ANZAC DAY Hellfire Pass Kanchanaburi Thailand 2012

The annual ANZAC Day activities held each year in Kanchanaburi is an a pilgrimage for many Aussies and Kiwis and a annual event for many resident expats in the region wanting to catch up and pay respects to those who died for our freedom from Japanese occupation today. There is plenty of information on the net regarding ANZAC Day and history of the particular Thai-Burma Railway but little information of how to make the most of visiting this event easily on the 25th of April each year since the local Embassy’s restricted what information they can now publish.  The Australian and NZ Embassy take turn hosting it, in 2012 it is Australia’s turn, the Defense Attache there seem to know the most if you can not find information from other contacts.

There are two services on the day that are at different location, but both in the Provence of Kanchanaburi which is about 175 kilometres North West of Bangkok. The first service starts before dawn at Hellfire Pass which is an hours drive further on from Kanchanaburi. The Second starts at 10am in the city at the cemetery where many Commonwealth and Dutch allied service men lay today.

Hellfire Pass Memorial Service

This last about 40 minutes commencing at 05:30am sharp and is held down in Konya cutting that the Prisoners Of War (POW) dug out with picks and shovels. Considering it is very hard rock and up to 25 meters deep, it is an amazing task in its own right. It is lit by similar bamboo candle lanterns that the POWs would have made them selves as they worked around the clock trying to avoid the barbaric punishment from the Japanese. The distance of the track to the memorial service is about 500m. Last year new steps and a new track were completed down to the cutting which is a vast improvement. Although it is an excellent track, it is rocky. Normal shoes are fine, ladies high heels would be totally ridiculous on the track. (Apart from entrainment factor for others of course !! ) This is a very moving Service. For disabled individuals requiring wheel chairs, you may be in luck now. In the 2011 service, I am sure there was a golf cart down there to provide medical services and I presume transporting some of the ageing diggers. The official statement from the Australian Embassy is “Access to the old railway cutting at Hellfire Pass is difficult for disabled persons”. I suggest contacting Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum for advice if this is possible.

Mr William Slape, ManagerHellfire Pass Memorial Museum, E-mail: hellfirepassoawg@gmail.com    Ph+ 668 34 531347

The service is brief and straight to the point, goosebumps and shivers run down everyone’s spin with bagpipes echoing through the jungle. It finishes with the last post played at sunrise. Up the top the is Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, this is very interesting and not your typical boring display. It is very well done in fact. In the museum there are proper western toilets, but not down in the cutting. Normally, wet season is not in full swing yet, weather is not normally an issue, however, there is no protection from the rain and were insect repellent as you are in the jungle.

Hellfire Pass

Hellfire Pass
Image:(CC-BY-SA 3.0)
David Iliff

After sunrise, there are some complimentary refreshments at the museum for all to enjoy, consisting of coffee, tea, seriously yummy Anzac biscuits and shots of Bunderburg Rum to get the day going, this is known as the Gunfire Breakfast. This is very well organised. There are hotels near Hellfire Pass, these tend to book out a long way in advance, they do provide for a small cost a mini van to the service. (List Below) Last year I counted 120 minivan all lined up in the car park, finding a car park is no problem though. (GPS lat/long below) On a side note, if you are inclined you can walk further along the track if you wish for about another 5km before it gets a bit rough going. You can also rent personal audio tour to give you more information as you walk around the day before if you stay in a near by hotel, to do it fully it takes about 3 hours. From here it is an hours drive down the mountain through some picturesque scenery to Kanchanaburi. By the time you get to Kanchanaburi there are many places to have breakfast, visit to the famous bridge or retire to a hotel for a quick nap before the 10am service.

The Wreath Laying Ceremony & Memorial Service

This is very formal located in the city itself inside the main Allied War Cemetery where 6982 POW lay. Some speeches from dignitaries are normally pleasantly short, it effectively has a religious element to it, which is not my cup of tea but defiantly not over the top. It is the same format as you would expect in Australia or New Zealand. The highlight are some of the “politically incorrect”, blunt, straight from the heart stories from some of the original diggers who can still visit, it is common to see tears in the crowd when the speak. This service goes up to an hour, it used to drag on a bit in previous years and was held later in the day, but due to very hot days at that time of year and many ageing visitors, they try to keep the wreath laying short and moved the start forward to 10am. It is commonly around 35′c (95f) or hotter at lunch time. Some shade seating, seating and water is provided but I suggest bring some water, sunscreen, a big hat and a umbrella. In Thailand they are used more for protection from the sun than rain, don’t worry what people thing, macho guys in Thailand use pink and purple umbrellas to keep the sun off them too ! Parking can be a bit tricky, there are also lots of one way streets to make it more interesting, but you will find somewhere to double park Thai style within a few hundred meters. Take some time to wonder around, nearly half of the soldiers were British and there are a surprising amount of plagues form soldiers from the Netherlands. The sheer number of men who were killed that were teen ages or in their early twenties is mind numbing, I can not help but think of friends when I see folks with similar names and realise how lucky we are. Toilets are basic at best here. Well worth the entry fee to the Death Railway museum across the street to use their toilet if you are new to Thailand.

After the service, there is a complementary BBQ lunch for everyone that is “real Aussie food”, proper snags, imported New Zealand beers and some very pleasant Australian wine seem to flow with little restriction. This is also a great time for people to mingle and just catch up every year in a very relaxed atmosphere. Non alcoholic beverages are available as well.

Also across the road you will see a museum, the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, with a big banner, “Death Railway” across the front. There is a small entry charge of 100b for adults and 50b for children. Also be aware of another WW2 Museum that is full of memorabilia, including some wax figures that is a couple of kilometres further back out of town.

It is worth noting that there is also a small service at the bridge after the main service in memory of the Americian POW’s which is lead by the American Veterans of Foreign Wars Bangkok (Post 9951) for the Americans who were killed at the hands of the Japanese on the site. The fallen American POWs were repatriated to cemetery’s on home soil as per their policy after the war. Other than that, there is nothing unusual at the bridge, except it is a very busy day for the tourist vendors. My opinion is that the bridge is a tacky tourist trap now. Incredibly it is still operational with many of the original wooden sleepers. It is defiantly worth a visit, however for me, the bridge is of no real emotional significance. It is about 1.5km from the main Allied War Cemetery. You could walk it, but you really do not need to, just grab a tuk-tuk or rent a bike. Something to be aware of to help avoid confusion, there is actually a second cemetery with British, French, Australian and Dutch POW’s graves called Chung Kai Allied War Cemetery. It is about 4km out of town at the site of what was a large POW camp. The prisoners built a hospital for them selves, unfortunately to many never check out alive.

This youtube video is minutes but an excellent description of the days events.

Transport to Kanchanaburi & Hellfire Pass

Own Car

Hellfire Pass carpark GPS Lat/Long 14°21’12.91″N 98°57’29.03″E

Allied War Cemetery GPS Lat/Long 14° 1’52.90″N 99°31’31.54″E

If you are driving, the roads are sealed and ok for any car, but it is a slow road as it goes through many towns, it is a good 3hr drive, anything less is unrealistic.If coming from Pattaya, I suggest keeping on the toll road ‘Bang Na-Trat’ ( Number 34) and go south of Bangkok on number 9 as if going to Hui Hin initially, then North up the Western side of Bangkok, before heading West on the number 4 it is marginally longer but much faster. Avoid going through or the Northern side of the city, the roads and traffic are an unnecessary nightmare.

Map to Hellfire Pass from Kanchanaburi Thailand

Direction to Hellfire Pass | Click To Enlarge |Map Aust Embassy Bangkok

A word of warning if you do not have your own car, from what I have seen in other years, as a general comment, local transport cost go up 5 times for the ‘lucky tourist’ over Anzac day. Expect to get ripped off if you plan to turn up and charter a car with a driver. Many hotels do run their minivan for the dawn service at a reasonable rate booking a seat by seat basis, so enquire and book a seat when booking a room.

The Red Kanaroo Bar, (also known as Four Nines) runs vans at a responsible rate. It is on Sang Chuto Road, Opposite River Kwai Hotel in the heart of town. I am not exactly sure of the latest with them, the publican is a Scottish chap and very helpful. I did not get there last year for a beer, I am assuming it is still the same. Feel free to comment below if you know any more updates about Dons bar. It is a old favourite after the main service as well with some really good British food.

By Bus from Bangkok

Go to the Bus Terminal on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River (in Thai: “Sa Tha Nee Rot Tour Sai Tai”). T ake the blue and white bus, never the orange and white buses as they take twice as long as they stop looking for customers. Air-conditioned public bus number 81 to Kanchanaburi, from Stop Number 4. The fare is around 120B and the journey takes about 2 hours. If coming from Hua Hin or departing Ekamai Bus station (co located near the same BTS), head to Ratchaburi and change buses there. Most people get public vans, personally I really dislike travelling in these suicide traps, they really are that bad, the drivers I mean. The bus station is about 2km from most of the hotels, there are always plenty of tuk-tuks waiting there.

Train

If you have some time, this is a great way to do Anzac Day and making a little trip out of it, travelling the day before of course. There has been a few derailments over the years, but that is not out of the ordinary in Thailand, just something to be aware of. It really is a scenic trip, I would recommend to bring a cushion to sit on, as most of the sets are hard wood. The Thai fare is 28B for Thais, but it is a historic route, the foreigner fare is 100B for travel any where along the route. Same price for the whole trip or getting off after 1 stop. Trains leave Bangkok’s Thonburi Noi station 7:44am & 1:55pm. It is the Nam Tok bound train you want and get off at Kanchanaburi. The train station is convenient near many hotels, just get a tuk-tuk. It is nearly a 3 hour train trip. Trains depart Kanchanaburi for Bangkok at 7:17am & 2:44pm. This train actually uses the famous bridge as well.

One different way is to grab a ride with the American Veterans of Foreign Wars Bangkok (Post 9951) This is certainly not a tour, they charter a bus that goes up each year for their members and often have spare seats. It is a day trip out of Bangkok for the 10am service only returning in the late afternoon. Booking a seat is essential, and please do not book if you are not defiantly going. Contact the Commander Arthur Key (Art) via email.

This year the bus is leaving at 7am, (they are punctual and will not wait, not on Thai time).LH Bank / Q-House. This is across the street from JUSMAGTHAI at 7 Sathorn Tai Road, Tungmahamek, Sathorn Bangkok 10120 (Note, several Q-Houses in that area)

It is a 500b donation, they often have lunch at the Baan Rao restaurant near the cemetery after the service, lunch is not expensive, but I do not think it is included. Please understand, this is not a tour, it is an organisation of people paying their respects who may have some spare seats available, they are paying as well.

 Nightlife

The main tourist area is very close (300m) to the Allied War Cemetery, there are plenty of restaurants and bars on the main tourist drag called Th Mae Nam Khwae. There are also many budget hotels here that are actually right on the river. The evening before the dawn service, there are many groups of expats meeting up for dinner at various places. There are floating restaurants near the bridge it self where each year tables seem to just merge as people meet each other. One place that has been reliable for folks susceptible to stomach issues is on Th Mae Nam Khwae across the road from the 711 mini-mart (the 711 next to the Joly Frog backpackers). The restaurant has dried palm leaves hatched roof out the front. They seem to understand the visiting western tourist, and have great food, understand what no chilly means and the plates and cutlery were delivered in a little mettle tub in really hot boiling water. We had a friend who at this point was their first day out of Australia ever, and trying to avoid the onset of Bangkok Belly. There service was beyond my expectations. This is the area of western tourist bars aswell. There are plenty of bars, but the reality is, it is not pumping night life, particularly this time of year on a weekday.

Don’t be the farlang buffalo. The name of the Bridge, Kwai is actually pronounced Khwae, as in square but replace the “s” with a “k”. Your not the only one confused. Get it wrong and you are calling it the River Buffalo which is regarded as a stupid animal in Thailand. The name came from the the blockbuster 1957 film that made the bridge famous, “The Bridge On The River Kwai” that was actually shot in Sri Lanka. The problem was, the author of the original book the film was based on had not been to Thailand and the largely fictional film was loosely based on 2rd hand stories. The film does not represent what really happened, the main difference is, the treatment as actually much worse in reality and the bridge was not burnt down. But the Thais had a problem. After the film in the 1960′s, many tourist were going to see the now famous bridge over the Kwai River. But there was no bridge. The bridge was actually crossing a River called “Mae Klong”, so the locals ever adapting to the tourist dollar changed the upper reaches of the river to Kanchanaburi to “Khwae Yai” (big tributary) as it is known as today.

Australian Embassy List form 2011

The Australian Embassy is not allowed to give out list apparently of private operators any more. I am not sure if it relates to complaints from operators in the past, or just Government policy similar to the ABC media can not endorse any company. Here is a list from 2011 that I had saved in whole. I can not vouch for its accuracy or for any hotel or operator on the list.  The Kiwi public servants in Bangkok seem to have even less information available.

KANCHANABURI

The Pavilion Rim Kwai Thani
Resort
79/2 Moo 4, Km 9 Ladya-Erawan Road
T. Wangdong
A. Muang
Kanchanaburi 71190
+66 34 515-772, 515-773
Bangkok Sales Office:
+66 2 207 0703-4, +66 2 207-0589
Bangkok Sales Office:
+66 2 207-0589
Website: www.pavilionrimkwai.com

Pung Waan Resort (Kwai Yai
Kanchanaburi)
72/1 Moo 2
Tambon Tamakan
Amphur Muang
Kanchanaburi 71000
+66 34 634 295-300
Bangkok Sales office:
+66 2 278 0878
+66 34 515 830
Bangkok Sales Office
+66 2 278 5060
Website:
www.pungwaanriverkwai.com Email:
pungwaan@pungwaanriverkwai.com

Felix River Kwai Resort 9/1 Moo 3 Thamakham
Amphur Muang
Kanchanaburi 71000
+66 34 515-061
Bangkok Sales Centre:
+66 2 655-7949
+66 34 515-095
Bangkok Sales Centre:
+66 2 655-7738-9
Email Felix River Kwai:
felix@ksc.th.com
Email Sales Office:
felixmkt@loxinfo.co.th

SAIYOK REGION (Hellfire Pass)

River Kwai Village Hotel 74/12 Moo 4, Baan Phu Ta Khien
Tambol Tasao
Saiyok
Kanchanaburi
+66 9 918-4562-3
+66 34 634 454-6

Pung Waan Resort (Kwai Noi
Tasao)
123/3 Tambol Tasao
Saiyok
Kanchanaburi
+66 34 634 295-300
Bangkok Sales office:
+66 2 278 0878
+66 34 515 830
Bangkok Sales Office
+66 2 278 5060
Website:
www.pungwaanriverkwai.com Email:
pungwaan@pungwaanriverkwai.com
Bangkok Booking Office:
(02) 251 7828, 251-7494
+66 1 8805206
Bangkok Booking Office:
+66 2 255 2350
Website: www.bkk2000.com/rkvh
E-mail: rkvh@bkk2000.com

Momchailai Forest Retreat 291 Moo 4
Tambol Tasao
Saiyok
Kanchanaburi
+66 86 778 8389
Bangkok Booking Office:
+66 2 662 0401
Bangkok B0oking Office:
+66 2 662 2743
Website: www.momchailai.com
Email: info@momchailai.com

Home Phu Toey Tambol Tasao
Saiyok
Kanchanaburi
+66 2 950 4479
Bangkok Booking Office:
+66 2 621 1510-3
Bangkok Booking Office:
+66 2 621 1514
Website: www.homephutey.com
Email: info@homephutoey.com

Pongsuda Chalets 61/1 Moo 1 Lomsoom
Saiyok
Kanchanaburi
+66 2 539 8073
+66 2 539 3531
+66 2 931 8661
Website: www.pongsudachalet.com
Email: pongsudabkk@hotmail.com

TRANSPORT OPERATORS

Chaiwat Wongchinsri +66 89 137 2253
+66 81 776 4796
+66 2 611 6023
Email: cwongchinsri@yahoo.com
A.M.T. Marican 45 Soi Pramote 3 Siklom Road
Suriwongse Road
+66 237 7353-5
+66 81 843 0096
+66 2 237 7356
Email: marican1871@hotmail.com
Suchart Korat Car Rental 1234 Ratchanikul Rd
Naimuang Rd
Nakhorn Ratchasima
+66 44 258 576
+66 81 761 410
+66 44 264 464
Email: chuchart@loxinfo.co.th

Additional Useful Links:

Unofficial Hellfire Pass museum information

I am reluctant to link tours, as I am not familial with an of them. Here is one though, Two day tour 9900b per person.  We know nothing about his company.