The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Thailand’s Railway of Death: 250 tough miles to Burma on the River Kwai

Written By: herbrunbridge - Feb• 03•11

A friendly Thai engineer welcomes you to the Death Railway

The Thailand-Burma railway, built from June 1942 through October, 1943, spanned a distance of 250 miles, running from Nong Pladuk, Thailand to Thanbuyuzayat, Burma. A number of books, both fact and fiction, have been written on this legendary and ill-fated railway, built on the backs and contributing to the deaths of thousands of slave laborers courtesy the Japanese occupying forces. The best-known of these books is Pierre Boulle’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. Over 100,000 involuntary Asian workers died alongside more than 16,000 Allied prisoners during the construction of this line. You can visit their cemeteries today near the banks of the Kwai. 

Whether you take a formal tour to the River Kwai and Kanchanaburi or visit there on your own, there are three recommended things that we at WoWasis think you should consider doing to discover more about the death railway. The Death Railway in Kanchanaburi (see address below) runs over some of the old Japanese rail bed. You can take the train a few dozen kilometers up the line in the morning, then ride back in the afternoon. It’s rickety, jostling, old-fashioned, and frankly a ton of fun, passing over wooden trestles, through gorges, over and around the river. It’s a bit more sobering when one reflects on the fate of the men that were killed building the original rail line. 

Also in Kanchanaburi, you have an opportunity to visit the Death War Museum, replete with photos, dioramas, and artifacts relating to the railway. While downstairs is devoted to the building of the railway, upstairs is dedicated to the eventual triumph of the Allied forces, helped immeasurably by Thai partisans. Of particular interest is Gallery 2, “Design and Construction,” and Gallery 4, “Life in the Camps,” 

The trestle has been upgraded, but the Death Railway's roadbed is still over 60 years old

Across the road from the Death Railway Museum is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Here lie the remains of thousands of soldiers who died during the railway’s construction, under tremendous hardship. The inscriptions on many of the memorial plaques are sobering. 

Kanchanaburi, 128 km west of Bangkok, is less than a day’s drive from the capital, and you can, like we did here at WoWasis, take a four day boat tour of the river that includes the historical sites associated with the railway, a ride on the Death Railway, and visits to some other interesting sites in the area. 

Death Railway
Train Travel Tour Co.,Lltd.
378 Tharua, Thamaka
Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Tel: (034) 561-052 

Death War Museum (formerly Thailand-Burma Railway Centre)73 Jaokunnen Road, Ban Nua
Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Tel: (034) 512-721
Open 9am – 5pm, daily

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