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Riding the Death Railway

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The two-hour journey along the notorious Thailand–Burma Death Railway from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok is one of Thailand’s most scenic and most popular train rides. Though the views are lovely, it’s the history that makes the ride so special, so it’s worth visiting the Thailand–Burma Railway Centre in Kanchanaburi before making the trip, as this provides a context for the enormous loss of human life and the extraordinary feat of engineering behind the line’s construction (see Thailand–Burma Railway Centre). Alternatively, take the bus straight up to the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, just north of the line’s current Nam Tok terminus, which provides an equally illuminating introduction to the railway’s history, then return to Kanchanaburi by train. A good tip, to get the best views, is to make sure you sit (or stand) on the right-hand side of the train on the journey back to Kanchanaburi, and on the left-hand side when travelling towards Nam Tok.

Leaving Kanchanaburi via the Bridge over the River Kwai, the train chugs through the Kwai Noi valley, stopping frequently at country stations decked with frangipani and jasmine. The first stop of note is Tha Kilen (1hr 15min), where you can alight for Prasat Muang Singh. About twenty minutes later the most hair-raising section of track begins: at Wang Sing, also known as Arrow Hill, the train squeezes through 30m-deep solid rock cuttings, dug at the cost of numerous POW lives; 6km further, it slows to a crawl at the approach to the Wang Po viaduct, where a 300m-long trestle bridge clings to the cliff face as it curves with the Kwai Noi – almost every man who worked on this part of the railway died. The station at the northern end of the trestle bridge is called Tham Krasae, after the cave that’s hollowed out of the rock face beside the bridge; you can see the cave’s resident Buddha image from the train. North of Tham Krasae, the train pulls in at Wang Po Station before continuing alongside a particularly lovely stretch of the Kwai Noi, its banks thick with jungle and not a raft house in sight, the whole vista framed by distant tree-clad peaks. Thirty minutes later, the train reaches Nam Tok, a small town that thrives chiefly on its position at the end of the line.

Three trains operate daily along the Death Railway in both directions, but they often run very late. At the time of writing, they’re scheduled to leave Kanchanaburi at 6.07am, 10.35am and 4.26pm and to return from Nam Tok at 5.20am, 12.55pm and 3.30pm; Kanchanaburi TAT keeps up-to-date timetables. If you’re up at the Bridge, you can join the train five minutes later.

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