Kanchanaburi City is 150 km west of Bangkok on an excellent, scenic highway. The way to Kanchanaburi also leads pass the historic town of Nakorn Pathom with the world's highest Buddhist monument. Kanchanaburi city, itself a popular resort town, is on the bank of the picturesque Mae Klong River at the meeting point of its two tributaries - Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai rivers. The city also serves, as overnight base for tourists to visit the province's many attractions, beside that bridge on the River Kwai.
There are spectacular waterfalls, river cruises and jungle tours for the nature lovers. For the foot-loose travelers, there is the thrilling 200 km drive through newly opened jungle areas to the Thai Myanmar border to visit ethnic Mon and Karen settlements. For the sporting types, Kanchanaburi provides the best freshwater fishing grounds in remote jungle backwater and streams. For the outdoor type, rafting in the wild river. And, for the golfers, more than a score of 18-hole world standard courses in pastoral countryside.
The jungle, the rugged terrain, and wild rivers now combine to make Kanchanaburi the most rewarding tourist destination for nature lovers and sportsmen. A large jungle area of the province has been declared national wildlife sanctuary, called Thungyai National Park, which remains the most pristine area in the whole country. The sanctuary was recently listed as a world natural heritage by the United Nations.
If one chooses to stay overnight out in the wild, there are the float bungalows on rafts moored off the River Kwai bank in remote jungle areas. A night on a float hotel is an unforgettable experience. By nightfall, hushed stillness settles over the jungle, with only occasional night bird calls.
The 1950's world box-office hit movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai" put Kanchanaburi, a hitherto sleepy town 150 km west of Bangkok, on the world map. Half a century ago, the bridge was a link in the infamous 415 km Death Railway joining Thailand with Burma, built by the Imperial Japanese Army in WWII, employing Allied prisoners of war and forced-labor Asian coolies. Over 80,000 laborers and 13,000 Allied POW's and thousands of Japanese soldiers lost their lives in the odyssey.
The bridge was publicized worldwide in the film starring moviedom's great names, ironically from the nationalities involved in the saga: American William Holden, British Sir Alec Guinness and Japanese Sessue Hayakawa. After the film hit the screens around the world, tourists started their exodus to Kanchanaburi to see the bridge.
Now, Kanchanaburi is a prosperous province with endless sugar cane plantations covering her vast plain and rich mines in the bills. The rugged countryside, the wild jungles and mountain rivers are still there. However, a road system has succeeded in making most areas accessible, which gives rise to a growing number of jungle resorts for nature-lovers.
The Bridge Over the River Kwai
The bridge was constructed with dismantled steel spans brought over from Java. Two of the original spans, with round shape, were knocked down by Allied bombings to disrupt the death railway operation. The fallen round spans were then replaced with angular spans as appear at present. A unique war-train museum stands at the foot of the bridge. The significant exhibit is a rail convoy truck fixed with railway wheels, which bespeaks of the ingenuity of the engineers of the Japanese Imperial Army.
River Kwai Bridge Week
This is an annual event to be held by the Kanchanaburi Provincial Authority from the end of November to the beginning of December to commemorate the notorious establishment of the Death Railway and the Bridge Over the River Kwai during WWII. Activities at the fair include a historical and archaeological exhibition, folk shows, booths of governmental offices, products sale, entertainment, and a light and sound presentation, re-enacting the bombing of the bridge for local and foreign tourists.
The museum, located near the River Kwai Bridge, displays the collection of weapons, tools and utensils of the warmuseumAllied prisoners of war and Japanese soldiers during the Second World War.
The museum was built by a monk of Wat Chai Chumpol in the form of a replica of Allied POW's quarters in a Death Railway detention camp - a long bamboo hut with earthen floor, like a henhouse. Raised narrow bamboo bunks lining the two walls, serving as the living space.
JEATH is the acronym of the nations involved in the Death Railway construction, namely : Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland. On the walls are enlarged reproductions of photos taken during the railway construction and also paintings of the atrocities inflicted on the POW's. There are also collections of World war II Artifacts found in the area, including the blown-out shell of the bomb that was supposed to have downed the Bridge Over the River Kwai.
The Death Railway
The Death Railway line is still in operation. The rail line snakes through scenic and thrilling natural terrain. The whole train, hugging the mountainside at a dizzy height over raging river far below, creeps over the World War II rail line laid on creaking wood-trestles.
The Death Railway train ride runs on a regular schedule. The train leaves Kanchanaburi Station at 10.31 am., chugs over the Bridge on the River Kwai at 10.35am., or thereabout, en route Namtok Station at 12.30pm There is a combination tour to the renowned Saiyoke Waterfall. Picnic on the train is not frowned upon.
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
On Saeng Chuto Road, opposite the railway station, it contains the remains of 6,982 prisoners of war who perished during the construction of the "Death Railway".
Kanchanaburi's rich natural beauty today, its relaxed atmosphere, riverside scenery, nearby historical sites, national parks, waterfalls and caves, often encourage tourists to extend the length of their planned stay in this unique province.