I’m sorry lovelies this is very late I know. It’s been all go (of course it has haha!) at Goho global HQ, travelling around by plane, train and general automobile… Phew! So here we go with the mega travelling catchup! I won’t make you wait so long again I promise Sorry luvs! :/
One of the first things I read about Thailand in my guidebook was about the Bridge Over The River Kwai. I’ve got to admit, to this day I’ve still not seen the movie but I knew a little bit about the atrocities that happened here. But I wanted to learn more, so I knew it was a must-see whilst I was in Thailand.
Personally, I think immersing yourself in a place’s history is pretty important to any trip. It allows you to really understand the area you’re staying in and for me that’s what it’s all about. And, well…it’s a pretty impressive thing to say you have seen an important historical landmark like this.
You get a train from Bangkok’s Thonburi train station which gets you there in about 3 1/2 hours. Trains are basic but comfortable enough. But that doesn’t mean they will run smoothly through. Just like every other train service I’ve experienced in Asia, they stop and start and wait for ages pretty much everywhere. But just try to sit back, relax and even catch up on some zzz’s during the long stops.
We had booked a hotel close to the train station which was very handy. It was called Thai Guesthouse and it was great. It’s clean, well-run and the staff even give you little gifts of food and floral-flavoured water when they see you. It’s so cute.
There isn’t an abundance of street food in Kanchanaburi, there are a few stalls but they don’t offer anything substantial – meat skewers and that’s about it. But we did find some cheap restaurants which did amazing food. Which was a good job to be honest because I was getting a bit sick of 7/11 ready-meals haha!
So, check out Coffee Paul (on the south end of Donruk Road) it’s a coffee shop meets steakhouse/noodle bar and the Pad Thai and rice dishes really are very good and very cheap. Then for evening meals go to Sri Rung Rueng Restaurant (on the main bar strip Maenamkwai Road) for amazing steak in a wonderful peppercorn sauce. We hadnt had steak in so long it was really quite an amazing meal! We went back twice, as it was so good and it didn’t really break the bank, which makes a change with buying steak mmmmmm.
When we arrived we aimed out to get our bearings and pretty much immediately found the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre and Kanchanaburi War Cemetary. I cannot recommend visiting these places enough. They are a wonderful testament and tribute to the thousands of men who lost their lives during WWII.
The museum holds lots of facts, parts of the original bridge (it was blasted with bombs in WWII so it had to be rebuilt after) and lots of personal items from international POW’s. It was definitely these personal treasured items that got me. It was very emotional to see letters sent to family members, the army standard tins which prisoners carved detailed pictures into as often their only way of expressing how they were feeling, and the scraps of clothing they had left (often literally a piece of rag used to cover their modesty).
It was shocking to hear how brutal the conditions were which thousands of men were subjected to under the harsh force of the Japanese. Men were literally worked to the bone when building that bridge. Just to give you even more of an insight of how shocking this piece of Thai history is, here are some hard-hitting facts from this time:
- The bridge was built to connect Thailand to Burma (Myanmar) to allow the Japanese to attack and transport goods through.
- The work should have taken over 2 years but was completed in just under a year.
- As a result of the Japanese pressure to get the bridge built quickly, the line got nicknamed the ‘Death Railway’ as it’s construction claimed over 160,000 lives.
- It is believed one life was lost for every sleeper laid on the track. The track was 258 miles long.
- The living and working conditions were horrific. Men severely malnourished and even dying from some of the many diseases prevalent in these camps, were still considered ‘fit’ for work.
Then moving onto the cemetery your tear-ducts are tested even further as you see row upon row of graves of these brave military men. It’s a beautiful site and the etchings on the grave-stones are particularly tear-evoking. I found it all extremely moving and would recommend a visit to anyone.
I remember thinking it was very significant seeing the butterflies roaming amongst the stones, all the international flags flying and all the flowers in bloom in a place, which should be so sad, but instead was just so beautiful and full of life and colour.
We then decided to take a walk to the bridge itself and we stumbled across the JEATH war museum. After the emotional and educational experience at the railway centre – nothing could prepare me for this place. It is a museum, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just a very odd one. It’s cheap (only 40B), and feels more like you’ve wandered into your Gran’s old garage just full of random stuff.
There are buddhas, old TV sets, models of soldiers working on the railway and lots of spiderweb-covered cabinets. It’s pretty weird but there are some interesting things in there, it’s just a shame what bad shape the place is in.
There is a lot of very cool, unique things to see there. Row upon row of army helmets, bicycles, different forms of currency, a huge elephant skull and lots of uniforms.
Absolutely every item you can think of that could have been involved in the second world war has been locked up in a grimy cabinet (that you can barely see in) for all to see.
But I quite liked it, I’ve got to admit. It’s pretty clear the money you pay doesn’t go towards caring for the items, which is a shame, but there are some interesting things in there nonetheless.
My favourite bit was the Miss Thailand collection upstairs.
Walls covered in the images of past Miss Thailand winners. There are even outfits and accessories from past winners. I thought it was pretty random, especially with the main theme of everything else in the museum being about history and war, but still…pretty interesting.
We then moved on to see the Bridge itself. It was very impressive, but I think you really have to go to the museums first, to really appreciate it. To really think about what happened there. There were lots of people there just standing there taking lots of pictures but I’m pretty positive they were just there because it was famous. It’s fine to take photos but this is a place that should be respected.
You can walk over the bridge, on the rails and down the track which is pretty cool. I personally thought walking down the track allowed me to really think about what had happened there. Every time I saw a sleeper I felt sad. It was very poignant and beautiful to see – I’d recommend it to anyone. You can also hop on board a train and cross the bridge in a more conventional fashion.
We watched the sun go down there and watched the water go under the bridge. Pretty awesome really.
After all the emotions of the day it was good to rest and have a drink – God bless 7/11 and it’s cheap booze eh?!
The next day was the hottest, muggiest, most uncomfortable day I’d ever experienced. And yet we headed to a temple in a cave anyway. But it was awesome so it was worth it..haha!
Wat Tham Kao Pun is made up of a series of 9 connecting caves. Its very impressive. You have to squeeze through gaps, dodge the flying bats, climb narrow stone steps…it’s pretty cool. There are buddhas and decorations in each of the cave rooms but as it was so hot and humid in there it was pretty hard to stand for long to look at them all.
One thing I will say is, try to get in before a tour group does. If you see one about to go in, maybe wait 10 minutes, it’s too hot and small to be in an area like that with loads of other people. But definitely worth the ride out of town to see.
Away from the cave was some lovely views….
…and a huge, fat gold Buddha. Yup.
Kanchanburi is definitely worth the visit. Its not far out of Bangkok, it beautiful and very historical. So get your butt there, enjoy the beauty, have a good cry and learn some important historical facts.
Love and handkerchiefs Em xoxo