July 16, 2024

Visit to Bridge Over The River Kwai

Kanchanaburi, Thailand



The Bridge On The River Kwai is located on the edge of Kanchanaburi, Thailand. It’s the bridge made famous in the book by French novelist Pierre Boulle, and later in a movie by the same title.  During my recent visit to the bridge I learned an interesting side story – can’t affirm it’s accuracy since it may have lost a bit in translation. My language skills are weak and my Thai is quite poor. Indeed, most comments I’ve had in the past regarding my Thai skills were more of the sort such as “my tie is crooked again” or else it’s been an offer I’ve encountered in a bar – as in “care for a Mai Tai?” I could go on – but I digress and you are likely shaking your head by now as well.



You can walk across the bridge and get a good view of the river and area.  Three or four trains still travel this route which runs westward from Bangkok toward Myanmar (Burma).  The rail line previously ran all the way to Yangon but has now been abandoned beyond Nam Tok.


Seems the author of the novel The Bridge On The River Kwai had never actually been to the location of his book. He was correct, the River Kwai is in the region and the infamous Death Railway does run parallel to the Kwai at points.  But the actual bridge crossed the Mae Khlung River, not the Kwai. When the bridge became somewhat famous from the book and movie it seems travelers wanted to visit the Bridge On The River Kwai. To solve the confusion, the Thais came up with a rather ingenious solution. They renamed the river under the bridge as a portion of the River Kwai. What once was actually the Bridge On the River Mae Khlung became The Bridge On The River Kwai. Problem solved.


KWAI Statue

On the far side of the river there is now a beautiful and modern Buddhist Temple area.



View of Buddhist Temple from the bridge.  The curved spans are original.  The angular spans are newer construction after the center bridge spans were destroyed during bombing raids in WW II.


Regardless of the accuracy of this side story – the building of the bridge and the allied prisoners’ work on the Death Railway in the region is a sad and memorable aspect of World War II. It’s a very worthwhile area to visit.


Kwai Station

The main train station is in the small city of Kanchanaburi. You can also ride on a very short distance where the train again makes a 10 minute stop literally at the edge of The Bridge On The River Kwai so tourists can jump off and take photos.


The Bridge On The River Kwai is part of the Burma-Thailand railway which completed the rail line between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma  ( now Yangon, Myanmar.) It was constructed in 1942 and 1943 during World War II by American, Australian, British and Dutch Prisoners of War as well as conscripted nationals from Burma, Malay and Thailand. Over 12,000 prisoners  died in the area during construction.  The rail line was heavily damaged and in poor repair following the end of World War II.  Today the line from Bangkok runs 123 kilometers westward to Kanchanaburi  where the Bridge is located and continues on another 62 kilometers reaching its present terminus at Nam Tok, Thailand.


kwai bangkok to Kan map

Travel from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi by car or train.


Kwai Bridge from west

The center spans of the bridge were destroyed by Allied Bombing Raids in 1945. Only the outer curved spans are part of the original construction.  The angular spans are newer replacement construction


Kwai Cemetary entrance


Kwai Cemetary headstones

The Kanchanaburi War Cemetary


The Bridge On The River Kwai crosses the Kwai on the outskirts of Kanchanaburi, Thailand which is northwest of Bangkok.  If you have limited time you can visit the Bridge as a day trip from Bangkok.  Numerous travel companies offer day trip packages or you can drive the 123 kilometer distance in roughly two hours. But if you have the time I highly recommend taking at least two days to visit the area.  Take the train to fully appreciate and enjoy the experience.

Would you like to know how to take a great train trip to visit The Bridge On The River Kwai and the surrounding area?  Be sure to check back.  I’ll be sharing travel details in an upcoming article.

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