Bridge on the River Kwai

Travel to historic Kanchanaburi, Thailand: Inspiration for the movie “Bridge on the River Kwai”

When visiting Thailand it is highly recommended that you travel to Kanchanaburi, the location that was the inspiration for the iconic movie “Bridge on the River Kwai”. The tragic story associated with the bridge is an internationally important historical landmark. The bridge, also known as “The Death Bridge”, is still in use today and is located in Kanchanaburi west of Bangkok, close to the Myanmar border.

The Destruction of the Bridge River Kwai during WWII

The imperial Japanese army oversaw construction of the iron bridge during World War II. The purpose of the bridge was to carry soldiers and supplies to Burma (now Myanmar), where the Japanese were fighting the British. The railway originally ran within 50 meters of the Three Pagodas Pass, which today marks the border of Myanmar.

Beginning in 1942, Allied POWs and Asian slaves built the bridge under terrible conditions. Thousands of the men in forced labor lost their lives in the year it took to build the bridge due to their poor treatment and difficult terrain. All the work was done by hand.

About 7,000 POWs who died constructing the bridge are interred at the nearby Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Located opposite Kanchanaburi’s Railway Station on Saengchootoe Road, it contains the remains of the Australian, Dutch and British POWs.  Two kilometers south, on the Kwai Noi River banks, the remains of 2,000 POWS from Great Britain, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Indian are buried at the Chonk-Kai War Cemetery.

Three sections of the bridge were destroyed in a series of bombing raids by Allied forces in 1944, which gave rise to the fictionalized, fact-based movie and books on the subject.

The Bridge River Kwai Today

After the war, two of the bridge’s central spans were rebuilt. The damaged portions of the Death Railway Bridge are housed in the War Museum.

Despite its painful history, the Bridge River Kwai traverses some beautiful countryside, built into the surrounding cliffs. It has become a tourist destination, with walkways built along the track, allowing visitors to cross the bridge on foot. There is also a small tourist train, which goes back and forth over the bridge from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok Railway Station.

Museums Dedicated to the Death Railway

In addition to the cemeteries, there are three museums dedicated to the historical occurrences at the Bridge River Kwai, or Death Railway.

  • JEATH War Museum: JEATH, an acronym for the primary countries who fought in the area, Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland, is located at the Wat Chai Chumphon. Overseen by a Thai monk, the thatched-roof museum replicates an Allied POW camp and contains WWII photos and memorabilia.
  • War Museum at the Bridge: On the banks of the Kwai River near the Death Railway is the War Museum. It houses stories, armaments of war, photographs, uniforms and other WWII memorabilia. It also houses an art gallery. The second floor displays paintings of ancient battles between the Thais and Burmese, and the third contains murals depicting Thai history.
  • Thai-Burmese Railway Center: The interactive Thai-Burmese Railway Center museum is dedicated to the Thai-Burma Railway history. It is located next to the Don-Rak War Cemetery.

Although the bridge and the museums depict the occurrences of great cruelty and harshness, it is an important educational area. It stands as a reminder of the horrors of war, the sacrifices made, and the courage to survive.