Wednesday, May 15, 2013

History Closeup – Visit the River Khwae Yai

Bridge at River Khwae Yai, kanchanaburi Town - Better known as “Bridge over the River Kwai”
Visit and explore the River Khwae Yai better known by westerners as the scene for the block buster movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” set during World War II.  This magnificent river runs through Kanchanaburi Province, flowing through Sangkhla Buri, Si Sawat, and Mueang Districts of Kanchanaburi Province, where it merges with the Khwae Noi to form the Mae Klong River.   Please note that in Thai it is pronounced ‘quay’ not ‘qui’ as was pointed out to me by my long time Thai girlfriend while actually watching the movie one night.

The Bridge on the River Kwai has been a magnetic draw and a fascinating attraction for countless tourists.  The river flows to the echoes of war-time stories of 1945 that has left its tragic imprint on the Bridge over the River Kwae. As a river flowing in western Thailand near the border of Myanamar, the River Kwae starts at the meeting place of Songkalia, the Bikhli Rivers and Ranti in Thailand. It merges with the Khwae Noi River where it forms the Mae Klong River and empties into the Gulf of Thailand at Samut Songkhram. The Vajiralongkorn Dam originally known as the Khao Laem Dam, is a hydroelectric dam on the river.

As a much-heard of river, tourists staying in comfortable accommodations would be interested in knowing that the Khwae River system is an important fishery area where 33 species of freshwater fish were recorded. Families and groups staying in colourful and elegant accommodations would love to see the mammals that include macaque monkeys, two or three species of leaf monkeys, otters, Asiatic Black Bear, Hog Badger and the Asian Wild Dog. Wildlife enthusiasts would love to see the fascinating array of wildlife in the lush forest area that is home to leopards, tigers, Asian elephants, Tapir, Banteng and Gaur, Water Buffaloes, the Sumatran Rhinoceres and the Brown-antlered Deer. There are 61 species of reptiles and 17 species of amphibians. Naturalists will be intrigued by exotic fauna and the wondrous sights at the Huai Kha Khaeng and the Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuaries.

Visitors will have a great time at the week-long festival held in Kanchanaburi during late November to early December that commemorates the destruction and the last bombing of the bridge over the River Kwai. Displaying a stunning pyrotechnic show, this festival at Kanchanaburi has drawn thousands of visitors who have enjoyed the sound and light show, a carnival, folk and cultural programs, rides on vintage World War II trains and historical and archaeological exhibitions. With the first fair held in 1980, the tradition has been carried on ever since and exhibits local crafts, open theaters, exhibitions of pictures of World War II, food products and handicrafts. Tourists from spectacular accommodations can view the black iron structure that was constructed after the war and is still in use today. Families and groups can visit the small train museum that is located in front of the bridge and displays original war-time engines. Visitors can go sight-seeing in Kachanaburi with its lovely waterfalls, interesting caves, tall mountains, the much-talked of rivers and absorb a pure atmosphere that erupts with rich flora and fauna. Guests staying in great accommodations will find Kachanaburi attractive with many sight-seeing spots that include the Neolithic burial site at Ban-Kao.

With the River Kwai holding old memories of the war, it is peaceful and tranquil today that would prompt visitors to take long walks along its banks or go canoeing, sailing or rafting. Guests staying in exotic accommodations can view the green trees, mountains, the city area with resorts, restaurants and traditional houses. They can also visit the War Museum that showcases war instruments, many World War stories and artifacts, uniforms and photographs. The second and third floors of the house an Art gallery filled with paintings of the battles between the Burmese and the Thais. The third floor murals display the history of the Thais, portraits of political figures, Kymer-style wood carvings, lovely paintings of Chinese deities and Burmese Buddhas.

Amphoe Muang, Kanchanaburi, Thailand, outside the Town Hall is a bustling area. The river bank functions like the town's main street, with busy ferry landings, floating restaurants serving succulent freshwater fish and as the launching pier for Kanchanaburi's notorious disco rafting parties.

The river at this point broadens up to a width of almost a kilometer. It is here that the floating disco party special, a popular local outing, originated. The party venue is on a pair of big two storey raft houses floating in tandem, one serving as restaurant and the other a disco floor with powerful disco noise boxes. A tugboat tows out the floating party house pier down or up river to make merry out in the open waterway. While in the city, dining or lunching on the floating restaurants lining the riverbank is an unforgettable experience for the succulent freshwater fish and the local scenery. Ferries laden with farmers, their bikes and pickups ply the crossing every few minutes. An enlivening spectacle for diners is the departure of the disco party rafts, floating their merry ways down river until disappearing around the bend with their noisy music still reverberating over the water. Kanchanaburi borders with Myanmar (Burma).

A rugged mountain range, the Tennasarim, and almost impregnable jungle separate the two countries. British engineers surveyed the indomitable terrain in 1905 for a projected rail route and forthwith declared impossible to build. The Japanese army did it in 17 months in war-time conditions. A grim toll of over 100,000 lives was sacrificed to the harsh conditions, mostly sickness, through malnutrition, lack of medicine and medical care, resulting in epidemics which wiped out camp fulls of POW's and laborers by the thousands.

Every year, on April 25, friends and relatives of the Allied POW's come to visit their graves. The main cemetery is opposite Kanchanaburi train station with 6,982 copper-plaque tombstones. An other is at Chungai district across the River Kwai with 1,750 headstones. The cemeteries are immaculately tended all year round.

There are many attractions for visitors to see, including multiple museums and cemeteries, below is a partial list:

Kanchanburi City Gate an interesting site to see in the remains  of Kanchanaburi town is the Gate which was built in 1831 during the reign of King Rama III. It is located on Lak Mueang Road near the meeting point of the Khwae Yai and Khwae Noi Rivers.

The Chong Kai War Cemetery situated only 2 kilometers south of town on the bank of the Kwai Noi River, the cemetery occupies the site of the Chong Kai which once was the prisoner of war camp. Smaller in size, the cemetery attracts visitors to see its peaceful, well-designed landscape where 1,740 POWs rest in eternal peace.

War Museum and Art Gallery, located not far away from the Bridge on the River Khwae is a private museum which features the World War II story and art objects such as war weapons, army uniforms, photographs, jewelry, etc.  Opening Hours: Daily from 07.00 a.m. - 06.30 pm.  Admission: is 40 baht/person.

The Jeath War Museum, the name JEATH is derived from countries which engaged in the WWII death railway construction from 1942 to 1945, which included Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland. Located in the area of Wat Chai Chumphon, the museum is a reconstruction of the POWs thatched detention hut with cramped, elevated bamboo bunks. On the wall of the huts, photographs and illustrations of the POWs living conditions are on display. POWs who survived from the camp have donated items to enhance the museums atmosphere and authenticity.  Opening Hours: Daily from 08.30 a.m. - 06.00 pm.  Admission: is 30 baht.

Tham Khao Pun Temple (Wat Tham Khao Pun), once a major POW camp, the temple where many Buddha images are enshrined is located in the middle cave and is surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. The temple is 3 kilometers from Chongkai War Cemetery.

Tham Mangkon Thong Temple (Wat Tham Mangkon Thong) situated 5 kilometers from town, the splendid temple is located in a cave which is only assessable via steps flanked by dragon carvings on both sides. The temple is well known for the incredible performance of a nun floating on the surface of a deep pool. A small museum displaying a variety of ancient objects found in the area is located nearby. Visitors can take buses from Kanchanaburi - Dan Makham Tia and get off at the temple.

Tham Phu Wa Temple (Wat Tham Phu Wa), the compound which is set in natural surroundings is situated approximately 15 kilometers away from the city. The temple is famous for meditation courses. In addition, there is a beautiful cave with plenty of stalactites that is worth a visit.

Ban Kao National Museum, a small Tambon (sub-district) located on the bank of the Kwai Noi River approximately 35 kilometers from the city is a site where some ancient Stone Age tools were found. In addition, a Neolithic burial site was discovered by the Dutch Allied POW, Dr. Van Hickderen who was forced to build the Death Railway. The consequences of findings revealed that tambon Ban Kao was once a dwelling of prehistoric men. Some critical discoveries included skeletons of prehistoric men, tools made from gravel stone and axes. The Ban Kao Museum houses skeletal remains, pots, axe heads, jewelry made from animal bones, and other artifacts dating from that period.  Opening Hours: Wed - Fri from 09.00 am. - 04.30 pm.  Admission: is 30 baht.

Somdet Phra Sri Nakharin Park, covering an area of 200 rai, the park is situated in Kanchanaburi's Agricultural College, tambon Nong Ya, approximately 9 kilometers from town. Local residents also dubbed the place as the Stone Garden as there are stones of different sizes and shapes scattered in the park.

Thailand - Burma Railway Centre, it is located near the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (Don Rak), it puts on an exhibition of history of the Thailand – Burma railway from the invasion of the Imperial Japanese Army, planning and construction of the railway, its geography, living condition in POW camps, medical aspects, summary of deaths, operation, bombing and end of the railway, as well as aftermath of the war. Hours: Daily from 09.00 am. – 05.00 pm.  Admission: is 80 bath for adults and 40 bath for children under 14.

Ancient Town of Kanchanaburi, located in Tambon Lat Ya between Km. 2 – 3 on Highway 3199 off Highway 323. It used to be a border outpost confronting Burmese armies arriving through the Three Pagodas Pass since the Ayutthaya period and through to the Rattanakosin Period (ca. 1548 – 1784). Mounds of the rectangular earthen wall measuring 167 x 355 sq.m. and four corner fortresses still remain to be seen.

Pa Lelai Temple (Wat Pa Lelai) known locally as Wat Pha Ok and built in the Ayutthaya Period. The Mondop – a square building – once enshrined a seated Buddha image in the gesture of subduing Mara, which was drilled through the chest – ‘Pha Ok’ in Thai. An image of the Buddha receiving offerings from a monkey and an elephant known as ‘Palilayaka’ - Pa Lelai - was later constructed to replace the former one. Remains of architecture within the temple include Mondop, Wihan and round brick Chedi with clay mortar and cement coating.

Khun Phaen Temple (Wat Khun Phaen) from the side entrance of Wat Pa Lelai toward the training camp of the Faculty of Engineering, Chulalongkorn University, this is an abandoned temple built in the Ayutthaya Period. The complex included Phra Prang, which was the principal building of the temple, remains of which are still to be seen, Phra Ubosot, directional and satellite Chedis, and Wihan.

Mae Mai Temple (Wat Mae Mai) built in the Ayutthaya Period and located some 300 metres to the east of Wat Khun Phaen. There are 2 groups of architectural remains. The remains in the north include a large round Chedi situated on a plinth and rectangular west-facing Wihan. The remains in the south include a medium-scale east-facing Wihan, satellite Chedis and rectangular boundary wall, with a so-called ‘Sa Lang Kraduk’ or ‘bone-washing’ pond in between. Ruins of Wat Nang Phim or Wat Kanchanaburi Kao are located nearby.

The Nine-Army Battle Historical Park established by the Royal Thai Army, the park is located at tambon Chong Sadao, approximately 40 kilometers from town on Highway No. 3199. It was built to commemorate the great battle under the command of King Rama I to defend the kingdom against the invasion by King Bodawpaya of Burma in 1795. Thais know this event under the name of the Nine-Army Battle. The park is a center for historical research and conservation tourism that also provides information on the great battle. A sand table displaying battlefields and diagrams depicting the battle strategy are on display.  Opening Hours: Daily from 08.00 am. to 05.00 pm.
As you can see, the area is rich in history from many era’s with no lack of museums and things to see and explore.  If you want to learn more about Thailand, don’t hesitate to contact us to arrrange your adventure into the past.

More about Kanchanaburi

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic list of fantastic places near River khwae Yai. I have been to most of the places you mentioned and I quite like Tham Khao Pun Temple, Ban Kao National Museum, they are really great places to visit.