Kanchanaburi, Thailand
14° 1' N 99° 31' E
Dec 18, 2005 10:52
Distance 0km

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Text written in: English

Kwai me a river

Well we finally did move.

After several days of just soaking up our serene surroundings Lindsey and I chose the coolest day yet, a very favourable 27 degrees, to head on up to the River Kwai bridge. We decided to walk it rather than let a saamlaw have the pleasure of charging us an arm and a leg, it was such a nice day that a walk would do us good. The walk itself takes no time at all, we were probably only walking for half an hour or so but I didn't really notice as I was just taking in the surroundings of this famous landmark. If it wasn't for the signs letting you know you were near such a monument you would probably guess that you were in the middle of nowhere with only loose dogs and small shops selling next to nothing for company. Despite the odd bar and hotel here or there the walk up to the bridge is nothing spectacular, it's only when your within spitting distance of the bridge does the surrounding area turn into the tourist venue that you so expect. Market stalls selling naff t-shirts and trinkets, over-priced (relatively speaking) food and drink and the obligatory taxi driver trying to fleece people out of 200 - 300baht for an average journey that should cost just 40.

I don't know what I was expecting to be honest, I knew of the bridge and I knew it's incredible history but it still didn't prepare me when we actually saw it. People have noted that the bridge itself is nothing special and to a degree they have a point, after all a bridge is a bridge but that's not how it appeared to me, from that very first second I saw it, I just thought 'bloody hell'. This is it, where so many people died for what is really a bridge! It hits you so hard and if it wasn't for the often inappropriate surroundings and hundreds of tourists the mood around the bridge would be quite sombre and all together more fitting. After all a tourist attraction is a tourist attraction and one must accept that this is the way it will always be, however I couldn't help feeling that this place (of all places) should be given more respect. Being able to walk on the bridge was a bonus though I have to admit, I didn't know or expect that you could do such a thing, as the British mentality tells us 'to look but do not touch'. After Lindsey's obligatory freak out about the height of the thing we finally made it across the bridge; if this was in England then this would never be allowed, or if it was the following would apply:

1) No children allowed

2) Crash barriers would be put up either side of the bridge (as gaping holes appear either side of the tracks)

3) Netting erected under the entire bridge.

4) Security guards either end and throughout the bridge,

5) There would be a queue!!

and 6) There would be a charge of at least 10GBP per adult.

Seeing the Thai are a little more lax on this sort of stuff (if you fall in, then you were asking for it) none of the above applied, which for better or for worse (I'm talking about those damn tourist groups taking up the entire bridge to take nauseating photos) I tend to agree with.

After the bridge we wanted to soak in more of the history surrounding it, Lindsey talked me into the a Death Railway 15 minute tour train (she just liked it because it was yellow). It looked harmless enough and despite it's gruesome name it resembled a Tonka Toy that I would often find in my Christmas stocking as a boy. We were the only ones on it, all for a miserable looking Japanese family who appeared as if their world was coming to an end, maybe they had an idea of the speed the driver was about to take after he got off the bridge! We started slowly enough, pretty much like those little trains we all went on in parks up and down the country but once the driver past the throng of traffic on the bridge he hurtled along the track as if his very life depended on it. Lindsey and I gave each other a glance that said 'what the f....?' as this train, which wasn't equipped for speed, bumped and rattled as if the nuts and bolts that held it together were loosening with each crunch of train against track. The Japanese family in the same cart didn't look at all concerned they just kept on looking miserable whilst their children ran around the cart without a care in the world, just as I was getting beyond concerned and hitting panic mode it stopped but then very slowly, at first, it began to reverse. If going forward at stupid speeds isn't scary enough try the same thing but backwards. Ironically, Lindsey loved it.

Once that was over we still didn't feel satisfied, there didn't seem to be that much information regarding the history of the bridge and despite their best efforts, the death railway ride and the little piece of history chiseled into a nearby wall, the Thai government really hadn't got their act together. That's when we saw the museum. Well I say museum. As the pictures below will testify what we actually saw was a cross between a freak show devised by a hyperactive, unfocused 9 year old boy and a hammer house of horror. As it turns out, we were in the wrong museum as the official one is the other side of town (Thai logic, don't ask), this just used the proper museums good name (Jeath museum) to snare the tourists. We paid our 30 baht each in good faith ever hopeful that we would get a good dose of the history we so craved, what we were actually greeted with has little to do with the war and a lot to do with good intentions gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The first thing you should know is that this museum is about 7 museums rolled into one, although we were unfortunate to miss it our neighbours at the time (Ros and Hugh) said they found a whole room dedicated to Miss Thailand! In a war museum!! What we found were a prehistoric room, a arts and craft room, a room just filled with rubbish and (this puzzles me the most) a Morris Minor on a plinth next to the war memorabilia. Please someone, explain this to me? Perhaps the most grotesque objects in this (supposed) museum were the ill-devised dioramas of Allied soldiers building the bridge, in captivity and being bombed by the allied fighter planes, that were made out of papier-mache and were (in most cases) stark bollock naked all for a loin cloth, many of which were askew. The piece de resistance was the room dedicated to the bombing of the bridge and knowing the seriousness of the event you would be hard pressed to find anything to laugh about, however I defy anyone who has seen this room not to have burst out laughing either from disbelief, shock or absurdity. Even funnier than the terrible diorama was the bad translation that went along with it as beside each diorama there is a short description, probably written by an over-zealous student of English, that gives graphic (sometimes too graphic) detail of the event taking place.

Although, undoubtedly, there has been much effort to make this room and the effects that are placed in it, you can't help feel that they would have been better advised to leave well alone. For not only are there papier-mache models of allied soldiers thrown into a trough of water on the floor but the surrounding walls and ceiling have been painted in to complete the scene of the bridge and the ally planes up above with little sketches of what look like bombs falling towards the earth. To complete the scene the papier-mache models are liberally daubed with red paint and the awful translation, as mention above, makes what is (one assumes) a horrific piece of commemorative art into something taken from the Twilight Zone. Part of this translation describes the bodies as lying 'higgledy piggledy' under the bridge and goes on to explain how the bridge was destroyed 'in a jiffy'. These translations are spread throughout the museum; which mostly consists these papier-mache models and photos blown up to A4 size which are set out in random fashion, the worst of which described the atomic bomb hitting Hiroshima as destroying the city 'in the twinkle of an eye'. What more can be said? I think you have to see this place for yourself, you can't miss it, it's the one that looks like a Chinese temple outside, really that should have given the game away.

Photos / videos of "Kwai me a river":

Bridge over the River Kwai Tracks on the bridge Lindsey. Scared. Never. Inscription on the bridge. Death Railway Train Commemorative Wall. On Train. Me. Scared. Never. Lindsey's 'a' protest wasn't gathering the support she had envisaged. Another shot of the bridge The front of the war museum.  Of course! Ah. So this must be the Thai's entry for the Turner Prize. Papier-mache Japanese soldiers. And of course this makes perfect sense. Beautiful.  Just Beautiful. ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! I'm speechless. True, true words.