Bridge on the River Kwai

Today was Thai New Year, we arrived at Thon Buri Railway Station in Bangkok at around 7am ready to catch our train. The morning sun was slowly rising, aswell as the temperature whilst we were arranging to buy our tickets. All of a sudden we could hear people laughing and screaming in the background to the beat of a drum. Becoming louder and louder we realised that the locals were taking part in a New Years celebration parade. With it being so early I couldn’t determine if this parade had been going on all night or if it had just started, regardless everyone looked extremely happy to be a part of it. Children were dressed as dragons, a monk was riding in a carriage flicking oil at people, and bands were playing uplifting and optimistic music. It made for a spectacular viewing whilst we waited for our train to Kanchaniburi which arrived at around 07:50am. 

The train was very different to what I had experienced in China, it felt quite Indian in the sense that you could just walk on the tracks to get to your platform, the trains were really old, wooden carriages with a first come first serve basis, luckily we got a seat. The journey to Kanchaniburi was nearly 3 hours  in length and it was our first glimpse of the Thai countryside. Shacks and homes were aligned less than a metre away from where the train was passing and the countryside was also a lot more green and exotic than I had originally anticipated.

We had arrived in Kanchaniburi in the boiling sun at around 11am. Looking at my weather app on my phone it was telling me the temperature was 39 degrees already and expected to reach 43 by the afternoon. Losing all sense of dignity whilst trying not to spray the taxi driver with the leaking pores on my face we arranged to go to the hotel. Yes that’s right a hotel, Georgia had found a budget place to stay in Kanchamiburi that wasn’t a hostel dormitory which is a nice change. She was sharing a room with 2 other girls we’re  travelling with and I  was sharing a room with a guy we were travelling with too. 

We needed to make the most of our short stay here as we only had one night booked. It was today that we wanted to go and see the Hellfire Pass which was 90km west of Kanchaniburi so we had to get going. The cheapest form of transport that we could find was a taxi, but not a traditional yellow or blue taxi that you find in Bangkok. This taxi was a truck that you sit in the back of which has open sides and open back. This of course is quite normal in South East Asia but getting in it for the first time was petrifying. Considering the Hell Fire pass was 90km away we got to it in just over an hour showing how fast he was driving. It was quite funny as looking around at everyone no one said barely a word the whole journey as I think we were all concentrating on not falling out and dieing.

In one piece we did get to the Hell Fire Pass which is located almost at the Thailand – Myanmar border. During the Second World War the Japanese built the Thailand – Myanmar Railway to supply their troops at key locations in the area. Unfortunately for them the unhabitable terrain created a challenge when trying to cut through rocks to lay the tracks. So what they did is use allied prisoners of war aswell as labourers from other south East Asian countries to build it for them. It is known as hell fire pass as people said that during the prisoners 18 hour working shifts they looked like haunting ghosts during the night as fires illuminated their gaunt faces and created supernatural shadows. In total approximately 12,800 British, American, Australian and Dutch soldiers died building the railway from malnutrition, disease and physical torture. The Hellfire pass is so iconic because the rock that the prisoners had to cut through was so big and with nothing but their bare hands mostly and some very flimsy tools they managed to do it.

In the unforgiving heat we headed back to our hotel in the taxi of death and had a great night drinking beer, eating good street food and playing shithead, our favourite card game.

The next morning was equally as hot as the previous day. We headed for the actual Bridge on the river Kwai also known as Death Railway. It was built to form a 250 mile route from Ban Pong in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar and was made famous by the 1957 David Lean film ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’. Suprisingly this section of the railway is still fully functional, and whilst we were checking out a nearby monastery we saw a train cross the bridge whilst people were walking on the tracks. This sounds a lot worse than it was, the train was going at like 2 miles an hour but still in England the health and safety geeks would shut this down in a second. Walking back on ourselves through clothes, food and jewelery markets we slowly walked to the War Memorial in Kanchaniburi about 40 minutes away. It definitely was not the brightest ideas we ever had. By now it was 1pm and the mid day sun bellowed down onto my fair and pale skin. We had already ran out of water and jokingly began to claim we could see hallucinatory mirages of 7 11. I literally drank a 1.5 litre bottle of water and a 1 litre bottle of orange juice in a very short space of time before going into the cemetery. It was a painful reminder of how many people suffered building the railways. What made it worse for me was that although being shot and killed in a war is horrific, at least it’s quick and over with. The people buried in this cemetery suffered painfully at the hands of the Japanese through a long lasting  bout of limited food, water and proper medical care. 

 The only train back to Bangkok that day was at 2:40pm so we had to catch it. It began like any other train journey trying to sleep whilst the guy opposite you sniffed solvents through a weird contraption. About 30 minutes in I was just drifting off to sleep when I heard a rally of screams. A truck had somehow driven into our train. I immediately jumped out of my seat to assess the situation, the truck had flipped several times and had stopped just outside our carriage to the right hand side. People’s attention were focused on a poor guy led lifelessly on the floor next to the truck when suddenly intense black smoke poured uncontrollably from the vehicle. Panic set in and everyone tried to scramble out of the train out of fear the truck was going to explode. We got off the train and to be honest it was chaos, a women was running around crying holding one of the children who was in the truck who looked like her head had been caved in. Our train was blocking the ambulances from getting through to the man on the ground but when they finally did another lady was so eager to speak to a paramedic that they opened the door on her face and knocked her out, what a nightmare. I do have a video on my phone of the incident as I was cautious of the fact if anything did happen to me I would need to show I was there to my insurance company, but obviously I’m not going to upload it here out of respect. This whole palava delayed our train back to Bangkok by quite abit which gave me enough time to contemplate on how much British people are wrapped in cotton wool. Things likes this happen everyday here and a lot worse, but people know how to react to it and get used to dangerous situations. It was a friendly reminder to me that things can go wrong very quickly.


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