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The rivers Kwai Yai and Kwai Noi are surrounded by lush tropical foliage and there are many resorts and floating lodges for the traveller who would like a break in one of the most beautiful areas of Thailand. Kanchanaburi is also the home of several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries with many waterfalls, caves, and varied wildlife.

Chao Praya River

At Kanchanaburi it merges with the Mae Klong river, which empties into the Gulf of Thailand at Samut Songkhram. The river is chiefly known from the Pierre Boulle novel and David Lean film The Bridge on the River Kwai, in which Australian, Dutch and British prisoners of war were forced by the Japanese to construct two parallel bridges spanning the river as part of the Burma Railway, also called the Death Railway for the many lives lost in its construction.

One bridge was wooden and temporary. The other was made of concrete and steel and still exists. Ironically, the bridges actually spanned the Mae Klong, but as the railway subsequently follows the Kwae Noi Valley, the bridges became famous under the wrong name. In the 1960s, the upper part of the Mae Klong was renamed the Kwae Yai (big tributary).

War Cemeteries in Thailand.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
This cemetery contains the remains of 6,982 war prisoners who lost their lives during in captivity of the Japanese Army that forced them to build the Bridge over the River Khwae and the Death Railway. The Japanese following their invasion of Thailand during World War II, brought British, Dutch, Australian and American prisoners to Thailand by the Southern route. Impressed labourers were also used to complete the rush construction of the railroad, which is an alternative to the sea route, to Rangoon via Singapore and the Strait of Malacca since the sea route was being closed in by Allied submarines and aircrafts.

Chong-Kai War Cemetery The Chong-Kai Cemetery is smaller but more peaceful than the one in town. It is also neatly arranged with all kinds of beautiful flowers planting, and hedged. It contains the remains of 1,750 prisoners of war. This place can be reached by boats which are available at the pier in front of the town gate and also from the agent at the Bridge.

Vajiralongkorn Dam.

Vajiralongkorn Dam (formerly named Khao Laem Dam) is a hydroelectric dam on the river. In case there was any doubt concerning man's savagery to his fellow kind, then the Thai-Burma railway, all 415 kilometres of it, stands as a horrific testament to human brutality. Constructed under order of the Japanese by prisoners of war and enslaved locals during WWII, the Death Railway's most famous section, 'The Bridge Over the River Kwai', now acts as one of Thailand's major tourist attractions. The bridge is located in the small town of Kanchanaburi where the majority of guesthouses back onto the infamous Kwai River.

The bridge is, well, a bridge. The history behind it however is far from ordinary. As the Japanese extended their invasion of Thailand into the West of Burma, their success was hampered by the difficulty in supplying troops with provisions and so a supply line, the railway, was built. The Japanese, using POWs and civilian conscripts, adopted a brutal and barbaric work regime that saw the completion of the railway in one year rather than the three it was estimated to take. These 'speedo' tactics cost the lives of a staggering three hundred thousand men. Apart from the bridge, Kanchanaburi's sites consist of two war museums and cemeteries.

The Tiger Temple.

Tiger Temple, or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, is a Buddhist temple in Western Thailand which keeps numerous animals, among them several tame tigers that walk around freely once a day and can be petted by tourists. The Theravada Buddhist temple is located in the Saiyok district of Thailand's Kanchanaburi province, not far from the border with Myanmar, some 38 km north-west of Kanchanaburi along the 323 highway. It was founded in 1994 as a forest temple and sanctuary for numerous wild animals. In 1995, it received the Golden Jubilee Buddha Image, made of 80kg of gold.

In 1999 the temple received the first tiger cub; it had been found by villagers and died soon after. Several tiger cubs were later given to the temple, typically when the mothers had been killed by poachers. As of 2006, over ten cubs had been born at the temple and the total number of tigers was about eighteen. All of these are Corbetts Tigers, except Mek (a Bengal Tiger). They spend most of the time in cages, being fed with dry cat food and cooked chicken to avoid giving them a taste for blood, and washed and handled by monks. Once a day, they are led on leashes to a nearby quarry. Originally they would roam around freely in this area, but now with the increase in tourists will often be chained as they get grumpier in the afternoon.

A group of Thai staff and some volunteers lead tourists around by the hand to pose and pat the tigers and taking photographs of them using the tourist's camera, while the abbot and monks keep the tigers happy and under control if they get irritated. Nervous tourists may also observe this from about 10m away. The Tiger Temple practices a different conservation philosophy than in the west. In western zoos and parks, the emphasis is on providing a natural environment for the animals.

In the temple, at least until the sanctuary is completed, the animals seem to be treated more as family members. Although it may be possible for the offspring of the current generation to return to the wild, their parents will live out a life of non violence. Their conservation philosophy seems to be working, as while projects elsewhere often need to resort to artificial insemination, over 10 cubs have been born at the temple in the last three years despite having no breeding program whatsoever.

Erawan National Park.

If you're spending a couple of nights in Kanchanaburi consider taking a day trip to Erawan National Park. Easily reached by bus the park sits in the middle of thick jungle and contains a series of small waterfalls descending a hill and flowing into a series of pools. It's a delight to swim in the cold clear pools as an antidote to the thick tropical heat. The Erewan waterfall is rated often as one the best waterfalls of the kingdom. It is in the area of the national park, 65 kilometres from Kanchanaburi along Route 3199. it is a popular excursion for locals and tourists alike. You can also hire a motorcycle in the city.

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