Located near the town of Kanchanaburi in Thailand, the lush and tropical setting around the rail bridge on Khwae Yai River makes for a beautiful location in contrast to the horrible history which took place here during WWII. An estimated 100,000 people died during terrible circumstances when the Japanese forced Asian slave laborers and prisoners of war — most of them British, Dutch, and Australian — to build the Thai-Burma Railway, a part of which is the bridge.
The bridge made world-famous by the 1957 movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, and although the movie was filmed at another bridge in Sri Lanka, the real one on Khwae Yai River has become a major tourist attraction and a symbol for the notorious railway.
The history of the ‘Death Railway,’ as the Thai-Burma Railway is called is also depicted in the highly successful film The Railway Man from 2013 starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.
The curved bridge spans are original from 1943 while the two center spans, which were destroyed by US bombings in 1945 have been replaced by newer ones allowing trains and people on foot to pass the river again.
It’s such an iconic bridge reminding us of the horrors of WWII, and I’m glad to say I’ve crossed it. I think my wife and her friends who accompanied us on the trip to Kanchanaburi were quite thrilled as well.
There are some floating restaurants, food, and souvenir stalls by the bridge, but we didn’t spend much time here as we were more interested in another bridge, or viaduct, an hour away.
Don’t miss out on Tham Krasae Bridge – Wampo Viaduct
Many people travel to Kanchanaburi to visit the Bridge on the River Kwai but miss out on the Tham Krasae Bridge or Wampo Viaduct, also built by prisoners of war. You can take a train trip on the ‘Death Railway’ to Tham Krasae Bridge station (Bangkok – Kanchanaburi – Namtok line) from the Bridge on the River Kwai station. The train ride one way takes more than an hour, and since the train schedule didn’t fit us well, we drove our self to Tham Krasae Bridge station and then walked over the impressive viaduct. It was an incredible experience taking in the breathtaking scenery along the River Kwai Noi.
We parked the car on a dirt parking lot just across the gorgeous Suansaiyok Resort at Tham Krasae Bridge station. Look at that scenery! Imagine staying there watching the old trains passing by while sipping your morning coffee or afternoon drink.
There is also a cool cave called Krasae Cave at the end of the bridge (or beginning depending on where you start) with a golden Buddha statue that has been worshiped by the locals for a long time.
View from inside the cave by the rails of the Tham Krasae Bridge.
Where to stay
We stayed at Royal River Kwai Resort & Spa one night for free as we had enough Agoda points to cover the room rate of around $50. It’s a fantastic hotel situated by the river 10 minutes west of the Bridge on the River Kwai. We loved the pool with coconut trees and the fact that you could order drinks from the sun loungers.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Before heading back to Bangkok we stopped by the well-kept Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, and it’s impossible not to be moved by the fate of the nearly 7,000 heroes resting here. There is also a museum across the road which we, however, did not visit.
Where to eat
I want to recommend the Library Café not far from the bridge which, besides desserts and coffee, has delicious food and a good selection of international beer.
You can explore Kanchanaburi as a day trip from Bangkok, but it’s better to take your time and stay over at least one night to be able to enjoy this area fully. We rented a car in Bangkok and chose to stay two nights at two different hotels; one near the bridge and one closer to the Erawan National Park an hour away to see the beautiful waterfalls which I will write about soon.