Endless repeat showings of The Bridge on the River Kwai makes it hard to dispel the cinematic myth of a crack team of Commandos blowing up the bridge.
The truth is less dramatic.
The original teak bridge, which was to link the Thai-Burma railway and enable the Japanese to invade British-ruled India was only partially destroyed by Allied bombers in November 1943 and the Col. Nicholson of the film was a purely fictitious character.
But the myth is more powerful than reality, and as you stand on the banks of the muddy River Kwai and look downriver towards the dark green of the jungle, faintly on the air you can hear the sound of marching feel and the whistling of the Colonel Bogey March.
Just a short walk away from the food stalls and souvenir shops that cluster at the access to the bridge you’ll find another world.
Here a sense of the horrors experienced by 70,000 Allied and 200,000 Asian prisoners of war in the building of the Death Railway is to be found in a replica bamboo P.O.W. hut.
Established as a Museum in 1977 by the chief monk of Chaichumpol Temple, this little structure may seem apathetic monument to the sufferings of the thousands who died here, but its simplicity is its virtue.
Inside the thatched hut the temperature hovers around 30c.
Photographs and drawings line the walls, some so horrific that they look like the products of a deranged mind.
Four feet from the floor is a bamboo shelf of the sort the fit, as well as the dying, would have lain on, and as you stumble on the uneven floor and look on the drawings, the nightmare of the camp on the River Kwai gnaws at the mind.
Few visitors speak as they walk through this photographic witness to man’s inhumanity to man.
Sixteen thousand Allied prisoners and between fifty and seventy thousand Asians died on this mad project of the Japanese Emperor’s Imperial Army.
A train ride on the infamous railway to the end of the line near the Burmese border can be fitted in on a day trip.
Pulled by an old steam-engine, wooden carriages plunge you into another world on the ride to Three Pagoda Pass and Namtok.
The train hugs the cliffs as it cuts through the jungle where so many men died.
Up ahead the craggy mountains that mark the border with Burma (Myanmar) loom out of the mist like a Chinese watercolor, all faded blacks, and bruised purples.
You will pass wooden houses grouped in clearings hacked out of the jungle and see a way of life that has changed little since the men who built the railway worked here.