Whether or not you’re a war buff, the next part of our journey was a poignant reminder of WWII POWs. Our day began with a visit to the Allied Forces cemetery in Kanchanaburi that is dedicated to the victims of the Japanese who were forced to build the Burma railway. Directly across from the cemetery is the fascinating Railway Museum, which we visited before travelling to the banks of River Kwai, famed for its bridge.
I thought I was going to see a wooden bridge built by Alec Guinness but that’s Hollywood for you. Instead, surrounded by cafes, shops and another street market, we walked across the infamous bridge that was to link a railway line from Bangkok to Rangoon in Burma. The line is known as the Death Railway as many of the Allied prisoners and Asian labourers lost their lives undertaking the project. It was all quite emotional; however, we did have a light-hearted interlude as we climbed aboard the Thailand–Burma train.
I am sure any railway enthusiast would enjoy this. The trains are ‘interesting’. As you can see from the image we were in a better class of carriage than most for which we had paid and additional 100 Baht. It wasn’t particularly clean or comfortable but sitting next to an open windowless space whilst click clacking through the Thai countryside where sugarcane, rice paddies and pineapple plantations fill the rural landscape was very pleasant. There’s no buffet car, but vendors walk up and down the train selling soft drinks, fruit and food.
As well as crossing the famous Bridge, the train slowly passes over the impressive Wam Po Viaduct, nestling against the cliff, also built by prisoners.
The afternoon was spent visiting Hellfire Pass. There is a museum, detailing the life of the 13,000 allied prisoners and 80,000 Asian labourers who built and subsequently suffered or died there. There is a stretch of the track cleared of jungle by the Australian government as a memorial, and open to the public. 300 steps take you down to the pass and the walk is peaceful through the warm shady jungle along the disused track-bed, past small cuttings and dips where the wooden sleepers used to be, it is a very moving experience.