The Bridge on the River Khwae: The Death Railway Bridge

The Bridge on the River Khwae

Thanks to several films and books, the Bridge on the River Khwae has become notoriously famous and attracted both Thais and foreigners to the site. If an ordinary black iron bridge can tell a story, you can be sure it’s a dramatic one.

The bridge spans across Maenam Khwae Yai which is a branch of Maenam Mae Klong. During the Japanese occupation of Thailand in World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army brought the iron bridge from Java. It was then resembled by Allied Prisoners of War (POW) under Japanese supervision. The bridge was part of a strategic railway route to Myanmar in which the Japanese aimed to secure supplies with which to conquer other western Asian countries. It was 415 kilometers long (about 303 kilometers in Thailand and about 112 kilometers in Burma) and passed through the Three Pagoda Pass in Sangkhlaburi District, the northern most part of Kanchanaburi province.

Construction started on September 16, 1942 at Nong Pladuk, and was completed on 25 December 1943. It is estimated that over 16,000 POWs from England, Australia, Holland and America died while building the bridge which was a target of bombing raids in 1945. In addition to this, approximate 90,000 laborers from Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia died during its construction.

Rebuilt after WWII, the bridge is still in use today with the curved portions of the bridge being that of the original. An attraction of note is the annual light and sound event at the bridge to commemorate the Allied attack in 1945.

The railway currently ends at Ban Tha Sao or Namtok Station, a distance of some 77 km. from Kanchanaburi Station. A special train running from Bangkok to Namtok Station is available on weekends and national holidays.

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