Death Railway

The Burma Railway (Death Railway) a 415-kilometre  line between Ban Pong in Thailand, and Thanbyuzayatin Burma, constructed by the Japanese in 1943 to help their forces in the Burma campaign during the SecondWorld War. The line meant that Bangkok and Rangoon in Burma were linked. It was done by forced labour and prisoners of war; it is thought that up to 250,000 worked on the line. Many died, including over 12,000 prisoners of war. That figure is dwarfed by the number of Tamils that were thought to have died, over 100,000, representing about half their number. Japanese commanders were tried for war crimes when the War finished largely because of this project with 32 sentenced to death.

Plans to build a railway line were in place before the War but discarded as an impractical proposition but the Japanese had no such qualms because of the time that would be saved getting between the two cities. In the end there were over 600 bridges, a true indication of the difficulty of the project, and the famous film’’ Bridge over the River Kwai’’ told the story of one of them.

death railway in thailand

How to get there
Kanchanaburi is close to the River Khwae and just a two hour bus journey from Bangkok. Private Thailand travel packages will organise travel for clients.

There is also a train service to consider from Bangkok which obviously connects easily with the whole region allowing Indochina tour packages to be so popular with oversea tourists.

Best time to visit
The climate has got no more comfortable since the War but tourists on holiday in Thailand do not have to work while they are there. Heat and humidity were a constant factor and disease and malnutrition added to the problems. Tourists who travel to see this region play little attention to the climate when selecting the months to travel though it will be drier after the monsoon rains finish in October for half a year.

Things to see
What is there to see over seventy years after the end of World War II?
The Khwae Noi River is the place that most travellers to this part of Thailand want to see. The film was loosely based on fact but it was fiction after all. However Thailand tour packages are able to show tourists the kind of environment in which the workers lived and worked every daily.

There are walking trails that have become popular following abandoned sections of the line though some parts of the line have been reconstructed and are in use today. Other parts of the original route are now under water after the construction of the Vajiralongkorn Dam. It would involve extensive tunnelling to connect everything up again and there are doubts about the benefits of doing this difficult work.

There are 3 cemeteries which the Commonwealth War Graves Commissionmaintain. Most of the Allied dead are buried in these solemn places:

• Kanchanaburi War Cemetery at Kanchanaburi has almost 7,000 graves
• Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery at Thanbyuzayat holds 3,600 bodies
• Chungkai War Cemetery near Kanchanaburihas almost 1.700 graves

There were a small number of American dead but their bodies were all repatriated.
The museums to see are at the place called Hellfire Pass, a particularly difficult section to construct, north of Nam Tok and at Kanchanaburi where there is a railway museum and a war museum. The Kwai Bridge has a memorial plaque that remembers the people, allied forces and local forced labour that gave their lives.

There is plentiful accommodation, guesthouse, resort and hotel, in Kanchanaburi. Organised tours will make all the necessary arrangements for their tours.

Death Railway map