During the height of World War II in 1943, the Japanese Imperial Army used forced labor — both Allied prisoners of war and Asian laborers — to construct a rail line between Thailand and Burma to aid in the transport of troops and supplies. The railway stretched for 258 miles (415 kilometers) between Bangkok and Rangoon. Conditions for the workers were abhorrent, with long hours and sweltering heat. By the time it was finished 12,621 Allied POWs had died, as well as tens of thousands of Asian civilian laborers.
In 1947, after the war had ended, the Death Railway closed. A decade later the portion running between Nong Pla Duk and Nam Tok reopened, and today visitors can learn about this dark period in history by traveling the very same rail from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. The portion of the original Death Railway that passes along the Wampo Viaduct offers spectacular views. The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre in Kanchanaburi recounts the history of the line from its construction through its completion.
To see all the historic sites associated with the Thai-Burma Railway, plan to stay at least one night in Kanchanaburi.
Located in the Kanchanaburi Province, the Erawan National Park it is one of the most famous in Thailand. Famed for its impressive seven-tiered waterfall, the park is a popular weekend spot for international visitors, as well as locals from Bangkok and nearby Kanchanaburi.
Just over 80% of the Erawan National Park is covered in verdant rainforest, with winding nature trails allowing visitors to marvel at the giant trees and spot the diverse wildlife that call the park home. Deep in the forest, tigers, wild elephants, cobras, and gibbons all live here, while avid bird-watchers should look out for hornbills, woodpeckers, and parakeets.
The major attraction at the Erawan National Park, however, is Erawan Falls. Named after the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology, these falls have seven levels cascading down over 1,500 meters and are widely regarded as among the more beautiful falls in Thailand. Walking to most levels of the waterfall is relatively easy to do, although to get to the very top is quite the hike, and some good walking shoes and a healthy dose of determination are both recommended!
Trains and buses depart from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi daily. Buses from Kanchanaburi stop by the entrance of the Erawan Falls every 90 minutes from 8am until 5:20pm each day. The last bus back to Kanchanaburi is at 4pm. Within the park, bicycles can be hired from 20 Baht per day.
Address: Mu 4, Tha Kradan Sub-district, Amphur Si Sawat, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Also known as the Don-Rak War Cemetery, the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery commemorates victims of the building of the Burma Railway during World War II.
Located on Saeng Chuto Road, the main road of the city of Kanchanaburi, the cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and contains the graves of Australian, British and Dutch POWs who were forced into labor by the Japanese, who controlled the area at the time of the Burma Railway construction.
A nearby privately funded museum, the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum, contains interactive displays describing the history of the railway and the prisoners who died building it.
Kanchanaburi is easily accessed by rail and bus from Bangkok, and the war cemetery is located about a 5-minute walk from the city's main station. The central Bangkok railway station has trips to the Burma Railway and stops to let visitors view the cemetery.
The JEATH War Museum is a museum in Kanchanaburi dedicated to the story of the men who worked on the Death Railway. JEATH is an acronym for the different nationalities of the POWs that worked on the construction of the bridge between 1942 and 1943 (Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand, and Holland).
The museum displays the actual items that were used for the construction of the Death Railway. It also exhibits a large number of photographs taken by prisoners at the time, including graphic images of the harsh conditions that the men lived and worked in. One of the three galleries featuring such photographs is housed within a bamboo hut that’s an exact replica of the shelters that the POWs lived in during this time. There also written accounts,correspondence, interviews, and artwork by the prisoners that were forced to work on the bridge, along with a number of personal effects. In addition, the museum is home to a bomb dropped by the allies to destroy the bridge but that failed to explode.
The JEATH War Museum is situated within the Chai Chumphon temple on Newzealand Alley. It can be easily reached by songthaew and tuk tuk from the centre of Kanchanaburi, while daytrips from Bangkok to this area are easily arranged.
Address: Soi Newzealand, Kanchanaburi, Central Thailand, Thailand