Day Trip to the Death Railway

Besides just hanging out in Bangkok, there are numerous day trips that you can take outside of Bangkok. Some of these include a trip to Ayuthayya, the ancient capital of Thailand, a floating market, or a visit to the famous railway market.

So for my recent visit to Bangkok I decided to visit Kanchanaburi, which is around 3 hours drive from Bangkok and where the Death Railway is located. I’ve always wanted to visit the “Bridge Over the River Kwai” which has been immortalised in pop culture from it’s original novel published in French, “Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï ” in (1952), and then made into a Hollywood movie named “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in 1957. The novel and movie are fictional accounts of how Allied prisoners-of-war were forced into hard labour by their Japanese captors in World War 2 to build a railway linking Rangoon in Burma to Bangkok in Thailand. Thousands of POW’s and civilians died building the railway from disease, malnutrition and torture. So Kanchanaburi’s history is invariably tied to this dark chapter and every year on Anzac Day (25 April) a memorial service is held at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery which contains the graves of almost 7,000 POW’s, many of which remain unidentified.

Getting There

If you are going for a day trip then there are several ways – Take a car, bus, or take the train. We hired a car with driver to make the trip as we wanted to see several other sights away from Kanchanburi.

Otherwise, you can take the train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. There are 2 trains from Bangkok:

The first train is in the morning at 7.50am from Thonburi and arrives at Kanchanburi at 10.25am, River Kwai Bridge at 10.42am, and the train continues to Nam Tok, arriving at 12.35pm.

The afternoon train leaves Thonburi at 1.55pm and arrives at Kanchanburi at 4.24pm, River Kwai Bridge at 4.32pm and Nam Tok at 6.30pm.

For a day trip. taking the train leaves you with just enough time to explore Kanchanaburi and not much else. The return timing of the train back to Thonburi is at 2.45pm from Kanchanburi. There is a later train at 5.37pm but it stops at Nong Pladuk instead of Thonburi.

Public buses leave Bangkok’s southern terminal every 20 minutes from 4.00am to 8.00pm. The ride takes about 3-4 hours.

Kanchanaburi

My first impression of Kanchanaburi was this sign. I can’t imagine other cities with no nice people.
Our first stop of the day was the Jeath War Museum after our driver dropped us off. This would be the other attraction in Kanchanaburi besides the bridge, and gives visitors an idea of the atrocities suffered by the POW’s who built the railway.
The Jeath Museum may be a disappointment to some as it’s pretty run down. You will see here several old vehicles, a couple of aircraft and loads of weapons from World War 2.
The “Original” Jeath War Museum which displays relics from ex-POW’s and some reproductions of their living conditions while building the Death Railway.
We crossed over to this more ornate building which houses relics from Thailand’s past pre-WW2. It’s also worthwhile to climb to the upper floors of this building as it offers a good view of the bridge.
The upper floors of the building offer a commanding view of the river.
And there is the Bridge Over the River Kwai, except that this is not the River Kwai.

Interesting Fact

The river that the bridge crosses is not named Kwai. It actually is the Mae Khlong River. Pierre Boulle who first wrote the novel had never been to the Death Railway, he only knew that the railway ran alongside the River Kwae and assumed that it would cross the river near Kanchanburi. Readers didn’t care since the novel was fictional. But when the Hollywood movie came out and became a big hit, suddenly tourists were flocking to Thailand and looking for this bridge.

The Thai government faced a problem as no such bridge over the River Kwae existed, so they did the next best thing – In 1960 they renamed the Mae Khlong river to Kwae, and wala! You now have the Bridge over the River Kwai.

After visiting the Jeath War Museum, it’s a short walk to the bridge itself. On the day of our visit it was packed with tourists. I had not expected that day to be a public holiday in Thailand and the whole place was swamped by Bangkok residents coming here for a day trip too.

The infamous bridge is still a functioning railway bridge. You can walk along it but have to give way when the train passes by. Yes, if you take the train from Thonburi to Kanchanburi, it will pass by this bridge.
These straight metal spans at the middle of the bridge were installed after the war when the bridge was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945. The original curved spans can be found on either ends of the bridge.
One thing to note about the train timings is that the train is seldom on time. This was supposed to be the 10.44am train but it only arrived way past 11.30am. Which was a good thing for us, as we got the opportunity to see the train go by.
There are several balconies on the bridge where you can view the train passing by safely. The train travels at a slow 10km/h on the bridge. Even then you shouldn’t be running across the track trying to take a selfie.
The special car is a weekend only carriage which has slightly more comfortable seats and refreshments are provided, but it’s still natural ventilation.
After watching the train go by, we had lunch at the nearby floating restaurants. A great way to hide from the heat of the midday Sun and fill our hungry tummies.

So besides the Jeath War Musuem and the bridge, there are is also the Kanchanburi War Cemetery which is opposite the train station. For the other attractions around the area, you’d have to go out of Kanchanburi.

There are a few notable attractions just outside of Kanchanburi like Wampo Viadut which is part of the Death Railway and is best seen from the train. This is where the train runs along the side of a cliff beside the river. The tracks are supported by wooden trestles which were built by the POW’s, At Nam Tok and beyond there is Hellfire Pass which is a cleared section of the railway opened to visitors. We decided to skip these as they would have taken up too much time for our day trip.

Erawan Falls

Located in the Erawan National Park, this is one of the more well known waterfalls in Thailand. It’s about 2 hours drive from Kanchanburi, and you can also take a public bus there from Kanchanaburi Bus Station. Foreigners pay an entrance fee of THB 300 to enter the park.

The public bus #8170 that comes from Kanchanaburi. It leaves every hour, and the last bus from Erawan back to Kanchanaburi is is 4.00pm.

All vehicles have to park at the large carpark and visitors have to walk around 1 km to the first waterfall. It’s a nice shady walk under the rain forest but with the high humidity, we were soon sweating profusely.

Erawan Falls consists of 7 tiers of waterfalls. Tier 1 to 3 are relatively close by and simple to walk to. Tier 4 and 5 are also a easy hike, but Tier 6 and 7 are physically demanding to get to. The total distance from Tier 1 to 7 is around 1.5 km.
Tier 1 which is really calm and safe even for kids to play in. The terraced features form natural pools for people to swim and soak in.
For ourselves, we decided to stop at Tier 3 which has a very large pool. Due to the national holiday, Erawan Falls was packed that day. I read that the pools are home to the garra rufa fish which you see in fish spas. If you soak in the waters here, they will come to nibble at your dead skin and give you a natural fish spa. Although, with the crowds that day, I never got to see any fishes in the water.
You can take a shower under the waterfall like these people too. We decided to go back to our car as it was already fast approaching the park’s closing time of 4.00pm.
Walking on the path back to the car, we chanced upon this huge wild boar which was foraging for food. He must have been used to humans as he didn’t even seemed scared of us, not that he needed to be scared as he easily weighed more than a 100 kg.

Besides the waterfalls, there are several caves in Erawan National Park, but we didn’t have time explore them. If you want to explore the park it would take a whole day to do it.

We made a slight detour to see the Srinagarind Dam which is just a short drive away from Erawan Falls. You’ll get a very pretty view of the valley and the Kwai Yai River. Yes, this is the same river that flows under the bridge at Kanchanaburi.

From the dam, it was a long drive back to Bangkok. I would say that a day trip to Kanchanaburi is doable but leaves you with little time to visit other places. We couldn’t spend much time at Erawan Falls as the park closes at 4.00pm. If you want to visit the Death Railway and all it’s associated places of interest like Wampo and Hellfire Pass, then you need 1 full day for that. Erawan Falls would take another full day if you want to totally explore the park. So a 2-3 days stay at Kanchanaburi is required if you really want to cover everything.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s