Railroad enthusiasts and war buffs will revel in the profusion of daylong guided tours that lead visitors from Bangkok down the Khwae Yai section of the Mae Klong River to a notorious spot from song and legend known colloquially as The Bridge over the River Kwai, popularized by Pierre Boulle’s novel of the Second World War and its subsequent film adaptation.
The bridge that crosses it is part of the “Death Railway”, or Thailand-Burma Railway, a 258 mile railway between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), organized and constructed by Japan during World War II in an effort to supply its Burma campaign.
Upwards of 100,000 forced laborers died during the railway’s construction (among these, as many as 16,000 were Allied Prisoners of War). Living conditions were horrific, and acts committed by Japanese commanders responsible for the loss of life were eventually prosecuted for war crimes.
Most tours to the area—largely a lush and verdant agricultural area covered with sugar cane, rice paddies and pineapple plantations—set their sights on the multiple memorial sights and museums in and around the town of Kanchanaburi. Among these, the JEATH War Museum is the finest. It is located on the grounds of a temple at the junction of the Khwae Yai and Khwae Noi rivers in Kanchanaburi. The acronym JEATH stands for the main nationalities employed (or rather, compelled) in the construction of the railway: Japan, England, Australia, America, Thailand and Holland.
Tourists mark the passage by way of an exhilarating long tailed boat ride along the River Kwai, a trip that usually includes complimentary traditional meals and a ride along a section of the now partially defunct railway itself.
Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s Thailand tours & things to do, top Thailand attractions, and top Thailand travel recommendations. Be sure to check our Bridge on the River Kwai Tour & Tickets for Thai Burma Death Railway Bridge on the River Kwai Tour from Bangkok.