The main attraction for most visitors, and the one thing that I wanted to check out was the infamous Bridge Over The River Kwai.
Having watched the movie the week before to get a bit of background, I was eager to check it out. It turns out that the movie isn’t really an accurate representation of what went on at the Kwai Yai river camp at all.
“The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma. Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre.”
While the incidents portrayed in the film have nothing to do with reality (it was written by a Frenchman, apparently based loosely on experiences in POW camps in Indochina) such as the British Commando raid on the bridge (it was really Bombed from the air), the Lt. Col that likely would have been killed for collaboration, and the likelihood that the collaborators were really the Vichy French and of course the depiction of the Japanese as useless engineers when in reality they probably studied at the same schools of engineering as the POWs.
That said, the bridge is still an important part of war time history and the focal point of interest into the Death Railway. While the bridge was mostly destroyed during the war, it was rebuilt post war as part of Japans post war reparations, and is still in use today – though now as a tourist attraction.
Unlike the wooden bridge in the movie, this one is made of steel, and has regular train crossings for tourists to get from one side of the river to the temple on the other side. The bright colour scheme and general mood of the Thai tourists makes me wonder how much they are taught regarding the significance of the bridge to allied POWs and Thailand’s involvement in the Second World War.
Us being us, we decided to take our bicycles across – this isn’t advised, there is absolutely no easy way of getting down on the other side except carrying them across on your shoulders. If you are going to cross the bridge, do it on foot – just like the signs tell you.
Find It: The Bridge Over The River Kwai is located at Tha Makham, Kanchanaburi, Thailand next to New Zealand Road. Admission is free.