Kanchanaburi: A unique blend of history and nature in Thailand, hub of stone jewellery
What has turned the municipality of Kanchanaburi into a tourist destination is a brush with World War II. And the Bridge on the River Kwae
Kanchanaburi may not feature among top-of-mind tourist attractions of Thailand like Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket but it has a unique blend of history of not very long past and natural ambience. The province slogan sums it up quite appropriately “ A province of ancient community, Three Pagoda Pass, precious stones, River Kwae Bridge, minerals and waterfall resources.
Not much is known about this place till the reign of King Rama I, around late 18th century but some archeological evidence dates back to 4th century.
Three Pagoda Pass connects Thailand to Myanmar. It gets the name from the three stupas on the Bantadthony Mountain which forms the border between these two countries.
The city of Kanchanaburi is a hub of exquisite precious and semi-precious stone jewellery which find buyers from world over. As a matter of fact the place is known for its range of sapphire.
What has turned the municipality of Kanchanaburi into a tourist destination is a brush with World War II. And the Bridge on the River Kwae. The bridge that the tourists throng to see is on river Mae Klong . River Kwae joins this mighty river in course of it’s flow and super imposed its name thanks to Oscar winning film The Bridge on the River Kwae (1957) directed by David Lean based on a French novel written by Pierre Boulle.
In 1940, Japan over ran Burma but sea route was the only way for supply to their forces and came under Allied attack very frequently.
In 1942 Kanchanaburi came under Japanese control who realized that a railway track over the river into the mountain would make supply way and invasion of Malay ( Malayasia and Singapore), Burma (Myanmar) and India, the British colonies easier. The track was to connect Bong Pong in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat, Burma. The most forbidding task was to cut the rocks in Terasserim Hill for laying the railway line. Around 2,00,00 Asian civilians and 61,000 Allied prisoners of war were forced to carry out this grueling task under utterly inhuman conditions.
This infamous construction project known as Burma Railways claimed lives of nearly 13000 prisoners of war and 80000 civilians. It is said sixty nine men were beaten to death by Japanesse guards within a week of start of the project. Mostly men died of starvation, exhaustion, dysentery and topical diseases. The horrific sight of emaciated prisoner working at night by oil-fire bamboo torch light on pass was said to resemble a scene from the hell. Thus the project came to be known as Death Railway and Hell Fire Pass Jap plans could not materialize as the track was bombed persistently by the Royal Air Force. Now, one can ride the antique train from Bangkok to Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi and walk down to Hell Fire Pass.
There are two museums and a memorial to commemorate the dead and pay tribute. The Hell Fire Pass Memorial Museum and preservation of the pass was initiated in 1983 by J.G Morris , an Australian who worked there as a POW. This is Thai-Australian joint project was opened by Hon’ble Prime Minister of Australia John Howard in 1998. Thai-Burma Railway Center and JEATH (Japan-English-American-Australian- Thai-Holland ) War Museum was opened in March 2003. They are dedicated to the Bridge and the Death Railway.
Yet another attraction near the city is Erawan National Park. It is named after three headed white elephant of Hindu mythology called Erawan. The major draw of the park is a seven tired waterfall is said to resemble Erawan. The distance from the starting point to the top is around one and a half kilometers. The tiers’ are accessible by series of trails and foot bridges through evergreen forest area dotted with picturesque emerald coloured ponds. One can climb up to fifth tier of the fall with relative ease but sixth and seventh tire requires lot more effort and bit of expertise.
The Park also have four caves, Mi, Rua, Wang Bahdanand Phra That. The caves has chambers consisting of stalactite and stalagmite and are inhabited by bats. These caves can be explored, accompanied by a ranger.