Kachanaburi Visit

Discussion in 'Touring Northern Thailand - Trip Reports Forum' started by Bad Ed, Jun 22, 2007.

  1. Bad Ed

    Bad Ed Member

    I arrived from a ride from Mae Sot/Tak/Kampaeng Phet/Chai Nat/Supanburi to Kachanaburi rain free and put in just as the blue bruise of a storm enveloped the city. While in town, I thought I would go to Kachanaburi's War museum, or, as it is titled, the 'JEATH War Museum'. I thought, "that is most perplexing." "They must mean something like, 'The War Death Museum'" .

    The title of the 'JEATH War Museum' does give a person a premonition of what lays in store beyond its entrance. As I stumbled across the museum I had no idea who master-minded the enterprise however it is located beside the iron railroad bridge on the Kwai River and cost 40 baht to enter. I had thought that there at least must be some interesting artifacts within - even if the usual efforts were made to explain what anything was.

    Inside is a repository of anything to do with any war - about 50 % appears to be war scrap picked up from border skirmishes with Burma, Laos and Cambodia – US made MK-43 five hundred pound bombs were not dropped on the River Kwai bridge, nor were most of the array of mortar shells and rocket projectiles in evidence - many still with corroded fuses (and unlikely inert). But they do have a fair number of 1000 lb bombs (oh goody!) of the type dropped by the Army Air Corps in WWII that likely were recovered around the bridge; or, it is plausible they were recovered from around the bridge. The bridge was indeed bombed.


    Probably the greatest help were plasticized articles from the Bangkok Post that related that history with some accuracy. They said that for the first 7 bombings little damage came to the bridge. It was only on the 8th, 9th and 10th attacks that the bridge was seriously hit; taking out three spans on the Kachanaburi side. The bombings occurred during December of 1944 and the first 6 months of 1945. These spans were apparently replaced with the two long spans that are present today. The rounded 6-7 spans on the other side are apparently original spans. According to http://www.diggerhistory.info/pages-bat ... 2/kwai.htm, the iron bridge was dismantled in Java by the Japanese and shipped to Thailand about 1942.

    "This eleven span bridge had been dismantled by the Japanese and brought to Tamarkan from Java in 1942. Both bridges were subjected to numerous attacks by Allied aircraft during the period December 1944 to June 1945. One span of the steel bridge was destroyed in a raid mid February 1945. Two more spans were dropped during raids between April and June 1945."


    As the quote above infers, there was also a wooden bridge within a kilometer of the iron bridge. - according to the photos on the 'Digger History' site, the wooden bridge would have been located very close to the present site of a modern bridge for vehicle traffic (about a kilometer south).

    In the last year or two I have seen a program run on the National Geographic Channel about the allied bombing of this bridge - 'The River Kwai Bridge' and they were talking about the development and use of 'Hazon' , effectively one of the first guided bombs. The bomb had fins and was controlled by radio from the plane. To keep the bomb visible, a flare attached to the bomb ignited shortly after the bomb was dropped. By these means the bombardier kept the falling bomb in view and could control the fins to guide the bomb through radio and hit the target every time. And, according to NG, that's how they finally got the bridge. But you wouldn't know that at the 'JEATH War Museum'. Never-the-less, the plasticized newspaper articles were very helpful.

    I had never thought that the bridge, or, in this case, the actual bridge, was still there (natchorly, they blew the bejeesus out of the one in the movies). That fact lends a serious, historic weight to the location and provides an air of deep authenticity.

    As for David Lean's making of the movie, 'The Bridge Over the River Kwai', did he really pay to construct the wooden bridge in Ceylon we see in the movie? Was he really mad enough to blow it up and derail a real steam locomotive into the river? Watching the film, it sure looks like he did. The making of that film has to be a real story.

    Back to the present; I am a shallow farang after all, and did learn something at the 'JEATH War Museum'. Good thing it wasn't left to the people who ran the museum to explain anything.


    The museum has two floors of artifacts - for some reason an exhibition of prehistoric artifacts in the basement, a Chinese pagoda, a railroad car with the door caged and wax effigies of really desperate looking farangs staring balefully from within. The sign says – “The Japanese Army used Railway Cars a “Prisons” for hiding Prisoners of War”. There is other such stuff. At one end is a collection of antiques with a single explanation; 'Japanese Soldier Belongings Left Behind'. There is everything from weapons, swords, M-16 rifles, AK-47s, some modern aircraft automatic cannon, uniforms, helmets of WWII (some are Japanese), phonographs, movie projectors, typewriters, cameras and on and on. There are BSA and Triumph motorcycles (circa 1950s) recently painted green with Japanese flags painted on them and a sign saying 'Japanese Soldier Vehicle for Going to Market'. The Japanese must be really insulted by that; and not just because they build terrifically better motorcycles. The whole premise of the museum is sort of tacky and in bad taste. And certainly the mass tomb of SE Asian laborers is over the top.



    Another site about the bridge said this to say about the museum:

    "At the time of my visit, the near-by 'JEATH Museum' in Kachanaburi housed a display of torture instruments along with photos of the brutality. I subsequently heard that the Japanese government had protested its presence and the Thai authorities were considering closing it. JEATH stands for Japan, England, America/Australia, Thailand, and Holland--the six countries whose captured soldiers were involved with the construction of the 'Death Railway' as it came to be known"


    I became interested to find out who had done the museum. The plasticized articles had made reference to a Thai businessman/war profiteer who managed to secret some assistance to the farang POWs. He was Boonpong Sirivejapandh and was the mayor of Kachanaburi before/after the war. I inquired about him when I met the owners of the museum and was told that he is deceased. I wondered if some of the artifacts in the museum had come from him. Certainly, his story must be incredible, if it were ever possible to learn it.

    It turns out that the guy who runs the museum lived next to Boonpong and I was introduced to Aran Jansiri by his son. Through them, I divined that his father made good in business after the war and became a collector/pack-rat sort of guy. They showed me an article written by the Nation dated 9 November, 2003 and it is available on this site:

    http://www.nationmultimedia.com/search/ ... 2003-11-09

    According to the article the guy was a collector and had decided to put together the museum on his own. He says that the captions on the articles he has acquired are as they were explained to him as he got them and are thus labeled. In the article about his museum, he says the following:

    “I wrote the description cards for each item [in the museum] using my own research and my own experiences. People on either side of the war might not like it [my descriptions], but it’s my version. Don’t come if you don’t like it,”

    If the Japanese or Farangs don't like his account about the items, so be it. So, in a Thai/Chinese fashion, it is more of a sort of shrine for himself and the rest is secondary and/or pure fancy. On the other hand, he represents a living witness to the actual events (see newspaper article). And once again, there’s a great story there if only it could be told. And certainly, the museum is worth a gander at only 40 baht.

    The museum comes off as the brain child of a disturbed mind; however, in spite of appearing to be as bad as seems, I was provoked to learn something about the bridge. Like most efforts here to translate anything historic for visitors, actually learning something could almost only happen through accident. Never-the-less, as is evident by this article, the wildly fluctuating content and bizarre descriptions of the museum generate ample curiosity; or, certainly did in me. There are an incredible amount of oddities within and the lack of reliable explanation for their presence enhances the power their enigma.

    A friend more cognizant than I of Thai culture remarked upon the presence of the Pagoda within the museum. She said that with such a vast collection of property that once belonged to the living (as well as a mass grave), it is entirely normal to include a Pagoda. "That place has to be rife with spirits. They had to do something for them".

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  3. tiswas

    tiswas Active Member

    This is a bad example of a Kanchanaburi war museum. Next time visit the "Hell Fire Pass" museum on the road to Sai Yok, great riding on that road as well, indeed carry on up to Sangklaburi (spelling) & the three pagodas pass at the border for some fantastic riding & breath taking scenery.. If you go in any of the farang bars/restaurants there is now a Kanchanaburi guide free, this has the address's of the rest of the railway museums etc to visit. Any first time visitor to enter that Jeath museum would get the wrong impression of the great visitor attractions available in 'Kan'.....
  4. jimmyyeehaa

    jimmyyeehaa Active Member

    we were very dissapointed in this museum
    and i would add that i found the layout of the place very confusing
    i felt the story wasnt told, and the artifacts on display were rotting away in front of my eyes
    i left hot and frustared thinking i must have missed something

    if you are in the area make the effort to visit Tiger Temple
    http://board.gt-rider.com/topic.asp?TOP ... ,motocross
    now that place is quite something
    we also found some interesting ruined kameer temples when looking for the tiger temple place


  5. tiswas

    tiswas Active Member

    Yeh done the tiger temple when taking the Steed up to Sangklaburi...also near by is an Elephant park that's worth a visit.
    Bad Ed...what did you ride down on ?
  6. StanGayuski

    StanGayuski Ol'Timer

    Have spent time in Kanchanaburi visiting friends who live there. That War Museum I find depressing and not well displayed - Once was enough for me. Never got to the Tiger Reserve but there is a fantastic Temple about 12 clicks from town called Tiger Cave Temple. I have a photo set here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stan_g/set ... 143933659/ I have yet to do the run to the Burma border but its next on my list. I'm waiting for the dry season however.
  7. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer

    I first went to the JEATH Museum about 6 years ago. Then it was located in a u-shaped bamboo building that displayed the photos and news articles as mentioned along with some of the artifacts. It was acutally more enjoyable as you felt like had stepped back to camps due to the bamboo structure and the fact it all was mostly hand crafted and was unique because of that. The current JEATH museum is the "new improved version" and I must agree I was quite disappointed with what they have done.

    Agree to about the Tiger Temple being one of my most memorable experiences.Hellfire Pass is worth the visit, but not much at the 3 Pagodas/Burma border. The 3 pagodas are only small structures standing in the equivalent of a traffic roundabout basically.
  8. tiswas

    tiswas Active Member

    Agreed Silverhawk...3 Pagodas not up to much but the market surrounding it is worth alook for cheap booze & cigs at 100BHT a bottle & carton. Did you go & have a look at the longest wooden bridge (so they claim) maintained by monks around the Songklhaburi area? Didn't chance taking the bike accross though.
  9. Bad Ed

    Bad Ed Member

    Well, on first glance, the museum doesn't impress. However, the place really is filled with an amazing number of very strange items. There is a helmet with a red star said to have belonged to a Japanese Commander's. I wonder what the deal was with him. Also, the collection of broom stick Mauser, Lugar and Nambu pistols; there are some impressive pieces in there. That particular model of the Lugar, the long-barreled WWI Navy Model M-17 is unusual and I was surprised to see so many. Were they side arms of Japanese? Thai military? Who knows?

    And what about several exhibits labeled something like, "property of Japanese soldier left behind". It would really be interesting to know the full story behind those exhibits; how they were acquired, etc.

    So, in spite of how bad some things come off, the place is not a complete write-off. Far from it! And if it were not there, there would be nothing. So, it's well worth 40 baht for a look around.
  10. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer

    We did check out the bridge. I WALKED across same as you. Also as you say the market was great. On the Burma side they had a shop that sold handmade wood items at ridiculously cheap prices. Brought back some pretty wood vases and other things. You're right it is still worth the trip even if not for the pagodas.
  11. Bad Ed

    Bad Ed Member

    I did visit 'Hellfire Pass' museum and about 4 kms of the road bed of the railroad . That is quite a walk! I'm jogger and bicycler and in reasonably good shape and walked half of it and returned to the museum soaking wet with sweat. So it gives you a fair appreciation of anyone who had to work an 18 hours a day session of 'speedo' in such hot, humid, intensely difficult terrain.

    Certainly, the museum comes off lots better - it's run and paid for by the Aussie government veterans administration and is a class act. The air con is most welcome after a stroll along the right of way as are the iced water bottles. Tip: take a bottle with you at the start of the trail to the cuts and bridge sites; whether you are thirsty or not.

    The ride on up to 3 Pagodas is alright. Road not too busy and nice forest. I agree, the actual 'Three Pagodas' is a bit of an anti-climax. I did not check. Is is possible to get a day-pass into Burma like in Mae Sai/Tachilik?

    There are some alright guesthouses in Sanglaburi. A nice, quiet town.
  12. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer


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