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Celebrate River Kwai Bridge Week

November 16th, 2010 by

Made famous by the 1957 war movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, the actual bridge built by World War II Allied prisoners is a memorial to the Death Railway of the Japanese empire. Located in Thailand’s third biggest province of Kanchanaburi, this bridge is now the center of a series of festivities that highlights the history surrounding this landmark.

River Kwai Bridge

Photo courtesy of moohaha.

Kanchanaburi is a mountainous region covered in forest, with a distance of 130 km from Bangkok. It is the location of the 415 km-long Death Railway built by the Japanese to transport supplies and troops across Indochina. Some 16,000 Allied prisoners died while being forced to build the tracks across dangerous terrain, malarial mosquitoes, dysentery and the brutality of the Japanese Army itself. Innumerable locals were also pressed into service and succumbed to the terrible conditions of the jungle. It is for this reason that the families of those who died in the building of the railway gather every year in pilgrimage to commemorate the historical event.

Kwai bridge walkway
Photo courtesy of permanently scatterbrained.
The bridge itself originated from Java and was disassembled and transported by the Japanese to cross the river Kwai. Allied bombers made frequent sorties against this bridge and wrecked it near the end of the war. The current bridge is a replica, though the metal arches belonged to the original structure. As for the track, vast parts of it have wasted away from decades of neglect and the depredations of the jungle.

Kwai war museum

Photo courtesy of permanently scatterbrained.

The 2010 River Kwai Bridge Week will be celebrated from November 24 to December 5. Activities include souvenir selling, a carnival, archeological exhibits, cultural performances and vintage steam train rides along the functional parts of the track. The highlight is the evening light-and-sound show which dramatizes the bridge and railway construction and their roles in the war, with fireworks and light effects replicating the explosions that occurred during and after construction. Translations are supplied for English, Japanese, German and Chinese visitors. Prior to the show, you can cross the bridge on foot as authorities have installed a steel walkway in the middle of the tracks. While work conditions were indeed horrendous, the archeological exhibit also reveals that superb engineering also took place to allow the Army to construct their bridge. You can also explore the area surrounding the bridge further by renting an elephant to penetrate the thick jungle or boarding a boat to cruise around the river. There is a complex near the bridge which contains a war museum.

River Kwai Jungle Rafts Hotel
Photo courtesy of Rev Stan.

To get to the River Kwai Bridge, special trains are designated to travel from Bangkok to the town of Kanchanaburi for the duration of the festivities; the bridge itself is three km north of the town. It is recommended that you book early to place your reservation for this popular activity. To enhance your experience, you can stay at the fascinating River Kwai Jungle Rafts, a series of floating thatched roof huts along the famous river. Prepare to be dazzled by the mountainous view outside your window as the water flows gently under your floor. This hotel also features several adventure tours for intrepid clients which takes them across the jungle or along the river.

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