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Bridge over the River Kwai

Bridge over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Kanchanaburi, nestled along the Myanmar border, boasts the iconic Bridge River Kwai, a relic of World War II history. Constructed by Japan, the meter-gauge railway stretches from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat, Burma, traversing the scenic Three Pagodas Pass across a 250-mile route, now famously known as the Death Railway.

Originally intended to facilitate daily cargo transport to India in support of Japan’s war efforts, the railway’s construction utilized POWs and Asian forced laborers enduring harsh conditions. Beginning in October 1942, the year-long endeavor claimed thousands of lives due to the challenging terrain, with an estimated casualty for every sleeper laid along the track.

The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, alongside the Chungkai Cemetery, serves as the final resting place for approximately 7,000 and 2,000 POWs, respectively, who sacrificed their lives during the railway’s construction. In 1944, Allied Forces targeted the iron bridge, destroying three sections. Today, the reconstructed Bridge River Kwai, with two central spans rebuilt, stands as a poignant reminder of the past, with original parts showcased in the War Museum.

Immortalized in films and literature, notably David Lean’s portrayal, the Bridge River Kwai has become a global attraction. Converted into a pedestrian walkway with side platforms, visitors can now traverse the bridge on foot, enjoying the breathtaking scenery of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Annually, the River Kwai Bridge Festival commemorates the Allied bombing on November 28, 1944, featuring a spectacular light and sound show.

For travelers heading to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok, regular buses depart from the Southern Bus Terminal, offering a three-hour journey. Train services from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi originate from Bangkok Noi Railway Station, while those with vehicles can use the newly constructed expressway from Pinklao. Special weekend trains depart from Bangkok on Saturdays and Sundays, providing tourists with a unique journey through historical landmarks and scenic landscapes.

To explore Kanchanaburi and its surroundings, hiring a tricycle, motorcycle, or jeep is recommended. However, tourists should verify rates and conditions at the Tourism Authority of Thailand office in Kanchanaburi to ensure a fair deal and an enjoyable stay.

Photo credit: Alexi van Damme

When British POWs build a vital railway bridge in enemy-occupied Burma, Allied commandos are assigned to destroy it in David Lean’s epic World War II adventure THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. Spectacularly produced, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI captured the imagination of the public and won seven 1957 Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Alec Guinness), and Best Director. Even its theme song, an old WWII whistling tune, the Colonel Bogey March, became a massive hit. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI continues today as one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of all time.

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