Thailand Kanchanaburi - bridge over the river kwai - backpacking around the world in 333 days
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around the world in 333 days

REPORT 15 - Jan. 2001

Thailand - Kanchanaburi
Bridge Over the River Kwai

In case there was any doubt concerning man's savagery to his fellow kind, then the Thai-Burma railway, all 415 kilometres of it, stands as a horrific testament to human brutality. Constructed under order of the Japanese by prisoners of war and enslaved locals during WWII, the Death Railway's most famous section, 'The Bridge Over the River Kwai', now acts as one of Thailand's major tourist attractions.

The bridge is located in the small town of Kanchanaburi where the majority of guesthouses back onto the infamous Kwai River. For those, like us, arriving from Bangkok the prices for both accommodation and food are give-me-the-en-suite and I-can-eat-the-whole-menu-cheap respectively. A little chubbier, we opted to rent bikes, the bridge being the target of our first excursion.

The bridge is, well, a bridge. The history behind it however is far from ordinary. As the Japanese extended their invasion of Thailand into the West of Burma, their success was hampered by the difficulty in supplying troops with provisions and so a supply line, the railway, was built. The Japanese, using POWs and civilian conscripts, adopted a brutal and barbaric work regime that saw the completion of the railway in one year rather than the three it was estimated to take. These 'speedo' tactics cost the lives of a staggering three hundred thousand men.

Apart from the bridge, Kanchanaburi's sites consist of two war museums and cemeteries. The museums, lacking any substantial government funding, have basic but interesting displays. The English is at times misplaced and a little macabre but it does stop those who are floundering from stalling altogether. One caption for example, commenting on the detonation of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, states that, "the city was destroyed in a jiffy". The main cemetery though, with its rows of gravestones cannot fail to touch upon the coldest of hearts. The ages of the dead are mind numbingly young; the average could barely be 25.

Having exhausted Kanchanaburi's city centre sights - and ourselves in peddling there - we opted to take a tour to 'Hellfire Pass'. The tour (you pay, they drive you places) included an hour-long elephant ride. So it was that we found ourselves seated on top of 'Daha', our means of mobility for the next hour. Plodding our way through the jungle the novelty soon wore off, elephants aren't half slow! Gimmicky as it seems, elephant riding is big business in Thailand and nearly every tourist tries it out at some stage of their trip. Our elephant delivered us to the stunning Pha That waterfall, where we were happy to cool off with a refreshing dip and change transport back to the four wheeled variety.

Eventually we reached 'Hellfire Pass'. The pass is the most infamous in a series of cuttings along the Death Railway's course, and was so named because of the gaunt shadows cast by torch light as the workers dug through the night. Hellfire Pass took just 12 weeks to complete, the tools available were staggeringly basic; one reason why 70% of the cuttings workforce were dead by the time the job was done. Walking between the solid walls was strangely eerie. A drill head sticking out of the rock was a vivid reminder that this wasn't an ancient ruin but one horrifically young.

Back in Kanchanaburi relaxing by the riverbanks, we passed many-a-day in idle bliss, swimming a little uneasily in the river - the bridge upstream a vivid reminder of its past - we soaked up the stunning beauty of the region. For those who stay longer than the half hour it takes to walk the Kwai bridges tracks, a peace and tranquillity so far removed from the horrors that have made this small town infamous await discovery.

Jon & liz
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Bridge over the River Kwai

Allied War Cemetary

Hellfire Pass

Elephant Trekking

Pha That Waterfall

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The Beginning 14 - THAILAND Bangkok
01 - INDIA Delhi 15 - THAILAND Bridge Over the River Kwai
02 - INDIA Agra Taj Mahal 16 - THAILAND Chang Mai - The Long Necks
03 - INDIA Jaipur 17 - AUSTRALIA Kakadu National Park
04 - INDIA Camel Safari 18 - AUSTRALIA Ayers Rock
05 - INDIA Mount Abu 19 - AUSTRALIA Great barrier Reef
06 - INDIA Goa 20 - AUSTRALIA Fraser Island
07 - INDIA Mumbai (Bombay) 21 - AUSTRALIA Sydney
08 - HONG KONG 22 - NEW ZEALAND South Island
09 - PHILIPPINES Boracay & Panglao Island 23 - NEW ZEALAND North Island
10 - PHILIPPINES Bohol Chocolate Hills 24 - USA Hawaii Oahu Island
11 - PHILIPPINES Banaue Rice Terraces 25 - USA San Francisco
12 - MALAYSIA Kuala Lumpur 26 - USA Washington DC
13 - MALAYSIA Penang, Georgetown 27 - USA New York
  28 - UK - THE END
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