During World War II Imperial Japanese forces invaded Thailand and Burma in its campaign to extend the Empire of Japan and in the process of doing so built what would be forever known as the Death Railway. In 1942, the Japanese military, whose invasion of Burma was supported by Burmese forces seeking to be released from British rule, envisioned a railway system that would connect Thailand and Burma—giving its campaign in Burma a huge advantage over the British military. In this new railway system, survival essentials as well as manpower could be delivered to the Japanese forces as needed.
The Death Railway was built by an estimated 330,000 people, about 100,000 of them prisoners of war or workers who were coerced into building the line. The railway is an impressive accomplishment: spanning 258 or so miles and built through the hilly, dense jungles in very harsh conditions. Many of the workers died from the heat and beatings of the soldiers.
One of the most famous parts of the Death Railway is Bridge 277 in Kanchanaburi, River Khwae, known around the world as the Bridge on River Kwai. A novel and several autobiographies of the men who survived the heinous living conditions that came with working on this railway system became well-known after the end of World War II.
This landmark is one of Thailand’s popular historical sites, with the place being visited by thousands of tourists a year. For history buffs, going to this place is a real treat—certain tours offer a short tour of the nearby War Cemetery, then the real treat—a ride along the actual part of Death Railway, on a train along the exact historical bridge. The route is long and scenic, and is definitely very historical. After that invigorating ride, tourists can also check out the nearby War Museum, which houses a lot of artifacts from the war—here you’ll see old Imperial Japan relics, vehicles, and other bric-a-brac from war time. If you ask around, tours with an English-speaking guide cost about 72 USD. Other tours offer side stops, such as the Tiger Temple—prices for that may vary, depending on where you go.