From Kithulgala to Kanchanaburi: On the trail of the Death Railway

By Sanath Weerasuriya

One of the top attractions for Lankan travellers to Thailand is ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’.
Made famous by the 1957 film starring Alec Guinness, William Holden and Jack Hawkins, the original bridge on the river Kwai is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Thailand today.

Sri Lankan travellers have a special link to the film for the remains of the set are still intact in Kithulgala as the film was shot in Sri Lanka. The original bridge located in Kanchanaburi, is 120 km west and about two hours drive from Bangkok. The town was founded by powerful Thai King Rama I against a possible invasion by Burmese soldiers through the Three Pagodas Pass.

Kanchanaburi is a pleasant town with beautiful scenery, friendly people and numerous picturesque Buddhist temples. Many travellers to the area stay in guest houses right on the river. It is a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.

‘Death Railway’ is the railway track built by the Japanese Army in 1943. The 415 km-long railway line between Bangkok and Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), was built by the Japanese during World War II, to support their forces in Burma. In 1943 thousands of Allied Prisoners of War (PoWs) and Asian labourers worked on the Death Railway, many of them to their death.

About 180,000 Asian labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) are said to have worked on the railway and of these, around 90,000 Asian labourers including Ceylonese and 16,000 Allied POWs died due to illness and other privations.

The men worked from dawn until after dark and often had to trudge many miles through the jungle to return to base camp where Allied doctors tended the injured. Many died. After the war the dead were collectively reburied in the war cemeteries and will remain forever witness to a brutal and tragic ordeal.
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is located opposite Kanchanaburi's Railway Station on Saengchootoe Road. The second war cemetery is about 2 km south of town on the bank of the Kwai Noi River.

The most famous portion of the railway is Bridge 277, 'the bridge over the River Kwai', which was built over a stretch of river 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. The bridge we see standing today is in fact not the bridge the POW's built. The travellers can, however, see a section of the old wooden bridge located in the World War II Museum, which is right beside the modern bridge.

The movie won three major Oscars as Guinness won for best actor, David Lean for best director and the movie itself for best picture. The screenplay was adapted from a novel by Pierre Boulle and ironically enough, as so many movies on Vietnam are made in Thailand, the film was shot in Sri Lanka.
The film itself was a work of fiction, but over time people have come to think that the story was based on true characters. The conditions that Boulle describes were very real as he had been a prisoner-of-war himself.

Cathay has a lot to offer Lankans

Cathay Pacific Airways flies Sri Lankan travellers to Bangkok this season to enjoy the myriad thrills this vibrant and colourful city has to offer.

Cathay Pacific also has a 2-to-travel to Bangkok offer: By purchasing two air tickets to Bangkok, be it for leisure or business, travellers will have the chance to enjoy discounts and benefits.

Additionally check out the Bangkok Super Package that comprises a return air ticket to Bangkok and two nights' hotel accommodation with breakfast with many additions.

More details can be obtained at


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