Category Archives: Kanchanaburi

Ciao Phraya

Here is a collection of photos from Thailand that didn’t quite make the other blog posts.

Daytime

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Nighttime

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Kwai

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Wat Pho

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Death Railway

Perhaps one of the most poignant parts of our trip to Thailand was a visit to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery and Museum on the way to the Bridge on the River Kwai.

Unknown SoldierWhen the decision was made by Japanese authorities to build the Thai / Burma railway their engineers estimated that it would take approximately 60,000 labourers around five years to complete. As the war progressed, and the Allies solidified their presence in the Pacific, increasing pressure was placed upon the construction crews to get the railway built as quickly as possible. The already inhumane treatment of PoWs and Asian workers, became utterly barbaric and the death toll increased exponentially.

Aside from the vicious beatings, mainly from the Korean guards, and being chronically malnourished, diseases such as cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea, beri beri, malaria and septic tropical ulcers plagued the workers and resulted in many fatalities. The chances of survival were greatly influenced by many factors including; the condition of the campsite and its proximity to fresh water, the attitude of the Japanese railway engineers, access to medicines and medical personnel, food and hygiene practices, and the work that the individual was tasked to perform.

“The death toll was horrendous. Nearly 39 per cent of those who worked on the railway died”. – Rod Beattie.

CemetaryIn his book ‘The Thai-Burma Railway: The True Story of the Bridge on the River Kwai’ from which much of this information is gleaned, researcher and historian Rod Beattie points out two amazing facts.

1.) The mythology surrounding the Thai-Burma railway, mostly generated by the movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” would have you believe that it was built almost exclusively by Allied personnel. The truth is that 70% of the workforce were contracted or conscripted Asian labourers. Most of these labourers came from Malaya or Burma, but there were some from Singapore and Java as well. The death rate amongst the Asian workers was more than twice that of the PoWs.

“The Asian labourers took the brunt of the carnage, with nearly half of the approximately 180,000 Asian workers dying, mainly from disease and malnourishment.” Rod Beattie

2.) The death rate amongst the nationalities of the PoWs was remarkably similar.

  • American 19.1%
  • Australian 21.5%
  • British 22.9%
  • Dutch 15.5%

“The prisoners of war managed to contain their rate of death to about 20 per cent of the total of just under 62,000.” Rod Beattie.

By the time the railway was completed on the 25th October 1943 when the line was joined at Konkoita, the death toll was as follows:

  • American – 131
  • Aminese – 25
  • Australian – 2,802
  • British – 6,904
  • Burmese – 40,000
  • Chinese – 500
  • Dutch – 2,782
  • Javanese – 2,900
  • Malay – 42,000
  • Japanese / Koreans – 1,000

According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission there are 5,084 Commonwealth casualties buried or commemorated at theĀ Kanchanaburi War Cemetery alongside 1,896 Dutch war graves. Many of the graves are unidentified. Three hundred men who perished during a cholera outbreak and were cremated have their ashes interred within two graves on this site, their names are commemorated on panels installed inside the entrance pavilion. All American soldiers have since been repatriated. No Asian workers are buried here.

Lest we forget.

Soldier Cemetary

Bridge on the River Kwai

The plan to build a railway linking Thailand to Burma was first considered by the British in the late nineteenth century. Surveys were conducted in 1885 and 1905 but the project was shelved due to the fact that it was not economically viable. In June 1942 the US naval fleet inflicted a decisive blow against the Japanese Imperial Navy at the Battle of Midway and deprived the Japanese of total control over the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The Japanese needed a safe supply route to their forces in Burma and, with the vast quantity of PoWs at their disposal, the decision was made to build a railway from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Burma, a distance of around 415kms.

Early construction crews reached their first obstacle at the River Kwai Yai at Kanchanaburi on the Thai side. A temporary wooden bridge, pictured below, had to be built across the river so as to transport supplies, equipment and workers further up the line.

Old Bridge

Barbaric treatment of the PoWs and Asian migrant workers was compounded not only by the mountainous jungle terrain, but by the tropical weather as well. Monsoons turned the entire area into vast mud pits stopping the progress of even the hardiest supply truck. To get around this problem the Japanese began retro-fitting army vehicles with an ingenious system that could easily replace rubber tyres with short gauge rail wheels that would run on the tracks already laid.

Much of the railway was torn up at the end of the war, and a large part now lies submerged within the Vajiralongkorn Dam, however there is around 130kms left that takes tourists from Ban Pong to the Sai Yok waterfalls on the border of Myanmar.

trainIf you get a chance to visit the bridge do yourelf a favour and walk along the tracks until you round the bend on the other side. The silence there will help you to digest the amount of human suffering that occurred so that the bridge and the railway could be built.

 

Last Tiger Post

The experience of seeing, touching, feeding and playing with these magnificent creatures is incredibly hard to describe. Watching giant stripey kittens stalk Heidi’s multi-coloured skirt as she remained blissfully unaware of the danger, and feeling the strength of the cubs as they play with the toy we were waving around for them, was mind-blowing and a little scary.

Seeing a six-foot adult (from head to bum) reach up and shred the bark of a tree nine-feet off the ground, with claws that would reduce a human to pulp within seconds, and then relax in the sun with his head in Tommy’s lap, made me feel humble at the power of an apex predator and sad that their numbers have been tragically reduced at the hands of mankind.

Yes, we have heard the stories about these animals being drugged for the tourist dollar, but we physically walked the tigers back to their enclosure before being allowed in to sit with them and at no stage were they given anything to eat or drink as they headed down the steep path to their pen where they were in complete view from us at all time. If they had been slipped something beforehand then I doubt they would have made the distance. Perhaps I am being naive, but I prefer to believe that the gentle, caring, peaceful nature of the monks is the reason that the tigers remain tranquil and passive to the presence of humans.

Hold That Tiger

Unfortunately Andy didn’t make it to the Tiger Temple with us. He’d sprained his ankle the night before looking for street food in Bangkok.

Tigers

The Tiger Temple Thailand located 45 minutes out of Kanchanaburi. It is an animal sanctuary run by monks and volunteers and we have been assured on several occasions that the animals in these photos are not drugged in any way. Having played with the tigers myself I believe them, but feel free to check it out next time you’re in South East Asia and decide for yourself.