Uncovering Kanchanaburi

Uncovering Kanchanaburi
Many people like to escape the city during the holiday over Christmas and New Year, and so I spent the last few days of 2015 in Kanchanaburi. For those who have never heard of Kanchanaburi, it is a small city just 120 km west of Bangkok, toward the border with Myanmar. In spite of this relatively close distance, the train ride takes well over two hours, though with the wind breezing through the open windows it is leisurely enough. The reason it takes so long is likely due to the fact that the train, and the line it travels on, are ancient. And this fit well with the whole trip, since my journey to Kanchanaburi was like taking a step back in time.

The train stops in Kanchanaburi city centre, however the next stop is at the famous ‘bridge on the River Kwai’, (famous due to the film of the same name). The original bridge was built and destroyed during the Second World War, and reconstructed again not long after using parts of the original bridge. It is an impressive iron structure that certainly draws the crowds. Hundreds of tourists stood along the tracks over the bridge (a rather shocking thing to imagine for anyone who comes from a country where health and safety is paramount and the idea of standing on an active railway is terrifying!). This made it quite an adventure as I made my own way across the bridge, minding my step on the tracks, side-stepping selfies and pausing for people taking pictures!

The following day we opted to take a bus to the Hellfire Pass, further to the west, and then take the train again for the return trip (a single two to three hour train journey a day is enough, thanks!). When the Thai-Burmese railway was being constructed it was blocked by huge areas of rock. The solution was to use a labour force of thousands to cut through the rock. Walking along the path of the old tracks was tiring in the Thai heat, though I could be proud of being one of very few people I saw get beyond the first rock cutting. Memorials to those who worked on the railway can be found around Kanchanaburi and at the Pass itself.

The return journey to Kanchanaburi would be by train. We took a taxi from the Sai Yok waterfall (thank the heavens for air-conditioning) to Krasae Caves, a steep rock face along the river. Here is where the nickname ‘Death Railway’ starts to mean something. As the train departs the station it shakes and rattles slowly along a high wooden bridge that clings to the rock face. A brave look down through the window reveals a sheer drop into the river below. With the passing of the thrilling bridge section the remainder of the journey offers views of farmland, hills and peaceful countryside, and is a grand way to end a day trip along the old Thailand-Burma Railway.