Kanchanaburi in the north-west of Thailand is where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai Rivers converge into the Mae Klong River. It is the third largest of Thailand's 76 provinces and was established by King Rama I as a first line of defence against the Burmese who once might have used the old invasion route through the Three Pagodas Pass on the Thailand-Burma border.
It is also where, in 1942, under Japanese control, the famous Burma Railway was built by hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war and conscripted Asian labourers. It became known as the Death Railway because of the thousands of lives it claimed. The story was immortalised in Pierre Boulle's novel, Bridge Over the River Kwai, and David Lean's film, Bridge on the River Kwai.
The region spreads across the sparsely inhabited mountains to the border with Burma, and being on the edge of a mountain range is much cooler than other provinces of central Thailand. Kanchanaburi is a buzzy town, and the ideal place to base yourself while you explore the surrounding jungles, villages and rivers.
A memorial and two museums are located there the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum and the JEATH War Museum, dedicated to the bridge and the Death Railway. The city is also home to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
The cemetery is the final resting place for so many World War II soldiers. About 2800 perished at the hands of the Japanese when they were making the Burma Railway, and any day of the year you will see hundreds of Australians making the pilgrimage to pay homage to their deceased loved ones.
Ex Australian serviceman, Rod Beatty, was so moved by the POW story and the traumatic conditions endured by so many, he built the Thailand Burma Railway Centre across from the Allied war cemetery. It's the first stop for many Australians retracing our Diggers' last steps.
The original track ran for 415 gruelling kilometres. Today the remaining 130 kilometres end at Nam Tok, but at Hellfire Pass Memorial Park, visitors can walk a trail following the railway's original alignment.
The Australian Government, in cooperation with the Kingdom of Thailand, funds the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum and Park. It certainly reinforces to all those who visit just how harsh conditions were.
Each year in late November/early December the River Kwai Bridge Festival is held in the form of a sound and light show. It brings to mind the history of the Death Railway and the World War II bombardments.
The Japanese used to resupply the front end of the production line by boats and barges along the river. These days, you can paddle along at a leisurely pace and pass people living in houses on the riverbanks and maybe visit one of the floating restaurants or hotels. At night, jungle rafts will give you a taste of Thailand's traditional river life.
In stark contrast to its war history, the River Kwai is now also a place of fun and its people are warm and friendly, but even if you wanted to, it would not be possible to forget the misery and hardships our POWs experienced some 66 years ago.
Kanchanaburi Province, 130km north-west of Bangkok in Thailand.
Intrepid Travel has 13-day Thailand Hike, Bike and Raft tours out of Bangkok. All accommodation, transport and most meals are included. They start at $1448 per person twin share.
Thai Airways International has flights to Bangkok.
- Perth $1117
- Melbourne $1279
- Sydney $1290
- Brisbane $1292
Valid until November 20, 2008 and again between January 26 and March 31, 2009. Conditions apply.
Prices correct at October 23, 2008.
For further information
Ph: 1300 364 512
Thai Airways International
Ph: 1300 651 960
It is recommended travellers to Thailand see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information visit www.welltogo.com.au.
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