During WWII Thailand remained neutral and soon found themselves occupied by Japanese forces intent on using Thailand’s centralized location to further their control of South East Asia. In October 1942 the Japanese Military began construction on a railway line from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat Myanmar (Burma). The train was to help transport goods from Thailand into Myanmar (Burma) to facilitate their intended expansion of the war to India. The construction of the meter-gauge railway is now known as the Death Railway due to the incredibly inhumane conditions enforced on those who were compelled to build the 415km long railroad.
The Japanese started the train construction on both ends first in Burma and then in November 1942 in Thailand. The Japanese military forced 60,000 Allied POWs that they had transported in from across Asia and more than 250,000 SE Asians to construct the Railway. The conditions were absolutely horrendous and more than 100,000 people died in the construction project. The captives were forced to work on less than 600 calories a day with parasite filed water through wildlife and bug-infested jungles. Everything was built using primitive tools and at some point during the construction due to unrest and attempted escapes the POWs were forced to live and work entirely only in undergarments so they could not conceal tools and handmade weapons.
The most publicly recognized portion of the Thai-Burma railway is the Bridge over the River Kwai located in Amphoe Mueang, Kanchanaburi Province of Thailand. This is due to the 1952 novel Bridge over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle which is based on the experiences of the POW. In 1957 the novel was adapted into a movie to tell the story. However, it is accepted that this was a very watered-down version of the unbelievably horrible conditions that were inflicted on the POWs and South East Asians that were forced to build this railway.
The statists of the losses building this railroad are staggering with 90% of the Asia laborers as well as 29% British, 31% Australian, 23% American, and 19% Dutch POWs not surviving.
There was massive damage to the railway when Allied troops bombed it and at the end of the war, 111 Japanese officials were tried for war crimes with 32 of them executed for those war crimes.
Today the Railway that is under the control of the Royal Thai Railway runs 130 km. You can visit to see the history and memorials that have been created to honor those who gave their lives. It is now a very beautiful area in Thailand that has an incredibly tragic history.
Places to Visit
JEATH War Museum– The JEATH War Museum opened in 1977 and is located at the POW camp. The POW camp has now been turned into a Buddhist Wat (temple) with several structures but a portion that fronts the Kwai River has been preserved as an open-air museum that focuses on living conditions and contains a gallery of original photos, letters, and art depicting the horrors that the prisoners and laborers endured. It is incredibly moving.
River Kwai (Khwae Yai River)– You can take a Thai flat-bottom longtail boat from the JEATH War Museum on the Khwae Yai River (River Kwai) to the Bridge over the River Kwai.
The Khwae Yai River flows from the Tenasserim Hills for 380 kilometers through Sangkhla Buri, Si Sawat, and Mueang Districts of Kanchanaburi Province. It then meets with the Khwae Noi River to form the Mae Klong River. It is a very picturesque river and a great opportunity to see Thailand from a different point of view.
The Bridge over the River Kwai– The Bridge over the River Kwai is located in Amphoe Mueang, Kanchanaburi Province of Thailand can be visited and is a stop for the Thailand-Burma Railway (the Death Train). You can walk the bridge and step out viewpoints have been installed so if you get stuck on the tracks when a train is coming you can step off the tracks safely and wait for the train to pass.
Thailand-Burma Railway- If you would like you can also ride the Death Train for approx. 300 Bhat per person to the next stop Tham Krasae Railway Station about an hour away. The train is open-air and warm. It allows you the opportunity to see the Thailand countryside and will take you through the most difficult part of the railway construction at the point where the tracks had to be built along a shear cliff face elevated above the Kwai River. This affords some stunning views from the train with the Rock Wall out one window and the tracks suspended over the Kwai River on the other side.
Krasae Cave– Krasae Railway Station is the stop just after the elevated track section. This is considered the most beautiful viewing point on the Thai- Burma Railway. This is also where Krasae Cave can be reached by walking a short portion of the elevated rail tracks back. The cave was used as a POW work camp and now contains a Golden Buddha and local Thai people come to pray and make offerings.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery- Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is known locally as the Don-Rak War Cemetery sits on land that was a gift from the Thai people for the perpetual resting place of the remains of the soldiers honored there and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It contains the graves of 6,858 mostly British, Australian, and Dutch Soldiers. There are also 2 graves that contain the ashes of 300 men who had been cremated. This Cemetery contains the remains of the prisoners that had been discovered buried beside the south section of the railway. 11 Indians have been buried in Muslim Cemeteries and of the 300 Americans who died those who have been identified have been repatriated to the United States.
This is an incredibly moving and beautiful area to visit and there are amazing tours available that can be taken from Bangkok.
There are multiple videos linked here for the multiple locations that we stopped at and plenty of pics.
The photos and videos in this blog were created using the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 256GB. I love this phone and camera. Super easy to use with quick easy edits on the phone for stunningly crisp photos and videos.
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