Thailand – River and Jungle Tour
Travel the Thailand River and Jungle tour and you’ll uncover a country of contrasts. Thailand is the sort of place you visit once and long for forever. Surround yourself with stunning scenery, fascinating history, mouth-watering food, forests, mountains, cities, villages, and – most importantly – the amazing people who will help you appreciate it.
At a Glance
Day 1 Depart Bangkok – River Kwai (L/D)
Day 2 River Kwai – Ayutthaya (B/L/D)
Day 3 Ayutthaya to the jungles of Khao Yai National Park (B/L/D)
Day 4 Monsoon forest and a final legend (B/L)
Bridge on the River Kwai
There is no river Kwai (buffalo) in Thailand, it’s the Mekong River. The Thai government renamed a small section of the Mekong “Kwai” for tourists after the movie caused people to go to Kanchanaburi looking for it.
In the 1880s, the idea of building a rail link between Burma and China, passing through Thailand, was under consideration by the British authorities. But without funds the idea was killed. The British realized it would be too costly in monetary value and too many lives would be lost due to the dangerous conditions. With the start of World War II, the idea was given new life as it was wanted as a tactical military supply line for the movement of troops and equipment to the Burma Front, and eventually for the attack on India.
Originally, the Japanese army’s intention was to use Asians to construct the railway, and most of the railway laborers did indeed come from Burma, Java, and Malaya, numbering 240,000 men. Then in 1942, as World War II was underway and the Japanese invaded Malaya, Singapore and Indonesia, the Japanese forces found themselves with a large number of prisoners of war; something they had not thought of.
What to do with these prisoners was a problematic subject for the Japanese military. It was decided that these men – experienced, regimented military personnel – were to be used to advance the Japanese war effort.
Prisoners of War
The Allied prisoners of war were forced to cut the pass for the new railway, and live in the terrible conditions that went with that. They even enticed their own fellow Japanese men to come and work on the rail pass with the promise of a good job – a dollar and a pound of rice. Between 1942 and 1943, more than 60,000 prisoners of war were transported to the railway project as well as thousands of unaccounted for Japanese men.
The men labored under extreme force from the Japanese engineers and Korean guards at the pinnacle of the wettest monsoon season seen in many years. The working conditions were hellish.
The work and living
The men needed to excavate the soil and rock to a depth of 20 meters with just the bare minimum of equipment. They were issued 8-pound hammers, steel tap drills, explosives, picks, and shovels. Some minor assistance was given by the use of jackhammers, and the vast majority of waste material had to be removed by hand using cane baskets and rice sacks hung between two poles.
Starvation provisions, overloading of work, dismal or absent accommodation and sanitation, and the individual viciousness of Japanese and Korean engineers and guards, took their expected toll. Disease (predominantly dysentery, malaria, beriberi and cholera), brutality (69 men were beaten to death by their guards) and 12 to 18 hour daily work shifts made for a high death rate. In fact, the work went on 24 hours a day with the aid of oil pot lamps and bamboo/wood fires that were kept burning all night long. When looking down on the wok area at night it looked like working in the “jaws of hell” – thus the workers gave it the name “Hellfire Pass”.
Over 13,000 prisoners of war died during the time between late 1942 and late 1945. The number of deaths of the volunteer laborers is harder to calculate. Around 100,000 seems to be the most dependable number.
During the infamous ‘speedo’ period, July to October 1943, the extreme anxiety of the Japanese engineers to finish construction on time, under relentless demands from their superiors in Tokyo, meant that numerous men were forced to continuously perform grinding manual labor – 62 hours work out of 72 hours appears to be the documented record.
An astonishing estimate of 400 men lost there lives in just three short months due to the cruel labor conditions and what appeared to be the first outbreak of cholera.
Originally, the Japanese estimated that it would take five to six years to finish the line; it did not. Building over the bodies of the dead while being forced to work at an inhumane speed, the line took only a mere 16 months to complete.
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park was established in 1962 as Thailand’s first national park. It is the third largest national park in Thailand. Situated mainly in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Khao Yai extends into Prachinburi, Saraburi and Nakhon Nayok provinces. Khao Yai is just 3 hours away from Bangkok.
The park covers an area of 2,168 square kilometres, including rain/evergreen forests and grasslands. 1,351 m high Khao Rom is the highest mountain within the park. The average altitude of the national park ranges from 400 to 1000 m above the sea level.
Khao Yai is part of Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO, covering 5 protected areas from Khao Yai to Cambodian border.
Some common mammals include elephants, bears, gaurs, barking deer, otters, gibbons and macaques. There has not been any sign of tiger activity in the park for a while, but camera traps have revealed a significant tiger population in the neighbouring Thap Lan and Pang Sida National Park.
The national park is home to around 300 resident and migratory birds. It has one of Thailand’s largest populations of hornbills. Some of the interesting birds that can be found in the park are barbets, scarlet minivets, broadbills, pittas, mountain scops-owls, great slaty woodpeckers, collared owlets, blue-winged leafbirds, Asian fairy bluebirds, trogons, drongos and magpies. Many ground dwelling birds such as silver pheasants, junglefowls, green-legged partridges and Siamese fireback are common on the roads and trails.
The best time to visit Khao Yai for birdwatching is during the dry months and during March and April when the big bird migration happens.
Khao Yai is also a good destination for watching reptiles. The best time is around March-April but still with good activity until October. During the cold seasons it takes a bit more effort to spot them. Reticulated python, Chinese ratsnake, Chinese water dragon, water monitor and crested lizards are only few of many species that can be found in the park.
Too see a more complete list of species in the park, visit the Wildlife at Khao Yai page.