The Death Railway was a project the Japanese began in World War II to connect Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) by rail for improved communication and quicker transport of supplies between troops. Building began in October of 1942 and was completed by December 1943, the exact 14 months they had planned. The entire 424 kilometer (260 miles) long line was completed by prisoners of war and civilians enticed or forced to work on the line. Conditions were awful and work was long. People were expendable. About 13,000 POWs died and were buried along the way. Though civilian deaths were not counted, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 also died.
The Death Railway is a tragic piece of history. This article suggests places that you can visit while in Kanchanaburi, Thailand to commemorate the suffering that happened because of it and to learn more about the Death Railway itself.
1. Learn the history at the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum
The Thai-Burma Railway Museum is the best place to learn the history of the railway. It’s interactive and informative. Throughout the museum, you’ll read personal accounts of those who were forced to build the railway, view artifacts and personal items, and learn about the railway post-war. This is an absolute must see here in Kanchanaburi. Admission includes coffee or tea.
Thailand-Burma Railway Museum
Address: 73 Th Jaokannum, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Price: about 4.00 USD / 138.50 THB
Opening Hours: Every day, 9 am to 5 pm
Duration: around 2 hours required
Contact: +66 34 512 721
Website: Thailand-Burma Railway Museum
2. Pay respects at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, also known as Don-Rak War Cemetery, is located right across the street from the Thai-Burma Museum. It is the main cemetery for the victims who died while building the railway. There are 6,982 graves in the cemetery, mostly Australian, British, and Dutch. The cemetery is well maintained by locals.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Address: 284/66 Sangchuto Rd, Tambon Ban Tai, Amphoe Mueang Kanchanaburi, Chang Wat Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand
Opening Hours: every day, 8 am to 5 pm
Duration: around 15 minutes required.
3. and again at the Chungkai War Cemetery
Located just 10 minutes outside of Kanchanaburi, the Chungkai War Cemetery is somber and thought provoking. Here, 1,426 Commonwealth and 313 Dutch soldiers are buried. Chungkai was originally one of the base camps for building the railroad. It originally contained a hospital and a church built by the prisoners themselves. Many of the burials here are men who died at the hospital.
Chungkai can be reached by the road over the Sudjai Bridge, by ferry crossing, or by any of the many river boats.
Chungkai War Cemetery
Address: National Hwy No 3228, Tha Ma Kham Subdistrict, Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand
Duration: around 15 minutes required.
4. Listen to personal stories at the JEATH War Museum
Another museum about the Death Railway, the JEATH War Museum is a different experience than the Thai-Burma Museum. It is much smaller and not kept up quite as nicely, but it still has many interesting artifacts and stories from the war spread throughout a few buildings. JEATH stands for the main nations involved in the construction of the railway: Japanese, English, Australian, American, Thai, and Holland. There are also beautiful views over the river and the bridge from the museum.
JEATH War Museum
Address: Ban Tai, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand
Price: about 1.50 USD / 52 THB
Opening Hours: every day, 8 am to 6 pm
Duration: around 1.5 hours required.
Contact: +66 34 511 263
5. World War II & JEATH War Museum
Though it may sound the same, World War II & JEATH Museum is an entirely different museum from the JEATH Museum. It’s a more unusual museum with an eclectic collection of items covering the war and the history of the area. There is very little order to the museum and not much information in English, but it can still be interesting to walk through, simply to see the vast collection.
World War II & JEATH Museum
Address: located on the river near the bridge
Price: about 1.00 USD / 35 THB
6. Walk over the Bridge on the River Kwai
You can’t visit Kanchanaburi and not walk over the bridge that was once part of the death railway. It’s a touching experience to stand there and reflect on the hardship that went into constructing it. Walking over the bridge at any time of day is interesting, but it is especially beautiful in the early morning or evening. In the evening, the area comes to life with people and markets.
Bridge on the River Kwai
Address: Death Railway, สุขสวัสด Bangkok 10160, Thailand
7. Walk the line at Hellfire Pass & Memorial Museum
About an hour drive from central Kanchanaburi, Hellfire Pass is an area where prisoners of war were forced to cut out a passage for the railway. The area is known for the harsh conditions and loss of life suffered there. When visiting the museum, you can walk through the cutting and along the former railway track. It is a haunting place and interesting museum.
Trains no longer run on this part of the line.
Hellfire Pass & Memorial Museum
Address: Tha Sao, Sai Yok District, Kanchanaburi 71150, Thailand
Opening Hours: every day, 9 am to 4 pm
Public Transit Access: Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi railway station (18 kilometres / 11 mi away)
Contact: +66 34 919 605
A unique perspective
Before going to Kanchanaburi, watch The Railway Man (2013) and/or The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) for a unique perspective on the history of Kanchanaburi’s Death Railway.
These sights are important to never forgot the atrocities that have occurred here. They’re heartbreaking, informative, and interesting. Enjoy your time visiting Kanchanaburi and take some time to visit one or more of these sights.
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