually ride the train there to see the bridge. I did not feel like traveling with a group since I was enjoying my solo travel experience, so I looked up a website and decided to catch the train in Thornburi and ride it straight to the bridge and over. The train only leaves twice a day from Thornburi station so I caught a taxi there around 0730 and jumped on just in time for its 0745 departure. It only cost 100 BHT ($3) to ride the train all the way to Kanchanaburi.
The train was old and rickety but clean and quite an enjoyable ride. I took pictures of the everyday things I saw from the train. It was very interesting because the windows were wooden slates that you could put down and then it was just an open square for you to look out and see the passing countryside. The problem was there was a lot of overgrowth on the train track to Kanchanaburi so if you didn’t pay close attention, it was easy to get smacked in the face by incoming foliage. haha. It happened to me a couple of times, luckily I didn’t lose an eye.
If you just want to see the Bridge Over the River Kwai, then get off at Kachanaburi station. That is where I screwed up. I thought I was supposed to stay on the train until after we passed the bridge then get off at the next stop. Unfortunately the next stop wasn’t for another 45 minutes and then after that, another hour probably. So I ended up getting off at the end of the line. Nam Tok. I looked around there for a little, but I really wanted to see the Bridge so I started asking around for help getting back down. This is when I was taken around for the rest of the day by Thai locals, two sisters and their daughter Phillipe. What a great day it turned out to be!
They offered to take me back to Kanchanaburi and so I jumped into their suburban and we were off. What great people I met. Just down the first dusty dirt road I saw a monkey walking by. I screamed because it’s not often I just see monkeys out and about and they turned off the main road to take me into the brush and see about 50 monkeys. It was a monkey haven and we drove right into the middle of it!
So what happens when you drive into a monkey haven to feed 50 monkeys from your car? You get the food out the window fast enough to roll it up before the monkeys try to jump inside!
After that we stopped in town and one of the sisters went to get her driver’s license renewed while Phillipe and I stayed in the car. Afterward, they drove me over to the Bridge Over the River Kwai and let me get out and take pictures. Then they wanted to take me to dinner so they waited for me to finish taking pictures.
The Bridge Over the River Kwai in all her glory.
The infamous Baht Bus. You just jump in the back at any time and they drive around and drop you off, it’s very quick and it’s very easy, and half of the time you ride with other people heading your way so its very inexpensive. When in Thailand a Baht Bus is encouraged.
For dinner we actually went to a hostel for some fine Thai dining. It was delicious as it always is although I always choose sickness later for the great taste now 🙂
The driver of the day, unfortunately it was hard to pronounce their names so I’m not exactly sure what it was.
They ordered me a fish in spicy sauce to try and it was so good. The other sister is in the background of this photo.
This is the graveyard where over 7,000 thousand of the prisoner’s of war have been buried. Its just a short walk from the bridge and they offered to stop so I could get a few pictures.
I took a few minutes for reflection to all of the allied forces that were forced to work on the bridge till Death. It is a little overwhelming to think about, the horrible conditions, life at a Thai prisoner of war camp. Those must have been such hard times.
There I was, standing in the center of it all. Traveling to the bridge was exciting yet somber and a time to reflect.
If you have any questions or anything to add about your trip to the Bridge Over the River Kwai, please share below.
This article appeared first on Dynamic Soarer.
In 2008/9 I went on a tour of India and SE Asia, landing in Mumbai 3 days after the terrorist attack in November when gunmen sprayed innocent people with AK47 fire around the city, I only stopped a couple of days and headed down the coast on the overnight train to Goa for a month.
Thailand was my next country and as part of that tour I too visited Kanchanaburi in 2009 to pay my respects on behalf of my family and to learn the true story of the bridge rather than the fictional Hollywoodised film and my memory is still strong. Especially after my visit to the Death Railway Museum and Research Centre museum next to the cemteries, and offers far more than the Jeath War Museum near the bridge which is OK and still worth a visit albeit a bit disjointed and not as well laid out, I was also fortunate to meet the joint Thai owner of the 'No Name Bar' ("Get Sh*tfaced On A Shoestring") who had worked at the museum for several years before taking the bar on with an Australian and was able to relate all he'd learned during his time there over a few cold beers. My only regret is that i didn't time my visit to coincide with ANZAC Day when Australians and New Zealanders food the town out and those few reamaining veteran survivors who are able still make the annual pilgrimage. http://www.bangkokimages.com/Portals/0/SunBlogNuke/1/WindowsLiveWriter/DeathRailwayMuseumandResearchCentre_FF9B/wm1_thumb.jpg
The museum is very airy and clean, and has a dedicated research centre for those wishing to find out about their ancestor's or relation's. Much of their resources were initially started as a result of dedication and diligence of a Portuguese Army Officer who had the foresight to rescue much if not all the relevant paperwork before the Japanese could burn the evidence and was responsible for the search to find the dead to lay them to rest properly. Once they found one burial site next to the railway they were able to find other ones because the POWs buried maps and instructions of where to find others in tin boxes and cans when they had buried their comrades. In this way virtually all the dead POWs were recovered and laid to rest with appropriate religious services and full millitary honours in the immaculate cemeteries that are respectfully tended by the Thai people. Everyday I was there for a couple of weeks there were at least 2 or 3 working to keep them that way.
It's easy to lose a couple of hours in the museum in no time and also extremely moving, so much I seriously recommend anyone planning a visit to take a few tissues to stem the tears which, even now 5 years later, are welling up in me as I type this just from the memory of what I read, saw and experienced visiting surviving parts of the Death Railway, like Hellfire Pass along with all the museums in the area especially this one by the War Cemetery and again later at Changi prison Museum in Singapore which I also highly recommend and I found even more moving.
I don't know if you were aware, but the bridge was actually originally built by the British and located in Singapore before being meticulously taken down, numbered and catalogued before being transported to be rebuilt by a combination of labourers from India, Malaya, Chinese Malayans and other SE Asian countries along with the POWs, the POws consisted of Brits, ANZACs, British Commonwealth country's forces and a few hundred Americans, but by several times greater than the POWs death numbers, the greatest fatalities were the civillian labourers, the vast majority of those were Chinese, who the Japanese were at war with before Pearl Harbour and were despicably taught and led to regard as subhuman. They were treated even worse than the POWs by the largely Korean conscript guards. True numbers are impossible as many thousands were never recovered from the jungle, but their estimated numbers are recorded in the museum and I wonder if you saw the mass memorial to them on the far side of the bridge just off the track on the left which is easily missed... I only came across it by accident when I walked over.
The bridge was never attacked by guerilla type ground forces led by an American as per the film, but attacked from the air many times, but to little effect as it was always quickly repaired and kept open under the oversight of the very competent Japanese Army's railway engineering officers who had actually visited Britain before the war to study our railways. The scars of the attacks can still be seen in the steel and stonework.
Your comment gave me goosebumps as I read it (I still have them). I did know that the bridge was taken down piece by piece then transported and rebuilt. Standing in the cemetery looking around at all of the graves and thinking about all of the suffering the POWs had gone through to get to that point was very hard for me. But there is some peace for us that they were able to find most of them and lay them to rest with military honors as you said.
Funny story I actually happened to be underway doing an exercise off the coast of Australia last year with the Australian Navy during ANZAC day and at 0530 in the morning we had a ceremony on the flight deck as the sun was rising in commemoration. Sailors from both navies attended and I felt honored to gain a little insight. Throughout the day they came on the announcement system and shared facts and held moments of silence.
It means a lot to me that I was able to visit that area.