Posted by: James Shannon | March 1, 2012

The Thailand-Burma Death Railway: Tacky Tourism Amid Cruelty And Pain

Eating one of my favourite Thai dishes — duck in a sweet sauce with vegetables over rice, in Bangkok before taking off to Kanchanaburi…

After a brisk two days back in Bangkok meeting up with someone in the tour guiding industry, I planned to set sail once again.  The destination this time around was a town near Thailand’s western border with Burma called Kanchanaburi.  Home to World War II history, and located close by to some breathtaking waterfalls in Erawan National Park, I had missed it the previous year when I was travelling in the country, and with a few months to spare in Siam this winter, I was determined to begin filling in the gaps, with regards to my experiences in this country.

Things didn’t start off very well on this day though, as the rainclouds that had periodically soaked me on Koh Chang seemed to follow me back to the big city.  After taking the river taxi to Thonburi, I had several blocks to traverse to get to the small Western railway station that took you to Kanchanaburi.  However, the heavens … opened up.  In every sense of the word.  Very quickly, myself and my posssessions began to get sopping wet!  Pinned down in the corner of some university hospital, now seemingly a world away from the train that I needed to catch in 40 minutes, I conceded defeat and hailed a cab.

Playing charades with the Thai-only speaking cab driver, I got him to take me to Mai Sai Bus Station, better known as the Southern Bus Terminal.  Here, I hopped on the next 2nd class bus to Kanchanaburi province, and away I went!

 Combing the riverfront streets and finding that all the rafthouses were taken already, I began to search for anything at all, and ended up backing into one of the kookiest bungalow accommodations I have ever stayed at!  Baby barn-shaped sleeping quarters, with just enough room for a bed (but sparkling clean and with tile floors) and a powerful fan that did the job just as well as an air conditioning unit for keeping me cool.

 There it is … the famous Bridge Over The River Kwai, a railway bridge built by slave labourers and POW’s for the Japanese, in their bid to build a rail link to Burma in order to establish a vital supply line to bolster their effort to conquer that country.

 Tourists and travellers walk to and fro on the bridge, despite the fact that it is still part of a fully functional rail line still used by the State Railway of Thailand, as attested to by the sign in the picture above!

 This train IS NOT the train from Bangkok to Kanchanburi, but rather a cheesy tourist train that takes hundreds of easily amused tourists across the River Kwai every day!

 After engaging in some heavy duty tourism, I took in a seriously heavy place emotionally.  The JEATH War Museum tells the story of the slave labourers and the POW’s that were worked to death (or for the lucky ones that survived, to the brink of starvation). Pictured above is a steam engine that once plied the tracks of the Death Railway…

 An artistic depiction of workers under the cruel tutelage of Japanese soldiers while building The Bridge Over The River Kwai…

 The holding cells for the POW’s … you can just feel the despair that these brave but suffering men felt during these brutal days!

 Touristic vandals strike again!  Really guys? REALLY?!  You are in a memorial museum dedicated to horrific war crimes, and you felt the need to proclaim to the world that your special blessed self was here at this place at some point, worship me, worship meeeeeeeeee?!  Give your head a shake, geez! :S

 I finished this decidedly sombre first day in Kanchanaburi by visiting the largest of three war cementaries in the city…

 Thousands of grave markers give tribute to members of the armed forces of Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Singapore (I think there may be some Canadians in here also, but I didn’t see any graves that indicated this…)

  Sadly, many of the remains of the soldiers that were sorted through were unidentifiable … here the tomb of The Unknown Soldier pays the appropriate respect.

With the serious historical sights seen, the next day was promising something much lighter and fun … the waterfalls of Erawan National Park!  Alas, this post is getting quite long, so look for it later in the week!  Hope you are all having a good one!


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