I’m interested in war in a morbid sense wherein it both fascinates and disgusts me. Not to the point where I devour every single information about it. Just the type that will watch documentaries and will try to visit war sites. Hence my visit in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
For those who didn’t know, this place is where the River Kwai is. You know the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai? That’s the one. Ever heard of the Hellfire Pass? It’s the most famous part of the Death Railway, about 80km away from the bridge.
WAR COMMEMORATION ITINERARY
Both places, plus the 2 war cemeteries can be seen in one day if you’re unfortunate enough to be visiting the museum when there’s a forest fire (like me), or if you have no interest in trekking the train part of the museum. Arrive in Kanchanaburi early in the morning, get yourself a scooter, do the Museum, head back to the center to see the bridge and the cemeteries, return the scooter and go to the bus station and take the bus to wherever you came from. Eight hours is enough.
But I think I’ve established that that’s not how I roll, so I gave myself a full day for the museum (not knowing about the said forest fire).
HELLFIRE PASS MUSEUM
The best part of the museum was that IT’S FREE. The audio-tour recording? ALSO FREE. Granted you’re back by 4pm, otherwise you’ll pay THB500 (hence it is critical you be there early if you wanna do the whole thing).
Walking through the pass indeed was hell because of the scorching heat and mosquitoes. Forget about the bites. Their sound was making me want to scream my head off. The earphones and the buff covering it were not helping—they were that loud. I was dressed properly and had 1L of water with me, and I still wanted to turn back—fuck this heat and higher learning. So if I felt that way, imagine how the POWs were feeling when they were forced to make the railroad from Thailand to Myanmar (that served no strategic purpose once completed, FYI). No food, no water, and beaten when they so much as sneeze (I’m not sure about the last one, but hey, it’s carte blanche during a war). Wiki says over 61,000 POWs died making the tracks from 1942-45. No wonder it was called the Death Railway
Overall this museum was a great experiential learning of History. Maybe if we bring kids to such places, they’ll grow up to say “we want free hipster coffee! And also maybe don’t send us to war!” to whichever politician or insurgent who even suggests the possibility
BRIDGE OVER RIVER KWAI
The Bridge over River Kwai is just a walk away from the center, where all the hostels are. It’s not the actual bridge anymore. It’s been converted to a tourist-friendly site, so good luck getting an IG-worthy picture with just you and the bridge.
CHUNGKAI AND KANCHANABURI WAR CEMETERY
I say the cemeteries are worth a visit. War has always been an abstract to me, something I read about and go to cinemas for. It’s quite the experience to realize first hand that yes, it happened, and there were casualties. Enormous casualties. And here’s the proof
I looked at tombstones and saw how young the soldiers were. Most were younger than me. And I felt gut-punched when I saw numerous tombstones without names. I never thought the identified dead were luckier. At least they can be remembered properly, with some given loving words by relatives.
Because of the gravity of the experience, I preferred Chungkai over Kanchanaburi because it’s far from the main thoroughfare and it’s smaller. Thus it was more tranquil.
Travel Dates: 2016.01.29-30
Destination: Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Scooter Rental: THB250/24hrs
Gasoline: THB50 (THB 23.47/L)