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Experiences in Asia

The Bridge Over the River Kwai

THAILAND | Tuesday, 3 January 2006 | Views [3784] | Comments [4]

The bridge over the river Kwai

The bridge over the river Kwai

A happy 2006 to you all. There are new pictures uploaded to the Thailand file...

You know, I wonder why I do it to myself. With a banging hangover thanks to new year's, zero hours sleep for the same reason, I bode farewell to my friends on Pha-Ngan and got the noon ferry back to the mainland. I was headed all the way to Kanchanaburi, home of the infamous river kwai bridge. The trip was nothing short of a nightmare! Of course, once on the ferry, the rolling waves coupled with seventy or so drunken holiday makers made for one of the biggest synchronised throw up sessions in recent history. No sooner had the hull cleared the first wave, were people leaning over the side, throwing up. There must have been about 15 people in all, which made for some entertaining synchronised spewing. I managed to hold mine down, but only just. After four hours of that hell, we landed at Surat Thani, to be told that I had to wait for 2 hours for the overnight bus to Bangkok. Grumbling to myself, I found a quiet corner out of the sun, kicked my pack a few times to get rid of some lumps, and crashed.

The bus was uneventful, and I even got some leg room, which is really novel. It was supposed to be 12 hours, getting us into Bangkok for 5.30am. Imagine our suprise then, when at 3.15am, the lights were switched on, and the jolly woman on the tannoy declared that we were in the capital. What the bejesus was I supposed to do at this time? I had already decided to catch the 9.30am bus to Kanchanaburi, so it looked as if I had 6 hours milling around in the darkness of Bangkok. It wasent all bad though. I befriended some Israelis who decided to take me in as one of their own and feed me some traditional Israeli fare at an Israeli restaurant. These guys were really cool, and we spent a few hours eating some sort of pastry dish, which they promised me was, "just like back in Haifa", and swopping stories about where we had been and what we had been up to.

And so to 9.30am, and god knows without how many hours sleep, I boarded the mini-van for Kanchanaburi. The trip was only two hours, and thankfully I fell sound asleep. We got into town at midday, and after finding a great little guesthouse (the woman at the front desk immidiately directing me to the hot showers), I freshened up and crashed for the rest of the day.

And so to today, and sightseeing. Kan. is another one of those places which is famous for all the wrong reasons. These are  namely the death railway, the river kwai and it's bridge, the cemetary with hundreds and hundreds of English, Dutch, and amoungst others, Chinese graves, and a film starring Obi-Wan Kinobi, (which was being shown on the DVD player as I got into my guesthouse).

I thought I would get some information under my belt before I visited the bridge, and so I rented a bike and headed over to the fabulous Death Railway Museum. Created by a English fellow, this museum is so professionally laid out, with informative explanations as to why and where, etc. For instance, I found out that the Japanese line for the war in Asia was to, "unite all of Asia, and to ensure that Asia became the rulers of their own destiny".  Also, I found out that Thailand actually declared war against America and Britain, siding with the Japanese. The museum was made with some of the wooden rafters from the bridge, and it had many artifacts from the prison camps, as well as testimonies from Allied prisoners, Thai people, Indian people and Japanese guards. One Japanese guard (through DVD) explained the innacuracies with the film, "Bridge over the river Kwai", and real life. In the film, the bridge could only be completed with Allied expertise. The Japanese fellow, now well ino his 80s explains that this couldn't be further from the truth, the Japanese technicians being more than capable of designing a bridge that British technicians said was near impossible years before.

After getting clued up, I headed to the War Memorial Cemetary, which is a very sombre affair. There are countless marked and unmarked graves, marking the final resting place of Allied soldiers. The one thing which struck me was the age of the individual soldiers. The majority of them, as far as I could see from reading their tablets, were in thier early 20s, younger than me. I found a few in their 30s, but none older than this. It was quite a sobering thought.

After stopping here and taking stock, I got back on my bike and headed to the Kwai river bridge. Another interesting fact about the bridge is that it is STILL in use today, and three times a week a cargo train passes over the steel structure, on it's way to the border with Myanmar. I think the bridge really is living history. It is largely the same as it was back then, apart from one section that had to be rebuilt when bombed by the allies. The pillars holding the bridge up still bear the scars on bombing (check the photo).

After strolling the length of the bridge a few times, carefully avoiding the gaping holes either side of the small steel walkway inside the tracks, I made my way back home for some hammock time.

Japan T- 4 days..... 

Tags: Adventures

Comments

1

Love this bridge picture Dan. I am really enjoying reading your tales. Have you ever thought about being a travel writer?

  Laura Blake Jan 5, 2006 8:17 PM

2

I'd love to be a travel writer, but for the unguaranteed paycheck at the end of the month, and trying to get to places that Bryson, Palin et.al haven't already been to! Thanks for the encouragement though............

  dan_in_japan Jan 5, 2006 11:36 PM

3

Wow!I stumbled across your blog by accident, your description of Kanchanaburi was amazing.i went in 2004 with my family and couldn't believe the impact it had on my life. the war cemetary, the bridge, hellfire pass and the museum above it were all so well presented and held such emotive power. did you see the sculpture of WAR near the bridge? they were just randomly placed letters, but i sat for hours watching at dusk, while local children climbed all over them playing happily. after spending days staring at death and sorrow where silence takes over, seeing these smiling, lauging children using the WAR testiment as a jungle gym was wonderful. hopefully you experienced that too-if not, i highly recommend waiting around the bridge near dusk to see it if you're ever in Kanchanaburi again.
keep travelling
Holl

  Holly Feb 24, 2007 12:07 PM

4

I am doing research about the bridge and accidentally stumbled upon a jpeg pic of you sitting on the bridge and sharing your experiences. My dad was with the Dutch army during World war II, was captured in Java and sent to Burma which for three years he was involved constructing the bridge. About 28% of the prisoners died but he miraculously survived and lived to tell bits and pieces of his experiences there. I had a good opportunity to visit the bridge in 2004. The presence of standing on the bridge was very emotional for me as I try to understand how such a horrifying moment in history had happened. I'm currently in progress of writing a book about my dad and mum about their journeys together after the war. She too was also a prisoner of war in Indonesia. Thanks for sharing your experiences. All the best!

  Abraham Boyd Jun 21, 2012 12:28 PM

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