The Bridge on the River Kwae

Many people have visited Kanchanaburi (pronounced gan-ja-na-boo-ree) and the infamous “Bridge on the River Kwai’. However, what most of them don’t know is that this is a bit of a misnomer. It should really be called River Kwae which rhymes with “square”. Not sure who made that mistake, probably the french guy who wrote the book in 1952. Anyway, another mistake is that the bridge didn’t actually go over the River Kwae but rather one of its tributuries called Mae Klong. But then, in the 1960’s, after the release of the popular movie, it was renamed Kwae Yai by the Thai authorities. That didn’t exactly help to clear things up. But heck, should the Thai people be expected to rename their landmarks after famous movies? Oh yes, they did it for James Bond Island down south!

Another little puzzle is that why are people coming all the way to cross this bridge? In the movie, wasn’t it a wooden structure? As you can clearly see in the picture above, the bridge that remains has concrete piles. So, Sir Alec Guinnes didn’t walk across this structure. Actually, I should also point out that the movie wasn’t made in Thailand but rather Sri Lanka. Little details I suppose. Anyway, if you look carefully at the colour picture I took, you can just make out the markings for the water level. Basically just white squares. Also, if you look further along the bridge you can see the spans that were bombed during the last war and replaced as they are a different style. The following picture shows more clearly the location of the wooden bridge that was originally built. This bridge no longer exists today though I do remember seeing some rails and wooden piles.

The following information comes from “The Railways of Thailand” by R. Ramaer

“The first bridge was a temporary wooden structure, begun in November 1942 and completed in just three months. The primary purpose being to allow line building to continue as rapidly as possible. When the line and the supply trains could pass on a temporary alignment, the building of the permanent bridge was started some 300 metres upstream. This was a far more substantial structure, resting on concrete piles and having seventeen spans, partly of steel and partly of timber. It took seven months to build this bridge, which was brought complete from Java, and it was opened to traffic in September 1943. The temporary bridge was then dismantled as it represented an obstacle to shipping. This was done during the early months of 1944 at the request of the Thai authorities, though some sources state that it was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid a few months later.

“The fourth, fifth and sixth spas of the permanent bridge were also damaged in a bombing raid and after the war these were replaced by two new spans of different designs that were supplied by Japanese industries as war reparations. At the same time, the six spans at the western end were changed from timber to steel by the RSR during its work to rahabilitate the line. The now sixteen-span bridge very clearly shows the constructional differences between the spans.”

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