The railroad bridge over the Thai River Kwai became internationally known especially through the award-winning film adaptation of the novel "The Bridge on the River Kwai". Built by prisoners of war during the Second World War, the bridge is now a symbol and memorial to the tens of thousands of victims who lost their lives during the construction of the bridge.
The railroad bridge over the Thai River Kwai became internationally known mainly through the film adaptation of the novel "The Bridge on the River Kwai" by Pierre Boulle. It connects the Burmese city of Java with the Thai city of Kanchanaburi and was used by the Japanese army to transport prisoners of war during World War II. This earned the railroad line the unflattering name "Death Railway", the Kwai Bridge is a famous part of it.
The Kwai Bridge was built by a total of 80,000 Asian forced laborers and 15,000 prisoners of war from Great Britain, the Netherlands, the USA and Australia. Tens of thousands of them did not survive the tortures of forced labor in the impassable, malaria-infested terrain. Numerous memorials still commemorate them today.
7,000 of the victims of the bridge construction are buried in the nearby Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. The ordeals of the forced laborers are vividly depicted in the nearby JEATH Museum, whose letters stand for the nationalities of the opera.
The construction of the bridge is actually nothing special. Only the historical background and the fascinating mountain landscape in its surroundings make the former Death Railway and the Kwai Bridge a well-known tourist stop in Thailand.
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" by director David Lean
The film is about a group of British prisoners of war who are forced to build the wooden railroad bridge over the River Kwai. At the beginning, the commander of the British troop refuses, as he does not want his men to be treated like slave laborers. To prove their technical superiority to the Japanese, he proposes to the Japanese camp commander to build a better bridge with his men in the same time. The enemy commander agrees to the deal, the British are treated better and put in the work to finish the bridge in time. In the end they succeed and the Japanese have to admit the superiority of the prisoners. Despite everything, the bridge is demolished by the Allies. In 1958, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" was awarded seven Oscars and 3 Golden Globes.
The Kwai Bridge was indeed a favorite bombing target of the Allied powers during the war and was also completely destroyed several times. The two bridges over the Kwai built by prisoners of war also actually existed, but one of them was already made of steel.
Ride on the death train
After the war, the black iron bridge was faithfully rebuilt in 1946. A section of the former Death Railway can still be traveled today. From Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok the journey also goes over the famous Kwai Bridge. For tourists there are also own rides.
Besides the Kwai Bridge, there is a second highlight on the journey to Nam Tok. Shortly before the destination, the train feels its way at walking pace over a wobbly footbridge, where it goes steeply uphill on the right and vertically into the abyss on the left. When the bridge then also trembles slightly, strong nerves are required - of course, the crossing is absolutely safe.
Kanchanaburi itself is also easy to reach by train from Bangkok, which is about 130km to the east. From there it is about 4km to the small train station River Kwai, which can also be reached by bus. The Kwai Bridge can also be accessed on foot via a walkway with small platforms. The thought of how much blood was spilled here sends shivers down your spine.
Every year at the end of November, the River Kwai Bridge Festival commemorates the destruction of the bridge by the Allies with a spectacular light and music show. Fireworks, stalls and culinary delights attract thousands of visitors every year to the inconspicuous iron bridge in the middle of the Thai jungle.
Tip: If you are already in the region of Kanchanaburi, you should not miss a visit to the Erawan National Park and the Hellfire Pass to the north. The pass, which is about 80km away, got its name "Hellfire" from the numerous oil lamps that were once used to light this section of the road. There is also a museum about the construction of the Kwai Bridge.