Beyond Bangkok: The Unexpected Side of Thailand
Bangkok. Phuket. Pattaya. The beaches of Krabi and Samui. The highland haven of Chiang Mai. Most visitors to Thailand would tick these destinations off their itineraries. Yet, there’s so much more to discover about the Land of a Thousand Smiles. From historic trails and monuments to intriguing temples and monasteries, blissed-out beaches, exciting nightlife, vineyards and nature reserves, malls and entertainment options, and a cornucopia of delectable Thai cuisine.
In short, a thousand more reasons to smile.
The province of Kanchanaburi, with its refreshing verdant countryside and abundant rice fields, fruit orchards, cassava and rubber plantations, is a favourite weekend haunt of Bangkok’s city folk. About two and a half hours west of the capital, this ‘Land of Gold’ (its name has roots in Sanskrit) is blessed with a magnificent landscape that ranges from low rolling plains and marshland to riverside retreats and hills cloaked in forest and bamboo.
Kanchanaburi is connected to the capital by impeccable highways stippled with fuel stations and rest stops with restaurants, coffee shops and snack stalls. Double-decker tour buses with onboard WiFi and in-seat massagers can be seen ferrying happily dozing tourists through this remarkable countryside.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Kanchanaburi’s past is rooted in pain. During World War II, Thailand was shanghaied into supporting the Japanese Imperial Army in its assault on Allied forces in Southeast Asia. Japan made several landings in Thailand and coerced a reluctant Thai government into allowing it to build a railway to Burma (modern-day Myanmar) through the hills and rivers of Siam (modern-day Thailand). Relics and memorials of this dark period dot the province.
In the heart of the town lies Don Rak, the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. A granite plaque informs the visitor that here are preserved the remains of 6,982 Allied prisoners of war who perished during the construction of the infamous Death Railway. Between 1942 and 1945, the Japanese Imperial Army forced POWs constructed a railway that aimed to link Burma with Thailand. Overwork, cruelty and unhygienic living conditions claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Allied prisoners of war and civilians. In the cemetery there are zones demarcated for British, Dutch and Australian soldiers. The largest of three cemeteries along the Burma-Siam Railway, it is a serene, sobering place. Designed by Colin St Clair Oakes, it is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which looks into the upkeep of war graves in about 150 countries that were affected by the two World Wars.
The Bridge on the River Kwai