A legacy of the dark days of WWII, the Bridge over the River Kwai is one of Thailand’s best known historic and tourism sites. The Kanchanaburi bridge was a key link in the so-called Death Railway from Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in what was then known as Burma, but is now Myanmar. The Death Railway was built by the Japanese army using conscripted and forced labour.
Historians say more than 100,000 Allied prisoners-of-war and Asian labourers died during the construction of the 415km long line. The line closed down soon after the end of WWII, but Thailand reopened the section between Nong Pladuk Junction and Nam Tok Station a decade later. This part of the line passes through Kanchanaburi and crosses the Bridge over the River Kwai.
The bridge, coupled with the chance of riding a train over it and then across Wang Po Viaduct, is a major attraction and draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to Kanchanaburi every year. Kanchanaburi is close enough to Bangkok for tour operators to offer River Kwai daytrips. There are also daily trains from both Thonburi and Hua Lamphong stations in Bangkok which enable tourist to map out their own tours. Special tourist trains operate at weekends.
Nam Tok Station is several kilometres from the infamous Hellfire Pass, but public buses link the two. A walk through the pass and a stroll around the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum make the inconvenience of getting here worthwhile. JEATH is the other Death Railway themed museum in Kanchanaburi and is about five kilometres down the bank of the River Kwai Yai from the bridge.
Although the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Death Railway are the primary reasons to visit Kanchanaburi, the town and local area have lots of other attractions. WWII cemeteries, the stately Erawan Waterfalls, dinner and sightseeing cruises on the River Kwai, and ambient accommodation are among the draws which are encouraging visitors to spend time here.