A semi-historic tour of ‘Kanburi’
Obviously the two most visited sites in KAN are the Bridge and the CWGC cemetery. But you can take a quick tour of some other less well- known sites in the city.
If you start at the bridge drive down the road that is closest to the river. This will take you through the back-packer haven of bars and cheap hotels. Immediately below the market area of the bridge you will have passed the Thai-anusorn Cenotaph memorial to the Asian Asians who died on the TBR. The interesting fact is that the tracks to the original wooden bridge passed immediately next to this monument on the bridge side. Modern development prevents you from seeing or walking that area but you are on historic ground in front of the City Hotel.
At the end of the ‘walking street’ area the road takes a jog to the left. Take the first right turn. Soon you will be passing behind the main cemetery at Dom Rak. The map calls it Holanda Rd, but I’ve never noticed a street sign. Continue parallel to the river; pass the turn that will take you over to the ChungKai cemetery (small green sign). Continue straight entering the narrow lanes of the market area of the town. Take any right turn and move towards the river turning left onto Pakprak Rd. Soon you will arrive a wide plaza; this is the early city center. You can spot remnants of the old Kanburi city wall. Next on your left will be the now abandoned and derelict Paper Factory buildings. Immediately past that on the right is the original JEATH museum; well worth a stop. You can park in the temple and that too is worth a few minutes of your time to explore after the museum. You can get some good photos of the river from the temple area on the river bank. At this point, you have reached the lower end of the old city area. You are looking west at the confluence of the Kwai Noi as it meets the Kwai Yai (coming down from your right) to form the Mae Klong River.
Now it’s time to visit ChungKai and Khao Poon. Back track from the temple / museum and turn at the first left. On this lane you will find a series of raft restaurants anyone one of which is fine for lunch. Just don’t expect much English to be spoken or even written on the menus! Continue back towards the main cemetery and make the hard left turn up onto the Rte 3228 bridge. When you come to the T-intersection, turn right. A few kilos down the road the CWGC cemetery is on the left. Truthfully, there is not too much to see or do there, except to remember the dead and that you are standing on the east edge of the ChungKai POW camp stretching off beyond the back wall of the current cemetery.
Back in your vehicle and drive another kilo or so. Instead of crossing the TBR tracks, turn onto the dirt road before the tracks. The roadway immediately drops down to the river level. On your right is a 10m high embankment that the British POWs at ChungKai built. There is a rather dilapidated restaurant on the riverbank — I don’t recommend to patronize them, but that’s just my humble opinion! There is construction going on for what looks like a small resort, but from the restaurant area you should see a set of steps for climbing the berm.
As you reach the top of the embankment, stop and ponder the huge amount of labor it took to build that embankment shovel by shovel. To your left is the first of the Khao Poon cuttings through a limestone outcropping that blocked the surveyed railway path It is the same concept as Hellfire Pass except on a miniature scale. Off in the distance is the second cutting, but in order to reach it while walking the track you have to cross a rather rickety bridge with no side rails. Not my cup of tea.
After you shoot your pix and contemplated the ordeal of those POWs, go back and turn left crossing the rails. A couple KMs down the road as you ascend a hill, the entrance to Wat Tham Khao Poon will suddenly appear on your left. If you miss it there is a second entryway just a bit farther on. This temple is a popular weekend get-away site for Thais so it can be very crowded.
Drive through the main section of the temple and ascend the hill. Ignore the NO ENTRY sign and continue to the top of the hill. There you will find not one but 2 modern coffee shops catering to the 20-somethings taking selfies. But what you want to find is the second cutting. It is at first hard to tell but you are standing right above it on the limestone outcropping that the POWs sliced thru. There is a path and a stair case leading down to the tracks at the river level. Immediately on your right is the second cutting and off to the left the one you just departed from. More photo ops at the cutting and the bend in the river.
If you are truly an intrepid spelunker you can take your chances by returning to the front of the temple area and paying your admission fee to see the cave system. WARNING: do NOT enter if you are more than a bit overweight or out of shape.
What they fail to warn you about is that after a very leisurely gently sloping walk into the cave, when you get to the low point, there is a crack in the stone that cannot be more than a half-meter wide that you must pass thru to continue. Our 10yo guide ran thru, we struggled to twist our bodies squeezing them thru the gap! Then comes the hard part. The exit is a series of not very well constructed stairs rising more or less straight up! They are steep and narrow with no real place to stop and rest. There must be a thousand steps – well maybe not quite — it just seems that way. Winded and weary you return to the sunlight and then have to walk another half-kilo around the mountainside to get back to your car. Or you do what I did and send the driver to fetch the car while you recover in the shade of the pavilions conveniently placed there. Not a horrible experience but not one that I will repeat!
Depending on the time of day, you can choose to end your journey into history here or continue down the road to three more quite unique temples in the next 20 or so kilometers. I have described that day-trip in a different presentation.
The Paper Factory (mentioned above) is one of the few remaining buildings that we can date back to the POW era. It is now abandoned but still stands near the old walled city. I figures prominently in British ex-POW John Coast’s account of his post-liberation revelry in KAN and I am told it was the site of some of the filming for the movie version of THE RAILWAY MAN. Built in 1935 by an unknown German engineer, the paper mill produced pulp for the country to print its own banknotes during World War II.
From the outside, the paper mill resembles any run-down warehouse. But the factory once has seen some glory days.
It was the first place to have a television in the province, and its compound once had a tennis court, clubhouse and beautiful architecture.People in the area were accustomed to the sound of chimneys from the factory until it closed in 1982. The landlord in 1987 then leased the property to a private printing house for 30 years.
For the local community, the mill is more than just a photogenic vintage factory. It tells a story about the changing face of the province over the last century. One resident said: “This place is a hidden gem. But it is only known about by local people. Tourists do not know much about it. However, the site has huge potential. It would be an ideal site for a local museum and community hub.
A pictorial of the River Kwai Bridge by Richard Barton (with permission if the author)