Kanchanaburi

From Dolphin viewpoint, it was just a few hours on the smaller road to reach Kanchanaburi. The historical significance of this place is probably better described by others and has been done extensively. For those who haven’t heard about Kanchanaburi: it became famous in light of the World War II Japanese undertaking of building a railroad to Myanmar by prisoners-of-war from the Allied Forces and local laborers. In the 1957 David Lean captured the atrocities committed in the movie “Bridge over river Kwai”. The city looks pretty much look any other mid-size city in Thailand: shop houses, newer and old stores, restaurants, cars and motorcycles everywhere you look; street hawkers; 7-elevens at every street corner. Coincidentally, looking for the hotel resort, we came upon the famous bridge and got our first glimpse of it. In 1944 and 1945 there were two wooden bridges that were badly damaged by Allied Forces, but the several of the iron arches withstood the attacks and were then repaired to today’s tourist attraction. It is quite small, not the wide, long bridge that I have imagined. Kanchanaburi We found our way across the river to Felix resort which is nestled at the river shore. It is a big, older resort that is a long way from all the rambazamba of the other side where one resort is located next the others, Karaoke nights and parties late into the night keep the atmosphere joyous and light. From Felix a walkway leads towards the bridge, although one has to turn away from the river for a few minutes and walk on a dirt path through a small group of houses. We went exploring when it started to get dark and were surprised that it wasn’t better kept up and didn’t seem to be built for tourists at all. But then, we were on the wrong side of the bridge… Passing the Chinese temple Kuang Im with its doors securely locked, we finally came upon the bridge that was looming darkly in the failing daylight. The black metal bridge sits in the middle of the jungle and was at that time of the day completely deserted. It was easy to imagine the hardship that the prisoners-of-war and the local laborers endured building the bridge in the sweltering heat and the humidity of the Southeast Asian climate. Iron stairs lead up to the train rails on the bridge. No one was there, no lights led the way. A sign announced that it was at our own risk to walk on the bridge and visitors had to step of the rails for trains. We speculated whether the tracks were still used and got this confirmed the next day, although we haven’t seen a train go by – even further up the tracks at Nam Tok. The next morning we returned, but approached the bridge from the other (official) side of the river. The train station and the bridge were already buzzing with tourists that arrived in tour busses and cars (and presumably trains): foreigners – Japanese and Westerners alike, Thai people walking around and everyone talking excitedly. The dark, eerie atmosphere from the day before was gone! We were just a few of the many tourists crossing the bridge, taking pictures, looking out on the water – up and down the river – that leisurely flows its way. It was too early for the floating raft restaurants with its loud music to populate the river and take away even more of the serenity of the place. It was hot and humid on the bridge with no shade, but getting closer to the other side, we remembered the Chinese temple from the night before gleaming white and golden in the sunlight. We descended the same stairs, saw the shabby surroundings from the night before and quickly walked over to the entrance of the temple. Chinese Temple near River Kwai bridge Entering the temple was like transcending into another world. The temple is squeaky clean with lots of white, gold and colors. In the main hall sits a huge golden Buddha looking out towards the river. The Chinese Goddess of Mercy has her place of honor outside closer to the shore. Steps lead all the way down to the water to reveal amazing views of the bridge and the river. But what was even more astounding than the cleanliness and the calm was that there were no visitors in the temple. It is two minutes from the bridge, but there was hardly another person walking the immaculately kept grounds populated with flowers and statues. A place of silence and ideal for reflection! River Kwai bridge There is a lot more to be seen in Kanchanaburi – especially for the avid tourist and hobby historian. We leave these famous sites to be discovered on another trip out West and were on our way to find Hellfire Pass about 80 kilometers north of the city. More information: Source: www.tourismthailand.org

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