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Old 9th May 2019, 14:01   #1
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Default Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour

Thailand has become a major tourist destination for Indians in recent times. However most group tours visit only a few popular attractions in Pattaya and Bangkok like the Alcazar show , Floating Market , Coral Island, Safari World etc.

For those who want to do something different while in Bangkok and who like World War II history, an interesting but relatively less known (among Indians) option is a full day tour to the " River Kwai Bridge". This tour is also known by other names like " Thai Burma Railway" tour or "Death Railway" tour,all of which refers basically to the same tour package.

For the movie buffs amongst us who have watched David Lean's 1957 classic, " Bridge On The River Kwai" , the story behind the bridge will be very familiar. The original wooden bridge was constructed over the River Kwai in Thailand by the Japanese as they built a railway line connecting Thailand and Burma using British and other Allied forces Prisoners of War (PoW)s and using civilian labour mainly from Malaya and Indonesia. The prisoners were forced to work in inhuman conditions and nearly 90,000 labourers and more than 10,000 PoWs died during the construction.

Please note that the movie was filmed in SriLanka and not Thailand. However this travelogue is about a visit to the site of the original bridge in Thailand over the river Kwai (Khwae Yai is the correct name) .

The actual bridge was destroyed by British forces after they recaptured the area from the Japanese. However a new metal bridge has been re-built at the site and trains run on a 130 km stretch in Thailand including the section over the River Kwai bridge. The section of the railway on the Burmese side has been dismantled. Amongst the dead during the construction of the railway were 33 soldiers of the then Indian army.

How to do the trip?

The easiest way is to book online using a major online website like Viator (part of Trip Advisor), or (part of actual tour will be operated by a Thai tour operator whose contact details you will get once you book the tour. Free pick up and drop is offered from many Bangkok hotels. The tours cost roughly between 5000 to 6000 Indian rupees per person on a Seat in Coach (SIC) basis , inclusive of a 1 to 1.5 hour train ride and a Thai buffet lunch after the train ride. Mobile tickets could downloaded after successful booking (on the website I used) and there was no need to take a print out .

You will be picked up from your hotel (if in the list of the operator - most downtown hotels are covered) around 6 AM and you will be dropped back before 7 PM. You will be transferred initially by car or mini bus to a central location in Bangok and from there onward by a biggger vehicle. Around 7 hours of the full day trip is bus travel to the site which is around 130 km away from Bangkok in the province of Kanchanaburi.

Most tours have 5 components in addition to lunch .

1. A visit to the war cemetery at Kanchanaburi where many of the dead have been buried.

2 The JEATH museum, which has exhibits describing the history of the Death Railway. There is also an audio visual presentation.

3 A trip on speedboat (a small mechanised 4 passenger canoe to be more precise ) on the river to the pier at the bottom of the railway bridge. The trip lasts around 20 minutes.

4 You then climb on to the rebuilt bridge and get a chance to walk along the bridge provided your tour sticks to the timings till then . The one I took was on time.

5 A train ride from the station just before the bridge on a regular train The ride lasts about 75 minutes. If you want a reserved seat, you have to upgrade by paying the tour guide an additional 300 bahts .More on this later.

You then disembark at a station on the other side of the bridge and are taken to a local restaurant for a Thai lunch included in the tour price. After that your board your coach back to Bangkok for the long ride home.

Not recommended for families with young children or the elderly because of the speed boat journey. During summer it can get very hot at the site of the bridge and on the railway.coaches which are not airconditioned. It is a regular passenger train with some tourist coaches for which you pay extra.

A must visit for history buffs.

Have attached a few pictures.

The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

We reached after a nearly three hours drive from Bangkok. This is a cemetery maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission -CWGC- who (quoting words from their website) honours the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars, and ensures they will never be forgotten. I am ashamed to say that till I did the research for this trip, I was not even aware of the existence of this noble organisation. Please do through their website , the link for which I have given at the end of this write up along with a few other useful ones.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1327.jpg.

One of the cemetery plaques acknowledging the contribution of the Thai people.

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Details of the various nationalities who laid down their lives and who are buried in Kanchanaburi and other cemeteries. The remains of the American victims were all bought back to the USA.

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A plaque commemorating those who served in the then Indian forces. Unfortunately despite the hordes of Indian tourists visiting Bangkok and Pattaya, very few find it worth while to visit Kanchanaburi or the Railway itself. Is it due to ignorance ?

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Every soldier's details are recorded.

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The well maintained graves inside the cemetery.

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JEATH Musuem

The next stop was a visit to JEATH War Museum, a museum about the "Death Railway". JEATH stands for Japanese/English/Australian, American/Thai and Holland who were the primary nationalities involved in construction of the "death railway". There is both an audio visual presentation as well as photo exhibition of the construction of the railway. Photography is not permitted inside the exhibition halls.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1333.jpg

The museum exhibits are housed inside bamboo huts typical to those used during the railway construction.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1144.jpg

The Speedboat ride to the foot of the bridge

Adjacent to the JEATH museum , on the banks of the river is the pier from which the boats leave for the bridge. These are mechanised four person canoes. However life jackets are provided and it is not as dangerous as it may appear as there is hardly any current nor is it very windy. However the boat ride cannot be taken by people with mobility restrictions.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1153.jpg

Enroute to the bridge. The journey is truly scenic.

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Approaching the bridge.

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The pier where we disembarked.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1198.jpg

Waiting for the Train.

You climb up the pier to the station next to the bridge. If the tours stick to time (not always since the morning Bangkok traffic can be un predictable), you can walk along the bridge and back. Be aware there is very little shade and when I went in April, the temperature was a blazing 38 degrees celsius. Soft Drinks and water can be purchased from stalls nearby . The mark ups are not extortionate compared to some other tourist places.
Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1224.jpg

The train approaching the station. These are regular passenger trains . There are some reserved Tourist Coaches for which you can pay an additional 300 Bahts to your tour guide (some operators charge 200 as they absorb some of the cost) in which case you have a reserved seat on the coach. Otherwise you can travel on the regular coaches. However I would recommend the upgrade since the trains actually start from Bangkok and sometimes the crowd in unreserved coaches can be heavy. Standing the entire way for the 75 minute ride in the hot weather , which can happen can spoil the experience.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1205.jpg

The timetable at the station. At the end of the narrative, I will also give the link to the relevant page on the Seat 61 Website, an invaluable source of information for rail buffs. I do not get any referral bonus from the site but have found it very useful.
Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1355.jpg

On board

The coaches are not air conditioned. However if you are travelling the reserved tourist coaches , you get bottled water, cold towels , a small snack box and tea/coffee. We were not offered the latter when I travelled but instead was offered a soft drink, a much welcome alternative in the blazing heat.

My fellow travellers. They are from tours run by different operators or people who have made it on their own. Hardly any Indians .
Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1252.jpg

En route Vistas

The train journey segment if the tour takes about 75 minutes. Despite being the height of the summer there was some greenery while some areas were incredibly dusty. However our hyper efficient tour guide (no exaggeration) was proactive in alerting us about the same and also provided cloth face masks.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1237.jpg

Some beautiful scenery

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More of the same .

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Being in a reserved coach, photography was not an issue especially since the coaches were not very full. A special word of appreciation to the railway staff on board who were all very friendly and helpful.

End of the ride.

And finally after a 75 minute ride, it was time for us to alight. A big Japanese group alighted at the station before ours while almost all other tourists including our group alighted here.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1286.jpg

The train continued on its way with the local passengers.
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And finally, it was Time for lunch at a restaurant next to the station where we alighted. Almost all tours include a Thai buffet lunch as part of the tour price. Soft drinks and other beverages are not included. The restaurant our operator took us to did not have any others groups at that time and hence it was a relaxed un hurried affair. Be aware there is no Indian food available and the only concession to western tastes I could find was fried chicken! Vegetarians will find it a problem if you are not taking private tours.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1356.jpg

And by 2.30 PM, it was time to leave. The Toyota van which was our vehicle (the operator that day had only 8 bookings) and which had dropped us at JEATH museum had driven up hill and was waiting for us for the trip back to Bangkok.

And some unforgetable memories of a remarkable trip.

The train ticket

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1346.jpg

The "certificate" you get as memorabilia when you pay for the train upgrade.

Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour-1344.jpg

And memorable it was , the highlight of my holiday to Thailand. When I was a young child, my father used to tell me all about the Death Railway. When I was a teenager, I had watched the David Lean movie as well. But little could I have imagined then that I will be able to actually visit the site of the railway and ride along it.

Concluding Notes

There are quite a few operators offering this tour. I used Viator mainly because of the good reviews on the internet and also since the local operator who ran the tour, "Tour East" has a good reputation. The decision proved to be good as Tour East was really professional, reconfirming the booking on reaching Thailand was a 15 second job and the driver who picked me up from the hotel was right on time. The tour guide was exceptional. She really went out of the way to ensure that the needs of every participant were catered to and ensured that all of us had a great time. Will have no hesitation using Tour East again through Viator or directly. However other operators may be equally as good.

There are hardly any Indians who take this tour. Most westerners take it because of sentimental or family reasons ,a few like me did so because of special interests or merely to have a change from the popular mass market package tour offerings. However most people are friendly and you get a diverse group. My group had two Scots, a couple of Aussies, and people from Mexico, US and Korea as well.

Bookings can be easily done on Viator using an Indian credit card. However if there are not sufficient number of bookings, tours may be cancelled . Be aware of this and have a back up plan. If the tour is cancelled, you will get a full refund. Sometimes smaller number of bookings means you can get a van instead of a coach . This happened in my case.

Do not take this trip on the last day of your Thailand holiday even if you have a late night flight. Do it at least the day before your departure. The return tourney took four hours for us despite being a Saturday evening. Bangkok traffic is unpredictable.

Make sure you book yourself on a group which has an English speaking guide. There was one operator where clientele were entirely Japanese that day. Some operators mainly cater to Dutch visitors.

Suggested reading.

a Wikipedia article on Burma Railway. Reading this before you take the tour will help you make the most out of it.

b The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website. Invaluable information of about an organisation many of us are hardly aware of

c Wikipedia article on JEATH museum

d For those of you who are rail buffs and want to know more about the current train journey over the bridge or even want to do it yourself.
The below page from the website Seat details it all. This website is widely regarded as one of the best sources for alternate (to air) travel options. As already mentioned, I do not have any commercial affiliation to this site.

Thank you for reading.

Last edited by TKMCE : 10th May 2019 at 16:07.
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Old 10th May 2019, 16:59   #2
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Default Re: Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour

Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 10th May 2019, 18:44   #3
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Default Re: Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour

Kanchanaburi is certainly a fascinating place. Indeed, we'd been to Kanchanaburi twice (and to Thailand 4 times!): (10 days across Thailand (2009) - and 8 more days (2011)) (Thailand | Third Time)

The star attraction at Kanchanaburi used to be the Tiger Temple, which has since been shut down. But the Kwai River and the bridge over it, along with the war memorabilia in the adjacent museum, have their own attraction for history buffs.

Everywhere in Thailand, night markets are a common occurrence, and Kanchanaburi features a big one too. No one spoke any English there 10 years ago, which was probably a big reason for the town being off the radar of the regular Indian tourist. Hope there are more folks who speak English in Kanchanaburi today.
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Old 10th May 2019, 19:23   #4
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Default Re: Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour


. Indeed, we'd been to Kanchanaburi twice (and to Thailand 4 times!):
I had seen your reviews . In fact after having come across this trip. I was still undecided whether to book or not and that is when I did a search here and came across your reviews and that helped make up my mind.

Hesitation was mainly because I was on a 5 day group tour with my wife and son both of whom are not history buffs and it was very unfair to drop out on one of the 5 days on a family trip. But in the end , knowing my fascination for "off the beaten track" trips, they insisted I go for it. The tour group went to Safari World and I have no regrets missing out and opting for Kanchanaburi instead.

English is not that much of a problem as far as I could see but to be fair I really cannot authoritatively comment as I was on another group tour even for this trip. We were on a tight schedule so could not wander around locally and being a guided tour, everything was done for us.

By the way the museum you have visited I think is not JEATH.

Last edited by TKMCE : 10th May 2019 at 19:27.
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Old 15th May 2019, 09:40   #5
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Default Thank you!

Beautiful write-up! Very detailed.

I paused for a second to read the names of those soldiers who were lost. My eye caught their ages. Some of them were 18-19 year old kids. Had a lump in my throat.

We are truly blessed to be alive.
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Old 16th May 2019, 16:57   #6
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Default Re: Thailand: Bridge over the River Kwai Tour

Your thread brought back fond memories. We had made a roadtrip out of our jaunt to Kwai with our daughter who was all of two years old then. Loved the place and the people. (Hot wheels and big grins in the land of smiles :) - Thailand motored)
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