During my recent trip to Thailand, one of the memorable journeys I took was a visit to the historic Bridge over the River Kwai. The original bridge was built in 1943 as part of the Burma Railway which was to aide the World War II efforts. Japanese prisoners of war, including Dutch and American soldiers as well as commonwealth citizens, were used as laborers in the construction of the railway and bridge. The conditions of this construction project were so terrible that approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died during the venture and as many as 80,000 civilians. The bridge that spans the River Kwai today has been rebuilt, but is very close to the site of the original.
Bridge Over the River Kwai
The main attraction of visiting this historic landmark is of course taking a train ride over the river. For about $3 (US), you can ride the train from Kanchanaburi to the Bridge over the River Kwai. Here is a helpful link to timetables and fares at Kanchanaburi info.com.
Long Boat Rides on the River Kwai
At the River Kwai Boat Pier you can hire a long boat to take you to different sites along the river. Long Boat Rides will give you access to a monkey school, Buddha caves and war museums and cemeteries. The long boat ride is an adventure all by itself. High speeds and hard seats make for an exhilarating ride. Make sure to hold onto your hats and sunglasses!
Kanchanaburi Monkey School
This unique school trains monkeys that have been rescued from poor conditions and rehabilitates them to good health and teaches them to harvest coconuts, dive and play basketball! The admission is only about $4 (US). The Monkey School is located 5km from Kanchanaburi.
Don Rak War Cemetery and Chonk-Kai War Cemetery
Both of these cemeteries are worth a visit. The War Cemeteries contain the remains of thousands of the casualties of the construction of the Burma Death Railway. Don Rak cemetery is located opposite the Kanchanaburi Railway station in town. Chonk-Kai War Cemetery is located 2km south of town and can be reached by longboat. The long boat ride is how I arrived to this cemetery and I enjoyed the spot along the river where this cemetery is situated. It is very quiet and picturesque. Sometimes it is important to stop and reflect upon the cost of human life through history so that we may learn from the mistakes made and hope and pray we discover something of value, so not to make these same mistakes again.
War Museum at the Bridge
This is a privately owned War Museum with an art collection as well as war memorabilia. It is located on the bank of the River Kwai next to the bridge. Admission is about $3 (US).
Wat Kao Pun & Kao Pun Cave
To reach the Wat Kao Pun & Kao Pun Cave you can take a long boat ride 5 km down river from the famous bridge. On my long boat ride I scheduled 2 stops, the war cemetery and the cave. You can set up a tour with as many attractions as you’d like. There are small shopping stalls with souvenirs for sale along the trail up to the Wat and the Cave. The hike is uphill and a little strenuous; it is a good idea to have a bottle of drinking water with you. Once you reach the Wat and the entrance to the cave you will be greeted by more vendors, as well as monks and small children. The children were a delight and love to give tours of the cave. The cave was more than I expected. I thought it would be small and have one Buddha statue. This was not the case, it was very large and I enjoyed the respite from the heat while exploring with the children. Also there were many Buddha’s throughout the cave.
Lunch on a Floating Raft
There is a floating restaurant located on the pier of the River Kwai. With a great view of the bridge and the ambience of being on a raft, it is a wonderful place to rest and have a bite to eat. They serve traditional Thai food and prices were reasonable. It is a wonderful spot to relax if you are not as adventuresome as the rest of your group and want to pass on the long boat ride up and down the river. In fact this is what a couple in our party did, they said they had a wonderful time sitting on the raft drinking and eating while waiting for us to return from the tour of the cemetery and Buddha cave.