Bridge on the River Kwai and the Hellfire Pass

We took our first local train journey in Thailand from Thonburi station in Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, the site of the famous Bridge.

Train pulling in to Thonburi Station. There was no first or second class or A/C coaches, so we bundled in with everyone else on the bench seats and kept the windows open!

Arrived in Kanchanaburi late morning and had a long hot (34C) walk with backpacks to our guest house. It was a wrench to walk back out into the blazing heat, but later we marched off to the Death Railway Museum and War Cemetery. We seem to have developed a bit of a World War II theme for parts our Asian travels.
As previously, we found our introduction to the events on the Death Railway moving and interesting. Apparently the famous 1958, David Lean film about the bridge was not all that realistic and life and death during the building of the railway was unremittingly awful – definitely no singing or whistling!

War cemetery for Commonwealth and Dutch prisoners of war at Kanchanaburi
We saw this very poignant bronze statue taken from an original sketch by a prisoner of war in the Museum.

Later that afternoon we got a tuk-tuk out to the Kwae Yai (River Kwai) Bridge in time to watch a train coming over. We were surprised by how touristy the area round the Bridge was, with many food and souvenir stalls and people of all nationalities walking along the tracks taking pictures.

The actual bridge was always a concrete and steel structure instead of the wooden bridge that was depicted in the film
Train coming over the bridge
Trying to take a moment to reflect, among the crowds of tourists as the sun goes down

Next morning we jumped on an early local bus from Kanchanaburi, out past the village of Nam Tok to the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre, only 45 miles from the Myanmar (Burma) border. Here we had an opportunity to walk along the most tortuous part of the Death Railway where thousands of British, Australian and Dutch Prisoners of War, along with tens of thousands of South East Asian conscripts lost their lives. In this section the prisoners had to hack cuttings out of solid rock using only hammers, spikes and shovels. In other areas they needed to build up to the level of the track using wood cut from the forest. We learned that they received very little food and often worked 20 hours a day. Diseases such as malaria, beri-beri and cholera were rife, and in their malnourished and weakened state the men had little resistance. As a tiny tribute to their suffering, we walked the whole 5km of the memorial route in the fierce, middle of the day sunshine.

Paul walking in the Hellfire Pass. In some places you can see the old sleepers, rails and other old bits of machinery and equipment left over from the original building of the railway more than 75 years ago!
One of the deep cuttings – the deepest is around 7 metres. You can only imagine the backbreaking work needed to cut and clear the rock by hand in the heat. In addition the dry season was apparently the easiest, with working and living in the jungle during the monsoon being far more difficult, dangerous and unhealthy!

The old track stretching into the distance
That night we stayed in a nice homestay in the nearby village of Nam Tok

The next day we took the train back to Bangkok and met another great travelling companion – Akeem was in Thailand to attend a friend’s wedding but had decided to take a few days out to visit the National Parks in the west of the country. We enjoyed his company so much, the 6 hour journey went by quickly. We missed the opportunity to get a picture, but if we are lucky our paths may cross again in Penang!

The railway between Nam Tok and Kanchanaburi follows the same route as the original Death Railway. In places the train still passes over wooden supports along the steep river bank. Although presumably these have been renewed since World War 11, it still felt a little hairy!


We had a couple of spare hours in Bangkok to grab a meal before catching a plane out to the beaches and islands of southern Thailand.

Last meal in Bangkok

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