We decided to do an organised trip today so we were picked up from the Royal Napat Hotel at 8.00am. The schedule was as follows:
9.00 Visit San Yok Noi Waterfall
10.00 Hellfire Pass & Memorial Museum
13.30 Bathe at Hindad Hot Spring
15.30 Visit Kra Sae Cave and take a train ride over a wooden bridge built by the POW's and along the Death Railway
17.00 Visit Bridge Over The River Kwai
The waterfall was not too big and there were a few a Thai children playing in the pools. We stayed for about 20 minutes before going to the Hellfire Pass Museum.
Here we spent about 40 minutes looking at all the displays and learning a bit more about the history of the Death Railway before taking a walk down to Hellfire Pass and seeing the remnants of the old track and seeing for ourselves how difficult it must have been to cut a track through this part.
The Australian memorial in the cutting
Hellfire Pass (known by the Japanese as Konyu Cutting) is the name of a railway cutting on the former "Death Railway" in Thailand which was built with forced labour during the Second World War, in part by Allied prisoners of war. The pass is noted for the harsh conditions and heavy loss of life suffered by its labourers during construction. Hellfire Pass is so called because the sight of emaciated prisoners labouring at night by torchlight was said to resemble a scene from Hell.
Hellfire Pass was a particularly difficult section of the line to build. It was the largest rock cutting on the railway, coupled with its general remoteness and the lack of proper construction tools during building. The Australian, British, Dutch and other allied Prisoners of War were required by the Japanese to work 18 hours a day to complete the cutting. Sixty nine men were beaten to death by Japanese guards in the six weeks it took to build the cutting, and many more died from cholera, dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion. However, the majority of deaths occurred amongst labourers whom the Japanese enticed to come to help build the line with promises of good jobs. These labourers, mostly Malayans (Chinese, Malays and Tamils from Malaya), suffered mostly the same as the POWs at the hands of the Japanese. The Japanese kept no records of these deaths.
Afterwards we went and had lunch at a local restaurant and then for a quick dip in the hot spring. Boy was it hot! I lasted a few minutes before getting in the cold river to cool down!
After we had dried off we went to Kra Sae Cave. The cave was situated in a bend of the Khwae Noi River at the beginning of the wooden Wampo viaduct. The cave was used as an air raid shelter by the Japanese in World War II.
We then caught a train at Thamkra Sae Station and took a twenty minute ride on the Death Railway going over an old wooden bridge.
This is the history of the Death Railway so if you're not interested you can skip all of the following!:
The Death Railway was a 415 kilometres railway between Thailand, and Burma (now Myanmar), built by the Empire of Japan in 1943, to support its forces in the Burma campaign of World War II.
Forced labour was used in its construction. About 180,000 Asian civilian labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) worked on the railway. Of these, around 90,000 Asian civilian labourers and 12,399 Allied POWs died as a direct result of the project. The dead POWs included 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans, and about 20 POWs from other British Commonwealth countries.
In 1942, Japanese forces invaded Burma from Thailand and seized the colony from British control. To maintain their forces in Burma, the Japanese were required to bring supplies and troops to Burma by sea, through the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. This route was vulnerable to attack by Allied submarines, and a different means of transport was needed. The obvious alternative was a railway. The Japanese forces started the project in June 1942.
They intended to connect Ban Pong in Thailand with Thanbyuzayat in Burma, through the Three Pagodas Pass. Construction began at the Thai end on 22 June 1942, and in Burma at roughly the same date. Most of the construction materials, including tracks and sleepers, were brought from dismantled branches of the Federated Malay States Railway network and from the Netherlands East Indies.
On 17 October 1943, the two sections of the line met about 18 km south of the Three Pagodas Pass. Most of the POWs were then transported to Japan. Those left to maintain the line still suffered from appalling living conditions as well as increasing Allied air raids.
The most famous portion of the railway is Bridge 277, 'the bridge over the River Kwai', which was built over a stretch of river which was then known as part of the Mae Klong. The association with the 'River Kwai' came from the fact that the greater part of the Thai part of the route followed the valley of the Khwae Noi, 'Khwae' being the Thai word for branch or tributary, although it is frequently mispronounced by non-Thai speakers as 'Kwai', the Thai word for Water Buffalo. In 1960, because of this discrepancy between fact and fiction, the part of the Mae Klong which passes under the famous bridge was renamed as the Khwae Yai (English "big tributary").
This bridge was immortalised by the film based on it, The Bridge on the River Kwai. However, there are many who point out that the film based on it was utterly unrealistic and does not show what the conditions and treatment of prisoners was actually like. The first wooden bridge over the Khwae Yai was finished in February 1943, followed by a concrete and steel bridge in June 1943. It was this bridge 277 that was meant to be attacked with the use of the first-ever example of a precision-guided munition in American service, the VB-1 Azon MCLOS-guided 1,000 lb ordnance on January 23, 1945 but bad weather scrubbed the mission.
"The two bridges were successfully bombed on 13 February 1945 by the Royal Air Force. Repairs were carried out by POW labour and by April the wooden trestle bridge was back in operation. On 3 April a second raid by Liberator bombers of the U.S. Army Air Forces damaged the wooden bridge once again. Repair work continued and both bridges were operational again by the end of May. A second raid by the R.A.F. on 24 June put the railway out of commission for the rest of the war. After the Japanese surrender, the British Army removed 3.9 kilometers of track on the Thai-Burma border. A survey of the track had shown that its poor construction would not support commercial traffic. The track was sold to Thai Railways and the 130 km Ban Pong–Namtok section relaid and is in use today.
The new railway did not fully connect with the Burmese system, as no bridge crossed the river between Moulmein on the south bank with Martaban on the north bank. Thus ferries were needed. A bridge was not built until Thanlwin Bridge in 2000-05.
After the war the railway was in very poor condition and needed heavy reconstruction for use by the Royal Thai Railway system. On 24 June 1949, the portion from Kanchanaburi to Nong Pladuk was finished; on 1 April 1952, the next section up to Wang Pho (Wangpo) was done. Finally, on 1 July 1958 the rail line was completed to Nam Tok (English Sai Yok "waterfalls".) The portion in use today measures some 130 km. The line was abandoned beyond Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi. The steel rails were salvaged for reuse in expanding the Bangsue railway yard, reinforcing the BKK-Banphachi double track, rehabilitating the track from Thung Song to Trang, and constructing both the Nong Pladuk-Suphanburi and Ban Thung Pho-Khirirat Nikhom branch lines. Parts of abandoned route have been converted into a walking trail.
Since the 1990s various proposals have been made to rebuild the complete railway, but these plans have not yet come to fruition. Since a large part of the original railway line is now submerged by the Vajiralongkorn Dam, and the surrounding terrain is mountainous, it would take extensive tunneling to reconnect Thailand with Burma.
The living and working conditions on the Burma Railway were often described as "horrific". The estimated total number of civilian labourers and POWs who died during construction varies considerably, but the Australian Government figures suggest that of the 330,000 people that worked on the line (including 250,000 Asian labourers and 61,000 Allied POWs) about 90,000 of the labourers and about 16,000 Allied prisoners died.
Life in the POW camps was recorded at great risk to themselves by artists such as Jack Bridger Chalker, Philip Meninsky, John Mennie, Ashley George Old and Ronald Searle. Human hair was often used for brushes, plant juices and blood for paint, and toilet paper as the 'canvas'.
But the horrors, starvation, sickness, and death that occurred during the construction of the Thailand-Burma railway are not the whole story. Except for the worst months of the construction period, known as the "Speedo" (mid-spring to mid-October 1943), one of the ways the Allied POWs kept their spirits going in the hellish conditions was to ask one of the musicians in their midst to play his guitar or accordion for them, or lead them in a group sing-along, or request their camp comedians to tell some rough jokes, or put on a skit.
After the railway was completed, the POWs still had almost two years to survive before their liberation. During this time, most of the POWs were moved to hospital and relocation camps where they could be available for maintenance crews or sent to Japan to alleviate the manpower shortage there.