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The Bridge over the River Kwai (Kwai Yai or River Kwae Yai), Kanchanaburi (Kanburi), Thailand.

Bridge on the River Kwai Yai - The Mae Klong River (renamed Kwai Yai River in 1960) - Thai-Burma Railway Line.

Yes, the bridge over the River Kwai really does exist, and it actually spans the River Kwai on the River Kwai Yai at Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The present steel bridge is close to the site of the original bamboo and wood structure whose mental image draws many tourists from around the world, expecting to view the remains of the structure built by Allied Prisoners of War, which was later blown up completely by a demolition squad, not saboteurs after being severely damaged by allied bombers!

The bridge over the River Kwai is an easy day trip from Bangkok. Kanchanaburi has built a tourism industry on the story of the bridge as depicted in the movie 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' David Lean's major multi-million dollar, wide-screen super-spectacular (released in 1957), a memorable, World War II epic action (anti-war?) drama. There is only one problem; the 1957 movie is pure fiction (sorry)! The novel that the film was based upon was written by Frenchman Pierre Boulle the author of 'Planet of the Apes' with most of the film footage shot in Sri Lanka, Ceylon as it was then.

Tamarkan POW Camp was located adjacent to both of the bridges and a nearby Japanese anti-aircraft battery. The POW Camp suffered during air raids along with the bridges, the worst being in late November 1944 when three bombs overshot the target and demolished the top ends of POW huts 1 and 2, burying a number of the occupants.

Despite being built of poured concrete and steel (not the amazing structure built by an experienced film special effects team), Bridge on the River Kwai Yai is there and there is something in the soul that makes it's meaning no less real. The total length of railway line constructed, mainly by POW's was 419kms.

The film's story was loosely based on a factual World War II incident, and a real-life British Army Lieutenant Colonel, Philip Toosey; one of a number of Allied POW's. Lt. Col. Toosey, as the highest ranking officer, was in charge of Allied POW's between late 1942 and May 1943. During this period he was ordered to construct two Kwai River bridges in Burma (now Myanmar) one of steel and one of wood, to facilitate the movement of Japanese military supplies and troops from Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma. In reality, through delaying tactics, the actual bridges took 8 months to build, rather than the two months planned by the Japanese! The bridges were actually used and were only destroyed two years after their construction, in late June 1945.

You wouldn't be the first (Allied) tourist to perform the ritual of marching across it, whistling Colonel Bogey’s March (Hitler Has Only Got One Ball) written in 1914 by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts (1881-1945). This is the song the prisoners of war (POW's) whistle in the movie. Incidentally the tune was inspired by a military man and golfer who whistled a characteristic two-note phrase (notation: a descending minor third interval) instead of shouting "Fore!” It is this phrase that begins each line of the melody. Bogey is golfing term representing a score of one over par.

Kanchanaburi is an interesting place in its self, even if you feel that the bridge is a disappointment (personally I didn't). Once away from the tourist traps at the bridge, Kanchanaburi is a peaceful, relaxing place with unusual floating guesthouses and restaurants.

Other areas of interest related to the Japanese, English, Australian, American Thai and Holland Railway (JEATH) - don't know what happened to the second 'A' .

There are the must see sites that include the war cemeteries, looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the nearest of which is close to where over 7000 prisoners of war who died working on what was colloquially known as 'The Death Railway' are buried and the Official JEATH Museum displays, with representation buildings, historic information, art and genuine artifacts all from this abominable period of world history. The Kanchanaburi cemetery is right opposite the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, an interactive museum, (small entrance fee applies) with an information and research facility dedicated to preserving and presenting the history of the Thailand-Burma (Death) Railway and memory of the POW's that perished building it.

Both the wooden bridge (downstream close to the existing bridge) over the River Kwai and the adjacent steel bridge were subjected to numerous air raids by allied air forces between January and June 1945 but POW forced labour was used to repair the wooden bridge on each occasion. Tamarkan is fifty five kilometers north of Nong Pladuk (also known as Non Pladuk) and about the same distance from Bangkok.

We visited the Bridge over the River Kwai on a day trip booked through Mini Tours of Bangkok.


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