Who in the right mind would travel from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi on an almost 14-hour return trip by train, when it is only 4 hours by car? Apparently the not-so-right-minds are my better half and I. A day earlier, we were at Hua Lamphong train station, traveling to Ayutthaya by train (another story next time) and we remembered that we read online about the excursion train service that is only available on weekends. Feeling adventurous, we enquired at the information counter inside the station, obtained this itinerary, queued up at lane number 11 and paid 240 Baht for two 3rd class seats (only 3rd class seats are available, by the way).
The next morning, we left the hotel at 6am with just minutes to spare before the train leaving at 6.30 am sharp. For early travelers, bear in mind that BTS and Metro operating hours start at 6 am, so do allow longer service intervals as it had just started the day’s service. Modern, glitzy inner city Bangkok skyline disappeared quickly as the train chugged out of Hua Lamphong; replaced with slums, smaller towns, paddy fields, tapioca plantations and beautiful mountain ranges over the horizon.
After an hour, we arrived at our first stop – Nakhon Pathom. As it was a Saturday morning, street food peddlers plied on the main streets, leading to the magnificent Phra Pathom Chedi, which is the largest pagoda in Thailand. This is also the first religious landmark that signified the introduction of Buddhism in Thailand. We had only 40 minutes before we were required to be on the train to our next destination.
Dual track rail lines continued on until the Nong Pladuk Station, where the single track line starts. This is also the Thai-Burma Railway or more commonly known as Hellfire Pass starting station whereby construction begun on 16th September 1942. The 415 km long rail connection was crucial for the Japanese to mount planned attacks on India, during World War II as their naval strength was reduced in earlier battles.
As we soaked in the scenery outside the train window, be careful of overgrown branches as the train passed by. Just as we began to warm up to other train passengers, the train arrived at the stop just before River Kwai bridge for photo shoot.
Kanchanaburi is a town of about 40,000 population, located to the west of Thailand. Occupied by the Japanese in the second World War, it was here that Prisoner of Wars (POWs) were forced into building the 415 km railway tracks, stretching from Nong Pladuk to Thanbyuzayat, Myanmar (Burma). Due to maltreatment, and treacherous and unhospitable jungle conditions, over 100,000 lives of POWs were lost during the 1 year construction period.
Once over at the other side of the river bank, we moved on to the famous Wam Po viaduct crossing. The Wam Po viaduct, now maintained by State Railway of Thailand, consists of a series of trestle bridges following the curve of a sheer limestone cliff which falls into the Kwae Noi at the side.
The tracks continued to be in operation until the year 1976 and it is the last stop, Sai Yok Noi waterfall where we rested for 3 hours, before leaving to Bangkok at 3pm.
Although it was hot and dusty throughout the journey, the train ride was nothing short of spectacular. Here, you get chance to mingle with the Thais, despite they do not speak much English. One thing for sure, you can forget about adhering to the itinerary schedule as we arrived Bangkok an hour late. But, who’s keeping track of timing when you are having holiday?
*All images and text by Jack Lee.
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