Well last night was a bit rough, though I’m a bit unsure why. I was cold at times (we had a fan that was on too powerfully) and my roommate had the blanket. I turned down the fan later on. I think I slept for a little bit, though not quite as long as I’d hoped for. This wasn’t horribly distracting, but there were floating karaoke bars that floated up and down the River Kwai!
Anyways, we got up around 8am and had breakfast at our hotel. After breakfast we decided to walk back towards the train station to see a few sights we had in mind. Our first was a cemetery housing Allied POW’s who died in the construction of the railway. I don’t have an exact count of the number of people there, but it was it may have been at least 3,000 (maybe even more). There were no American POW’s as they were all taken back to the US to be buried. Many of these came from Holland and the British Commonwealth (including Australia, Canada, and Malaysia). Many of the stones had the ages of the soldiers, as well as messages from their loved ones, which was quite moving. Many of them were quite young as well…some even younger than me! I should note that the cemetery was incredibly well cared for. There were gardeners everywhere and it was a really beautiful and peaceful place.
After the cemetery we went across the street to the Thailand-Burma Railway Center, a museum exhibiting the construction of the railway. They showed a little about the POW’s living conditions in the camps, as well as the medical facilities (many died from diseases). One fact that is often overlooked is that while thousands of POW’s died in the construction, the Japanese also brought in forced laborers from throughout Southeast Asia. The numbers of laborers who died were incredibly high, and some countries, including Malaysia, had over 40,000 laborers who died in the construction (and that’s just from Malaysia)! I did learn an interesting fact, as we don’t really learn about the Asian side of World War II in the US at all, is that on December 8, 1941, the Japanese not only bombed Pearl Harbor, but also invaded a large part of Southeast Asia.
After a stop for lunch we headed over to this Chinese cemetery that was next to the Allied POW cemetery. While the Allied cemetery was well tended to, this was the complete opposite. It was totally overgrown and in poor condition, yet quite different from the Western-style cemetery next door. There were this odd shrines of sorts that surrounded a tree, around which were piles of recently burned ash (which we later discovered by finding some bones, came from cremating animals). Much of the cemetery was comprised of graves, some of which included a large family clump (literally a hill) with a tombstone (which was also different from Western-ones). Others included graves that were raised above the ground that somewhat resembled beds). Some of these had been ripped open and their contents removed. There was also a large section of colorful stupas as well. It is interesting when you think about the fact that Chinese do practice ancestor worship.
After the cemetery we decided to walk over the infamous “Bridge on the River Kwai.” Here’ s a random fact for you, but in reality, the bridge doesn’t actually cross the River Kwai. The guy who wrote the book didn’t do his research so well. The railway runs along the River Kwai but never crosses it. After it’s release tourists flocked to Kanchanaburi to see the “Bridge on the River Kwai,” so the Thais renamed the river it crossed to be Big (or perhaps its small) Kwai, as it’s a tributary to the real River Kwai.
Anyways, it was quite a walk to get there…several kilometers. It was easy to find though, as we were suddenly inundated with souvenir stalls. The bridge is still in use today by the State Railway of Thailand, but you could actually walk across it, which we did. As we’re walking along we kept thinking about how you would never be able to do that in the US without signing some massive liability agreement! As we’re walking a train comes along to cross the bridge, which was of course covered with people! There were platforms occasionally jutting off the sides with red lines painted on them just for such a purpose! The train moved slowly across, giving us time to pile off to the sides!
On the other side there were also lots of tourist attraction, including a tied-up, de-tusked elephant you could ride. It didn’t look like it was having a very good time, so I passed up the opportunity. We walked down to the bank of the river before heading back across the bridge.
On the way back, another train came along (actually the train we came on yesterday). Considering that trains came along the bridge, we concluded that you’d probably never be able to legally do that in the US!
Not much of the current bridge is original, as it was bombed by the Allies. The Japanese apparently forced POW’s to stand on it to deter the attacks but it was unsuccessful, and many of them were killed in the process. I believe that only the steel support portions of the bridge are still original.
After we decided to visit this “World War II” museum, that was also called “War Museum and Art Gallery.” Lonely Planet had the perfect word for it…kitsch! I mean, this place was soooooooo ridiculous that it was kind of amusing! One of the rooms had a mural of pre-historic man which had some sexual connotation in it. Another depicted the POW’s in the explosion of the bridge, by showing these papier-mache people drowning and bloody, who were wearing loin cloths and were anatomically correct underneath too (it was a bit obvious on some of them!). Some of the descriptions were oddly amusing too. Like a description of the atomic bombs saying that “they killed everyone in a jiffy.”
Speaking of atomic bombs, they had these “bomb shells” all over that were all labeled “A-Bomb,” though some read “A Bomb.” We couldn’t decide if they meant a bomb or the atomic bomb, as there were tons of them. The museum also included life size replicas of all the figures of the war…Hirohito, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill, McArthur, Johnson, Einstein, etc. They also had a fairly odd combination of stamp and coin collections, as well as murals and costumes worn by a variety of the past “Miss Thailand” winners.
I think one of my favorite parts of the museum was the section that had supposed Thai proverbs painted on them. Many of them made a lot of sense, but others were plain bizarre. Here are some examples: “A hen can see a snake’s feet and the snake can also see the hen’s nipples.” “On seeing an elephant shitting, do not follow the example.” And one of my favorites, “Eat in house, shit on roof.”
After the museum we were pooped so we headed back to town and had some dinner. We didn’t watch sunset over the river, but got within 20 minutes of it, which was pretty. Tomorrow morning we’ll be taking the early train back. We may not even go into Bangkok. We may just hook in with a train heading to Hua Hin. We shall see. This certainly has been an interesting day though!
I should mention that right next to the bridge there was a monument to the dead laborers and POW’s that the Japanese erected in 1944…which would be prior to the end of the war. It was rather unexpected to see. While the POW’s had terrible conditions, the Japanese did bury them properly as well, so they weren’t totally bad!
Right, well that’s all for today. I’m off to check out the train schedule!