The provincial town of Kanchanaburi is located some 130km west of Bangkok and is home to some of the Thailand’s most moving and historic landmarks. Serving as the capital of the Kingdom’s third largest province, the town is nestled between the Mae Klong river’s two major tributaries, the Khwae Noi and the Khwae Yai.
…Spanning the banks of the River Khwae is the Bridge on the River Kwai.
Sitting at the foot of the Three Pagodas Pass – a bustling trade route with neighbouring Burma during periods of calm and at other times a route for marauding invaders with scores to settle – the town is home to over 50,000 locals and an entry point for visitors keen to explore the wild, scenic beauty of the national park.
Yet it is the river and a innocuous looking bridge that perhaps serves as the biggest draw for tourists visiting the province. Spanning the banks of the River Khwae is the Bridge on the River Kwai. Immortalized by Pierre Boulle in the novel of the same name and then further dramatized in a 1957 movie directed by David Lean and staring hollywood giants William Holden and Alec Guinness, the bridge was the final section of the infamous Burma Railway.
The Death railway – as it became known due to the large numbers of allied forces that lost their lives at the hands of the Japanese occupiers during its construction – was nothing short of an engineering masterpiece, running 415km through some of the most unwelcoming terrain that can be imagined.
Indeed, very little is left to the imagination for modern visitors seeking out an insight into the life of an allied prisoner of war. The JEATH war museum – an acronym for the servicemen of the countries involved in the events of the time, Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland – has been built in the form of an allied prisoner of war camp, complete with cramped bamboo bunks. It offers a sometimes harrowing pictorial account of the day-to-day life – and death – endured by the camps inhabitants.
Trains continue to run across the bridge – which was heavily bombed during the war but reconstructed with the curved spans of the original structure still visible in the new design. And even a short – and at times precarious – journey along the rails from Kanchanaburi to the Nam Tok railway station gives a vivid picture of the immense physical and mental strains that were placed on those involved in the railway’s construction.
Yet the town and it’s surrounds is not all about history.
Kanchanaburi is home to some of Thailand’s most stunning caves and dramatic waterfalls, none more so than the Erawan falls and Pra That Cave, both situated amongst the dense jungle that makes up the Erawan National Park. Some 65km out of Kanchanaburi town, the 7-tiered Erawan falls are rated as one of Asia’s finest, while the Pra That cave provides some wonderful examples of stalactite and stalagmite rock formations. Both can easily be taken in on a day trip or as part of a longer stay at one of the numerous local resorts.
A visit to Kanchanaburi would not be complete without a visit to Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua – the Tiger Temple, where monks have hand reared and continue to tend to some 90 tigers and cubs. The more daring of visitor can get up close and personal with some of the most beautiful cats on the planet, and many take the opportunity to have the moment captured on film.