Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bridge over the River Kwai

Having seen the movie many years ago, I was intrigued by the opportunity to see the historic bridge over the River Kwai. The tour turned out to be a really great time, and we were with a pleasant group of people.

We stopped first at one of the three cemeteries in Kanchanaburi that was designed to honor the prisoners of war who died constructing the Thailand-Burma Railway, more commonly known as the Death Railway. The design of the cemetery is beautiful, and it is immaculately maintained. This one houses the remains of soldiers from England and Holland. We took the time to read some of the headstones, and the youngest age we saw was 20 years, the oldest 48 years. Most of the soldiers were in their twenties and thirties. It was really sobering to consider what it must have been like to die under such horrendous conditions when only 20 years old. It made me glad to see these heroic men honored as they are here.

We next toured the Jeath Museum, a re-creation of the kind of bamboo hut the prisoners of war lived in, filled with photographs, paintings and newspaper articles relating to the Death Railway. The museum is named for the six countries whose soldiers died constructing the railway: Japan, England, America and Australia, Thailand, and Holland. There is a statue of a Japanese man, Takashi Nagase, who was an interpreter for the military, set between the hut and the river. He is memorialized there because he later had a change of heart and became dedicated to promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries involved with construction of the railway.

Only after this very fitting preface did we go to the actual Bridge over the River Kwai. The original bridge was built of wood and was temporary, serving until the current bridge was built. After the iron bridge was built, the wooden one was torn down, as it was blocking river traffic. The iron bridge lost three spans to bombing in 1945, but those spans were rebuilt, and today three trains per day cross the river via that bridge. We boarded the train further down the track and rode it to the restaurant where we had lunch. The train has hard wooden seats, and air conditioning is provided by open windows and oscillating fans on the ceilings of the cars. The rhythm of the wheels on the track is very different from what we are used to.

We stopped at an elephant park that offered elephant rides through the river. Our main purpose was to see the baby elephants, who were quite personable. As we drove through the countryside we saw mountains, cows whose ribs were very visible, and crops of corn, tapioca and sugar cane. Kanchanaburi Province is a very beautiful part of Thailand. Some of the scenic photos were taken from a moving vehicle, and unfortunately came out a bit blurred. The one that was too blurred to share was of monkeys by the side of the road. We missed getting a picture of the last monkey to cross the road in front of us - a female with a young baby clinging to her chest. The monkeys were a fun surprise. The red or sometimes orange flowered trees are everywhere in that part of the country, and remind us of the wild dogwoods blooming at home in the spring. They seem to fill the same niche in tropical Thailand.
Our final stop on the tour was the Tiger Temple, a Buddhist temple, monastery and wildlife refuge. The monks at this temple are dedicated to rehabilitating wildlife, and have taken in many kinds of injured wild animals, the most famous of which are the tigers.

We would recommend this trip to anyone. It showed us a different aspect of Thailand, different scenery, and it is a special way to revisit an important part of history. I appreciated the opportunity to learn the reality behind the movie, something which could never be accurately portrayed in a movie, due to the nature of that reality.
This is our last report from Thailand, as we leave tomorrow afternoon. Thailand is a great country to visit and we are glad we had enough time here to gain a true appreciation for the country and its people.

No comments: