Today in Kanchanaburi we had a day of history and remembrance. It started off with a Tuk Tuk ride down into the centre of Kanchanaburi where our first stop had to be the famous River Kwai Bridge – part of the Death Railway linking Thailand to Myanmar (Burma). The bridge was full of tourists (us included) taking pictures although we were the only ones whistling the famous tune!! This part of the railway line is still used so when a train comes along you have to step off the tracks into little spaces that have been made along the bridge but there aren’t many trains on a daily basis in this area and they go quite slow along here so you have plenty of time to move.
Views from the bridge are fantastic if you look in any direction apart from at the start of the bridge back to the town which is filled with various cheap and tatty street vendors etc selling there wares.
We then visited the JEATH Museum (Japanese, English, American, Australian, Thai, Holland – the main nationalities involved in the construction of the railway albeit most of these were POW’s) – we didn’t spend a lot of time at this museum as it was fairly basic although at one side to part of the museum that had figures / statues and narrative on Hitler, Mussolini, and some Japanese Generals etc and on the other side they had Churchill, Stalin, Truman, General MacArthur none of which looked much like the original people. There is another JEATH museum called JEATH War Museum which is a reconstruction of the POW’s thatched detention huts with cramped elevated bamboo bunks which may have been better but we hadn’t realised that they were two different museums.
We then made our way to the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre which gives you the history of the Railway during WWII which was really informative and interesting. The Japanese actually brought the bridge from Java and got the POW’s to reconstruct / reassemble it over the Kwae Yai River.
After this we wandered into the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (Don Rak) where there are the remains of 6982 POW’s who died during the construction of the Death Railway (over 100,000 men lost their lives in total). This cemetery contains mostly British (and the commonwealth) Australian, and Dutch (most of the Americans bodies were repatriated) and the cemetery and graves were beautifully maintained – the atmosphere was one of serene calm. We took the time to wander to each corner of the cemetery as whilst it may seem silly we felt some of the graves at the back probably didn’t get visited as much as the ones nearer the front and we wanted to make sure that they were not forgotten too. The vast majority of the graves had the soldiers name, battalion, and year of birth and death and age and some had a little message from family and loved ones on it.
The graves were divided into sections – Britons, Dutch, and Australian and then in a shaded corner under a large tree we came across a number of graves for unknown soldiers. A very solemn and reflective end to our trip around Kanchnaburi but one that we found very poignant and worthwhile.