Bridge Over the River Kwai Show Thailand

Many people have heard of the Bridge over the River Kwai because of the 1957 movie of the same name that was directed by David Lean.  Sadly, the filmic depiction in which allied soldiers whistled The Colonel Bogey March whilst stoically building a bridge for the Japanese army is vastly different to the actual circumstances.

It is true that there is a River Kwai in Thailand, and it is true that there is a bridge there, but the truth is far uglier than the film would suggest – but that’s Hollywood, sanitise everything so the truth won’t offend.

The real bridge is located at the town of Kanchanaburi, which is about 130 kms west of Bangkok.  The bridge that was built over the Kwai was far sturdier than the film would suggest, being constructed of steel and concrete.  The bridge formed part of the Death Railway, which the Japanese invaders were attempting to build using slave labour comprised of allied prisoners of war, and locals who were put to work under pain of death.  Tens of thousands of prisoners and locals died working under the harsh Japanese regime.  They were, quite literally, worked and starved to death.

At Kanchanaburi there is the war cemetery, which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, where thousands of the allied soldiers are buried.  There is also a Death Railway Museum, which reveals in gruesome detail the suffering that workers underwent.  To visit these memorials is a very upsetting and sombre experience.

Each November the River Kwai Bridge festival is held.   As well as the other celebrations and commemorations, each night during the festival a Son et Lumiere, a Sound and Light Show is held.

This is a very spectacular show.  Audience members are issued with a set of headphones in whichever language they best understand.  There is seating right next to the bridge on one bank of the Kwai.  You hear a narration, actors performing dramatic scenes, music and sound effects through the headphones, which are coordinated with a fantastic light show that comes complete with explosions as the drama unfolds.  On the opposite bank is a recreation of a camp, and through lights and giant shadows you watch as the spoken scene is complimented by the action as it is recreated in light, shadow and explosions.  You can hear the suffering of those who worked on the railway, and witness the beatings and killings in shadow play, and watch the explosions as the camp is attacked.  The culmination of this performance is a real life World War II-era steam engine chugging its way across the bridge as a ferocious attack is taking place.  I won’t reveal the finale, except to say that it is spectacular, and that it leaves a lasting memory.

If you are planning to be in Thailand in late November or early January, it is definitely worth making the trip to Kanchanaburi, participating in the River Kwai Bridge Festival and catching the Son et Lumiere.

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