Maybe you’ve seen the classic movie. But did you know you can visit the real bridge?
In the film, British POWs are ordered by their Japanese captors to construct a bridge of strategic importance in Thailand, and the captive soldiers are more than happy to sabotage and delay the progress. Eventually, their commanding officers orders them to continue the work unhindered to its completion.
Although it purports to be based on a true story, we’re sad to say that the film isn’t completely accurate. The major railway bridge described in film (and the novel the movie was based on) didn't actually cross the river known at the time as the Kwai. However, in 1943 a railway bridge was built by Allied POWs over the Mae Klong river (now known as the Kwae, because of the film) at Tha Ma Kham, five kilometres from Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The commanding officer of the British POWs was not a collaborator, and the failure of the bridge was as much a result of termites as it was of sabotage. The destruction of the bridge as depicted in the film is also entirely fictional. In fact, two bridges were built: a temporary wooden bridge and a permanent steel/concrete bridge a few months later. Both bridges were used for two years, until they were destroyed by Allied bombing.
Historical accuracy notwithstanding, the steel bridge was repaired and is still in use today, and the wooden bridge (or what remains of it), is still there, too. You just have to make your peace with the fact that the site is famous more for the fact that it inspired a somewhat fictionalized version of the real story.
But it’s worth going up-river, as well. The so-called “death railway” operates along the river, and the views aboard the train are stunning.
And you can also stay in a floating eco lodge on the river. Our rooms were over-water bungalows, but not like you might find in the Maldives or South Pacific. the current of the river made it a real adventure to go for a dip off of the balcony of your room. We wound up jumping into the water at the platform that was furthest up-river, but then had to grab the ladder at one of the later, lower platforms. Otherwise, we’d have been swept down-river, which would not have been fun. I’m not sure how we’d have gotten back, through the jungle!
And, let’s not forget about the elephants. Some of the nearby animals came down to the floating lodge for a bath and some snacks. If you haven’t fed watermelons to a swimming elephant, before…well…you’re really missing out.
This part of Thailand is well worth a visit. It’s an easy trip from Bangkok, and we’d recommend it without hesitation or reservation. Want to go? We can help!