Kanchanaburi is both a town and a province within the region of Western Thailand. The city of Kanchanaburi is located approximately 120 kilometres west of Bangkok in an area of the central lowlands of Thailand, and is the largest city, administrative centre and capital of the province. Kanchanaburi Province is recognised for its many natural attractions including its National Parks, which are located in the western areas where the land rises to the border with Myanmar (Burma), and contains picturesque forest covered limestone mountains, caves and waterfalls. The city of Kanchanaburi is a popular tourist destination for Thais and tourists, as it lies within easy access of Bangkok and is considered to be one of the most beautiful provinces in the country. The city is also known for its very welcoming and friendly people, but above all Kanchanaburi is the nearest town to the world famous ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ which is considered to be one of Thailand’s major tourist attractions. During the World War II occupation of Thailand by the Japanese forces, Allied Prisoners of War were forced to build the Death Railway and the bridges over the River Kwai, which lies just 5 kilometres from town.
In 1942 Kanchanaburi became the focus of Allied Prisoner Of War (P.O.W.) involvement during the construction of the infamous Death Railway and two bridges over the River Kwai, or more correctly, the River Khwae. This event has been immortalized through a book, and later a movie entitled the ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’. Both of which portrayed the terrible brutal conditions that the men suffered as they worked to build the Death Railway and the two bridges over the river. During this period more than half of the P.O.W.s died from malnutrition, disease and accidents, and they are commemorated today through cemeteries, memorials and two museums.
Within town the steel bridge remains the main point of interest, although the ‘JEATH War Museum’ and the ‘War Museum’ contain some articles which may help to expand your knowledge of the event. Respects can be made at the Don-Rak War Cemetery, which contains the remains of 6,982 Australian, Dutch, and British prisoners, and the Chong-Kai War Cemetery, which contains a further 1,740 remains of British, Dutch, Malayan and Indian prisoners. The ‘JEATH War Museum’ is located within the Wat Chai Chumphon and is partially exhibited in a re-constructed Allied P.O.W. hut, in which photographs, pictorial and physical memorabilia are displayed. The ‘War Museum’ is located near the bridge and exhibits photographs, instruments of war, and uniforms from the period, but also includes items related to local history, art and culture. The Thai-Burmese Railway Centre is dedicated to the history of the Death Railway and is located next to the Don-Rak War Cemetery. The death railway ran from Bangkok to Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in Myanmar, and covered 415 kilometres including the most difficult section which is known as Hellfire Pass. The Hellfire Pass Museum is also a memorial to the men who lost their lives at the pass. It is a modern museum and provides visitors with a series of displays which exhibit artefacts, and relates the true story about the railway, a short movie shows part of the difficult construction process, and a self-guided walking tour enables visitors to familiarize themselves with the area.
The city also provides visitors with several other attractions which are worthy of seeing such as the Tiger Temple, the Monkey School, the 7 tiered Erawan Waterfall, Elephant’s World and the Wat Tham Khao Pun, which is one of Thailand’s cave temples. National Parks within the vicinity include the Erawan, Chalerm Rattana Kosin, Khao Lam, Sri Nakarin, Sai Yok, Thong Pha Phum and Lam Klong Ngu. The parks are generally hilly to mountainous, forest covered and centred around waterfalls and/or cave systems.