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Bridge Over the River Kwai. A Sombering Adventure into the Heart of Thailand

Updated: Nov 15, 2019


Between 180,000 to 250,000 civilian laborers and some 61,000 Allied prisoners were forced to construct the railway. About 90,000 civilian laborers and more than 12,000 Allied prisoners died during its construction.


One of the first films that influenced my childhood days and that helped lead me into joining the United States Army was the 1957 David Lean film, “Bridge over the River Kwai”. The superb acting performance of the late great actor Sir Alec Guinness as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson had an enormous impact on me. So, when a short while back, a friend of mine asked me to join him on a trip to Thailand, I jumped at the chance to go, knowing full well that there was no way I would fly to Thailand and not visit the Bridge Over the River Kwai.


The Bridge Over the River Kwai has a unique/terrible place in military history. The bridge is a major part of the Thai–Burma Railway that was built using forced labor by Japanese forces in Thailand in 1943 during WWII. The Thai–Burma Railway completed the rail link between Bangkok and Rangoon, Burma. The railway was a 415-kilometer (258 mi) railway between Ban Pong, Thailand, and Thanbyuzayat, Burma. Between 180,000 to 250,000 civilian laborers and some 61,000 Allied prisoners were forced to construct the railway. About 90,000 civilian laborers and more than 12,000 Allied prisoners died during its construction.


Upon our arrival and check-in at the Le Meridian hotel (highly recommended if you are traveling to Thailand) in Bangkok, I booked a us a tour to the bridge. Two days later we are in a van heading to the bridge, not knowing what to really expect. I had visions of the movie running through my head that made the trip go by super-fast, so much so that I lost all track of time. When we arrived in Kanchanaburi, the first stop was the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery that contains the graves of almost 7,000 Allied prisoners (British, Dutch, Australian, New Zealand, Danish and Canadians) that died building the railway. Standing in that graveyard looking down at the graves of the dead had a lasting impact on the two of us for the rest of the day. All I could think about was how could the Japanese have been so evil? The answer to this day still has not come to me. After the cemetery, we took a short boat ride to the bridge where you could stand and see what the prisoners built and died for. Standing there on that bridge, you just seem to be able to transport yourself back in time to 1943 where you can see in your mind the prisoners hard at work while their Japanese guards stood by watching. You can hear the sounds of hammers at work, and the barking of commands to the men to work harder with no food or water in the high heat and humidity of Thailand. You then realize that it was a miracle that more people did not die at the hands of the Japanese while building that railway. To this day, that one trip to the Bridge Over the River Kwai has been one of the most sombering trips that I have ever taken any battlefield or other war site. One that I would gladly make again and again.


If you are looking for a place to go on your next R&R or vacation, then you may well want to look at Thailand and the Bridge Over the River Kwai as a part of your next trip. It is a sombering bridge and is a trip that I'll never forget and one that I highly recommend. If you love visiting historical military sites as much as I do, then a trip to the Bridge Over the River Kwai is one for the books and as always -


"Happy trails my friends."


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