The world-famous railway bridge over the River Kwai is in Kanchanaburi Province about 130 kms west of Bangkok. The bridge is well-known all over the world because almost half a century ago about 16,000 Allied POWs died while building the “Death Railway” to Burma. The prisoners were forced by the Imperial Japanese Army in the world War II to build a strategic railway through the disease ridden jungle and treacherous rivers of the province.
The railway was buit with the strategic objective of securing an alternative the west. The construction began on September 16, 1942 and the materials for the bridge were said to have been brought from Java and assembled here. It was estimated that the construction would take five years to link Thailand and Burma by rail, but the Japanese army forced the POWs to complete the 415-km railway in just 16 months but the bridge was in use for only 20 months before the Allies bombed it in 1945.
Apart from the horrifying death toll of the POWs during the construction, it is believed that about 100,000 coolies, many from Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia also lost their lives.
After the end of World War II, the Allied forces placed the remains of the dead to rest in two war cemeteries near the site of the bridge. Every year during the first week of December, there is a light and sound presentation detailing the construction and the bombing of the historic railway bridge by the Allied forces. It is a popular event with Thai and foreign visitors. During the fair, a constant stream of visitors flow to Kanchanaburi.