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October 27, 2012

RIVER KWAI CAN BE A BRIDGE TOO FAR


David Ellis

NO matter how well-travelled we think we are, even the most-experienced of us can fall prey to the vagaries of the world's multiplicity of transport systems – both good and bad.

Long-time travel industry public relations man, David Ovens – who would need an over-sized suitcase to store all his airline tickets, ship's boarding passes and rail and coach vouchers if he'd have ever thought it worthwhile keeping these as mementos – 'fessed up the other day that a recent trip to Thailand's famous Bridge on the River Kwai turned out a wake-up call for do-it-yourselfers.

For a frequent traveller to Bangkok (but first-time visitor to Kanchanaburi province) it looked a piece of cake for David to catch a scheduled bus service from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, and hire a local cabbie to visit the region's historic sites.

"All the information leaflets, brochures and even the Internet made it look a fairly simple task to organise transport and some clean accommodation," he says. "But a cautious visit to Trip Advisor soon revealed the folly of that idea.

"And I found on arrival in Bangkok that even the locals refer to the scheduled bus services up-country from there as 'not very reliable stop-start', whilst the train journey I eventually opted-for was an uncomfortable, hot and humid five-to-six hours for the almost 200-kilometres."

And David says it's not until one arrives at their destination that they discover that the Bridge, Death Railway, the Museum and Cemetery require lengthy taxi trips to link them all together. Or the hiring of a cab for a day – only to find that the driver has little English and even less knowledge about his area.

Simple task to visit Kanchanaburi? Not true.

Rather, David suggests that it's a far better option to seek out a Bangkok day-trip operator or a Kanchanaburi hotel or resort that markets overnight trips to their region.

"There are several companies offering excellent two-day packages including pick-up and drop-off at your Bangkok hotel, air-conditioned transport with an English-speaking guide, overnight accommodation and meals, and entry fees to sites for less than $200.

"A far better proposition than the self-designed visit which more than likely will end up costing more than the organized package."

And he says make sure packages include:

. Bridge on the River Kwai:  The railway line over the Bridge was built by the Japanese during World War II, using forced Thai labour and Allied prisoners-of-war.  Completed in 1943, the line was intended to support the Japanese war effort in Burma without the dangers of transporting supplies by sea. All the heavy work was done manually either by hand or by elephant as earth moving equipment was not available. The prisoners lived in squalor on a near starvation diet and were subjected to such brutality that thousands perished working from dawn until after dark.

. Death Railway/Hellfire Pass: Ride the train between Kanchanaburi (or River Kwai Bridge station) and the current terminus at Nam Tok. After crossing the Bridge, the train runs along the scenic River Kwai, passing over the impressive Wampo Viaduct, also built by prisoners of war. Hellfire Pass, about 80km north of Kanchanaburi, is on a disused section where the Australian government has cleared about seven kilometres of the old track as a memorial to those who died building the railway. Konyu Cutting was dubbed 'Hellfire Pass' by the PoWs for the way the worksite looked at night by torchlight

. Thai-Burma Railway Centre: An interactive museum, information and research facility presenting the history of the 415-kilometre railway. It ran from Ban Pong in Thailand to Thanbuyuzayat in Burma. Allow a good couple of hours to absorb it all.

. World War II Cemetery: This immaculate cemetery is across the road from the Railway Centre. It contains the remains of 6,982 war prisoners (mostly Australian, British, Dutch and American) who lost their lives building the railway.

GETTING THERE: Thai holiday specialists Venture Holidays have a choice of packages to the Kanchanburi region.  A 10-hour day trip includes the important sites and lunch for about $60, while a River Kwai overnight tour costs about $169 and includes transport, accommodation, all meals and sightseeing. A three-day River Kwai and culture tour costs about $360.

For more details contact Venture Holidays at 08-8238-4501 or visit www.ventureholiday.com.au

 
 

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

 
[] BRIDGE on the River Kwai today.

 
[] MEMORIAL to the 7000 POWs who lost their lives working on the infamous Burma Railway.

 
[] PRISONERS of war during the construction of the Burma Railway

 
[] TODAY's train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi "a hot and humid five to six hours" to cover 200km.

 

Originally FOR WEEK BEGINNING 4 OCTOBER 2010
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