HOW TO EXPLORE THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI
The bridge over the river Kwai’s fame and history is rooted in the construction of the Death Railway during World War II. It’s story was novelized in the book Bridge On The River Kwai by Pierre Boulle and later by the movie of the same name. The bridge is located on the outskirts of Kanchanaburi, Thailand which is some 120 kilometers northwest of Bangkok. Also in the region are Hellfire Pass and The Hellfire Pass Museum which give further insight into the difficult and dark history of the Burma-Thailand railway and it’s construction.
A visit to the bridge can be accomplished as a day trip from Bangkok if time is limited. But there is much to see in the area and a two day trip offers visitors a much better opportunity explore the region and it’s history.
How to take a 2 Day Journey to the Bridge On The River Kwai
Since this is a two day journey it will be best to make reservations for your overnight stay prior to departure. This isn’t absolutely necessary but it will save you a bit of time and stress. Plan your overnight stay in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. There are many places to stay in the area. You can select a location in the city but I recommend you pick a place on the outskirts near the bridge itself. This location is rather scenic and also works well for the 2 day visit schedule. There is quite a variety of places along the river offering stays from budget level to luxury resorts.
DAY 1 –
By Train To Kanchanaburi Thailand and the River Kwai Bridge —————–
The journey to visit The Bridge On The River Kwai begins at Thonburi Railway Station in Bangkok, Thailand. Be aware, this is a small station on the western side of the Chao Phraya River. It is not the main railroad station of Bangkok.
Thonburi Station, Bangkok
The scene above shows Thonburi Station from the street. Note the large banner to the left with the image of the King of Thailand who had recently passed away. The entire country was in mourning when I visited. Also note the motor cycles and the drivers with the orange vests. These guys are free lance “taxi cycle” drivers. For a very small – budget level charge (always negotiate prior to climbing aboard) they will whisk you anywhere in Bangkok. If you are brave enough and don’t mind riding on the back of a racing motorcycle then they can be a quick and cheap way to get to the station (or anywhere else for that matter). I will say it is very much a thrill ride type experience and quite an adventure in itself.
Thonburi Station Awaiting The Train – Nearby Market For Snacks
Thonburi Station is a nice, small open air affair. You can meet and chat with some of your fellow travelers. Get there a bit early and visit the large market directly across the street. Pick up some fruit and snacks for the train journey.
Train Schedule at Thonburi Station
The train schedule is posted prominently in the center of the station area. The train I suggest is Train Number 257 which departs Thonburi at 7:50 AM. It’s final destination is Namtok (but you will disembark in Kanchanaburi prior to reaching Namtok).
You can purchase your ticket at the open air ticket booth in the center of Thonburi Station. No reservations are necessary (I’m not even sure you can get them) but there is plenty of room on the train. The cost of the ticket is 100 Thai Baht – currently around $2.84 in U.S. dollars. Clearly a bargain for a very nice railway experience.
Train Equipment To The Bridge Is Clean and Comfortable
The train to Kanchanaburi is described as a “Common Train” or 3rd Class. I really never encountered a first class train in Thailand although they may exist. Anyway, this train Number 257 is clean and comfortable. As with the train station, the train itself is also an open air affair. Grab a nice cushioned seat next to the open window and enjoy the view and the breeze as the train takes you through the Thai countryside. It makes several brief stops along the way. If you want, you can likely find people onboard who will gladly talk with you, enjoying the opportunity to practice their English. The train itself is rather basic. There is no dining car. Frequently venders will walk through the car offering various bottled drinks, packaged snacks, and fresh fruit for sale. The journey is pleasant and gives riders a sense of life in Thailand outside of Bangkok. The trip to the end of the line at Nam Tok takes almost 5 hours. The Bridge on The River Kwai is on the outskirts of Kanchanaburi, a journey which takes about three hours.
Train Number 257 actually makes two stops in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The first is at the city’s main train station. If you have selected a hotel in the city proper this would be the place to get off. If you will be staying on the river or near the bridge then stay on for the short ride to the next stop which is literally right at the bridge. The train stops there for about 10 minutes to allow passengers to disembark for their hotel or to quickly jump off and take a few photos if they are continuing onward.
By Car From Kanchanaburi to Hellfire Pass & Nam Tok ———————–
Once you arrive in Kanchanaburi head to your hotel and check in. Then grab the things you might need for the rest of the day – camera, water, etc., toss them into a day bag, and have your hotel arrange for a car and driver. You will be taking a car to Hellfire Pass which is about 70 kilometers from Kanchanaburi ( the train does not run that far ). The car and driver should cost around $40 to $50 for the afternoon depending on your negotiating skills. Yes, it’s a bit of an expense but remember you only paid $2.84 for the train ride.
Your driver will take you to the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum. Tell him that for the return trip you want him to take you to the train at Nam Tok Station. He should know the time for the train from Nam Tok back to Kanchanaburi. But just in case you should look it up as well. With that time in mind you can work out with the driver what time you need to leave Hellfire Pass in order to get to Nam Tok in time for the train.
A quick visit to the Memorial Museum will give you a good orientation to the area and the history of the pass which is part of the Death Railway. (And if you want more information about Hellfire Pass you can also read my article HELLFIRE PASS – Thailand / Burma Railroad.) Now, make sure you have some water and then take the hike down into the valley to get an up close and personal view of the pass and railway bed. It’s typically hot and humid here so take your time. Your driver will wait for you. Pace yourself so you can get back to your car at the time agreed upon with the driver. The drive to the train station will take 25 to 30 minutes.
Return to Kanchanaburi by Train ——————————
Take Train Number 486 from Nam Tok Station back to Kanchanaburi. The train station at Nam Tok is also open air. Purchase your ticket – yes another 100 Tai Bhat – and then wait for the train (Keep in mind that the trains in this area don’t necessarily run on time.) There are one or two nice open air restaurants which share the same parking area. It’s a chance to grab a nice lunch and a drink.
If you are lucky your train might depart on time. Departure will probably be late. It will rarely, if ever, leave early. Be sure you have some snacks for the ride. Maybe a book?
This stretch of the railroad runs along some very picturesque portions of the River Kwai, crosses wooden trestles of the Wampo Viaduct, and finally crosses the Bridge On The River Kwai. It’s a very pleasant ride. On arrival back in Kanchanaburi you can disembark as soon as you cross the bridge in Kanchanaburi if your hotel is nearby. Otherwise hop off at the main station in Kanchanaburi to find your city hotel.
Admittedly, this is a very busy schedule and a very full day. Don’t be surprised if you are a bit tuckered out. Grab a bite to eat, get some rest and get ready for Day 2 of this journey.
DAY 2 –
Explore Kanchanaburi and the Kwai River Bridge Area ———————-
The second day of this itinerary offers you the chance to visit and explore the City of Kanchanburi and the Bridge area at a leisurely pace. For more information on the Bridge and it’s history read my article Visit To Bridge On The River Kwai. Kanchanaburi is a very nice city with much to see. Start out by having a nice breakfast at one of the city’s open air restaurants.
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is in the center of town.
Visit the beautiful temples in Kanchanaburi.
Visit colorful floating homes along the river.
Take a walk along shady paths near the river and temples.
Take a walk across the bridge. (Chances are you won’t be alone.)
Return by Train to Bangkok ————————————–
After exploring the area and having a nice lunch, catch train # 258 back to Bangkok. It departs from the Kwai Bridge @ 14:38 and the Kanchanaburi Station @ 14:44. The return trip takes about 3 hours, ending where you started, at Thonburi Station.
Train schedules have stayed fairly standard for some time. Nonetheless they are subject to change. Be sure to check the schedule for your particular days of travel.
If taking the common train and traveling for two days sounds like a bit much for your taste or schedule I should add that there is a tourist train on weekends which does a one day excursion. But you will miss out on a pleasant local experience and in one day you will be very limited as to what you will be able to see at your destination. It is, of course, all a matter of taste, but if you can I highly recommend the local train and the two day itinerary.
Take The Two Day Train Trip ……………….. And Enjoy The Adventure!
For more regarding The Bridge On The River Kwai and the area click on the links below for related articles:
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