Sunday, 22 November 2009

Kanchanaburi Day Trip – Bridge on the River Kwai -- Must See Museums

In my last post on The Bridge on the River Kwai, I had some fun busting some myths about The Bridge. Here are a few more facts about it, and a list of the Top Five things to see and do in Kanchanaburi to get a better understanding of the events on the Railway:

+ The Japanese simply called it 'Bridge # 277' and, in one case, the ‘Mekuron Bridge’ (bastardisation of Mae Khlong).

+ The 378-metre long bridge is not wooden -- it is the only one of 688 POW-made bridges made of cement and steel in Thailand (there were also a few in Burma).

+ It was made from materials purloined from Java Railways, Indonesia, while the rails came from the British-built Federated Malay States Railways.

+ The use of Azon bombs against the Death Railway bridges was one of the first instances of guided bombs in warfare. Within three months, 23 bridges along the line were taken out.

+ The Imperial Japanese Army transported some 220,000 tons of military supplies between December 1943 and August 1945 up the POW-built line into Burma. The line was also instrumental in their withdrawal from Burma.

WW2-related attractions in Kanchanaburi include:

The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery: 7000 Allies rest in peace here along Sanggchuto Road. The most visited of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s 25,000 sites worldwide.

The Chung Kai cemetery: 1384 British rest in peace in this original cemetery not far from the main one.

The Thai-Burma Railway Centre: Museum and research centre. A work of passion by Aussie founder Rod Beattie. The definitive account of the whole Death Railway experience, plus invaluable resources for relatives of POWs.

The JEATH Memorial: An acronym for Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland, soldiers of which helped construct the infamous Death Railway. Built by the chief abbot of Wat Chaichumpol, this monk-run museum is a good repository of photos and artefacts.

The World War II Museum: Situated west of the bridge. Houses some Japanese trains, and life-like reconstructions of camp life.

Personally, I think the Thai Burma Railway Centre is the best-curated and presents the sad saga best. I recommend people to stay at least overnight in Kanchanaburi -- it's a fun town, with tons of restaurants, cafes, and range of hotels. You're not really doing it justice if you just do a day trip from Bangkok then return. While in the area, check out the Tiger Temple and Erawan Falls, but of course you should also about 80 kilometres north to experience the horrors of Hellfire Pass, which I'll blog about another time.

Question: Do you think the Japanese were justified in their usage of PoWs to build the Railway?

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