Around Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai

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Things to do


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January, 2019

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Prior to our trip to Thailand, an old friend revealed his father was buried in Kanchanaburi Cemetery. Unfortunately, he’d never been able to visit the grave, and although we’d been to Kanchanaburi many years ago, we arranged a trip from Hintok River Camp.

THE TRAIN TO KANCHANABURI – we took the 2-hour journey from Nam Tok stopping at numerous small stations, past field of tall tapioca plants and rice fields. Vendors paraded up and down selling cold drinks, snacks we could identify like crisps and sweets, and more interesting looking Thai products in plastic bags which were a mystery to us. We crossed the Tham Krasae Bridge, also known as the Wampo Viaduct, before eventually crossing the River Kwai bridge. We got off in Kanchanaburi, leaving the train heading to Bangkok.

RIVER KWAI BRIDGE – we walked the entire length of the bridge on wide metal tracks. At the Kanchanaburi side were two old bombs on either side of the bridge and at various points were jetty like areas, where you could stand if a train passed. At the other much quieter end, we found the River Kwai bridge booking office.

KANCHANABURI – before visiting the cemetery, we found the old city gate and walked down the heritage street of Pak Phraek Heritage Street with its buildings blending Chinese, European and Thai architecture. Some of the more interesting had information boards outside in Thai and English telling their history. One owner, Boonpong Sirivejabhand, known as the Silent Tiger, was a pharmacist who carried secret messages from the UK government to POWs and was awarded an MBE in 1948.

“KANCHANABURI CEMETERY”: – we had the reference number of the grave, section 2, row M, and using the map at the cemetery entrance found it easily. We’d expected headstones made of Portland Stone, like those we’d seen in France, but learned that in Thailand and Turkey, stone-faced pedestal markers were used as the countries are either subject to severe weather or earthquakes. We placed a wooden cross and poppy on the grave before wandering around some of the other 5,085 graves of Commonwealth casualties and memorial. It was immaculately maintained with local people weeding and tidying the colourful plants surrounding the graves whilst sprinklers kept the grass lush even in the heat. Back at the entrance we found the relevant entry in the book of remembrance and wrote in the visitors’ book.

“THAILAND BURMA RAILWAY CENTRE”: is adjacent to the cemetery and is located over two floors. It was well laid out with signs in both Thai and English telling the story of the Thailand-Burma Railway with lots of facts and figures. A replica of a hospital ward told of how medical staff tried to save lives in very difficult circumstances. Orderlies were also deemed real heroes as they had no medical training, yet risked their life catching diseases from patients. A steel box car sat in the grounds: this would have transported 28 POW in cramped conditions, to what they thought were rest camps. The stair well leading to the second floor displayed regimental coats of arms. The final exhibit was information on what happened to the guards – one cruel but kind guard (known as Tiger) had been sentenced to prison for one day, whilst others faced death.

“CHUNGKAI CEMETERY”: – we visited a second cemetery, on Kanchanaburi’s outskirts, and located on the site of a former POW camp. This contained 1,750 graves of British and Dutch POWs.

THAM KRASAE BRIDGE – before returning to camp by road, we stopped to walk along the bridge we’d crossed by train. It hugs the cliff on one side, with a steep drop of around 9m on the other. Walking along the slatted train tracks with only air beneath took a degree of courage. But not as much courage as the brave prisoners who built the 400m double viaduct in only 17 days.

A truly emotional day.

Kanchanaburi can easily be done as a day trip from Bangkok.

Helen Jackson

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