Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Probably one of the highlights of our trip to Thailand was our daytrip to Kanchanaburi. This is the home to the infamous Death Railway portrayed in the 1957 World War II classic Bridge Over the River Kwai. With two 14-year-old boys that are not only Civil War buffs (I’ve been to more NPS Civil War sites than I care to recall – nearly 20 but who’s counting?) it appears that now that we are in the Pacific Theatre this mom will be on some sort of forced march through World War II sites on this side of the world. Truthfully, some of this is of my own making. When they came home from school and said they had to read 2 novels over winter break I suggested they look up some options on the web. The web being very organic, one click led to another and they landed on The Bridge Over the River Kwai. Mmmmm, not exactly what I had in mind but when I realized that “hey, wait a minute, I think that took place in Thailand …” which led to a few more clicks of the mouse (what was life like before the web?!) and I quickly realized we could take daytrip to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok.
For all the glory young men see in war films, this mom of two boys and the wife of a service member sees things very differently. I made sure they’ve been to Andersonville to see the horrors of what humans can do to each other and Arlington where silent soldiers markers tell the story of the ultimate sacrifice. Here on the other side of the world was another chance for them to see a side of history where there is no glory in war. The Japanese Army used slave labor and prisoners of war to advance their war effort in building the Thai-Burma railway. During construction of the railway and bridge over 100,000 conscripted locals and 12,000 POW’s died.
Our first stop was JEATH War Museum (Japan, England, Australia/America, Thailand and Holland). This is run by a local Buddhist temple and has reconstructed bamboo huts like those used by the POW’s. The hut contains photographs, newspaper articles, paintings by POW’s, weapons and other war memorabilia. It was interesting if not in need of a major overhaul. But I did read a very interesting article about the bridge blowing up – which in reality is nothing like the Hollywood version. Click on this link to read about the harrowing bombing run of the American B-24 Liberator crew http://carol_fus.tripod.com/army_ac_hero_c_f_linamen.html who blew up three spans of the steel bridge.
From there we went to the Thailand-Burma Railway centre – this museum was excellent and we all wished we had had more time to go through it. The stories, the exhibits, it was well thought out and well done – and I’m picky about my museums having worked on a couple of NPS exhibits. I would highly recommend this as a must see stop if you’re planning a visit to Kanchanaburi. It is across from the Kanchanaburi Allied Cemetery where 7000 prisoners are buried. For more info you can go to www.tbrconline.com.
Next stop was the railway itself. We were to ride the train from Kanchanaburi up to Thamkrasae where we would have lunch on the river. We had a bit of time before the train arrived and they allow you to walk out onto the bridge. You will notice in the photos that the bridge sections that are rectangular are the replacement sections of the bridge that were blown up by the B-24 crew.
The train ride was one of my favorite things I did while in Thailand. It was nice once you got past the t-shirt vendor, the cap vendor, the tourist photo vendor, the drink vendor … gee did I leave anyone out … everyone in Thailand seems to have their schtick. You traveled through agricultural land with beautiful mountains in the background. We passed by sugar cane fields, tapioca fields, sweet potato fields, banana trees. With no air conditioning and all the windows down, wind whipping through the train cars, the swaying back and forth and the rhythmic clacking of the train and the landscape stretching out for miles – it was an hour and a half meditative journey.
We arrived at Thamkrasae station and had our lunch over looking the river. The lunch was fine, not that it was anything that I would rave about, and it was clearly geared to the tourist crowd. The kids and Jeff walked back over the tracks down to the area that the tracks were along a shear cliff by the river. We returned to Bangkok passing by countless sugar cane trucks with their cargo spilling over the top – this is harvest time for sugar cane. With one more day to go we in Thailand we made plans to hit the weekend market early the next morning.
Till next time, sayonara.
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