Hellfire Pass

Riveting

Photo of , , Kanchanaburi

What we say: 5 stars

This outstanding museum and memorial hiking trail allows visitors the chance to get up close and personal with the rugged terrain that POWs and forced labourers were forced to turn into flat, solid ground suitable for a railway.

The name refers to the hellish red-orange colours that emerged from inside the rocks as they were chiselled by the prisoners, although the conditions under which the work was undertaken are obviously hinted at in the name as well.

For long stretches through this especially rugged section of the Death Railway, the level train tracks needed to be cut through a steep mountainside dotted with dozens of massive rocky outcrops. Toiling for up to 16 hours per day with minimal food and water, the labourers were forced to chisel these rocks by hand, carving 10 metres deep in some places. On other stretches, the steep grades needed to be made level by workers filling in huge ravines with stones. Visitors can walk for several kilometres along a trail directly over what was once the train tracks, which allows for an immediate sense of what the prisoners must have gone through. Western views from the trail are spectacular in places, including one area that looks down on a piece of flat ground that was once the sight of a prisoner camp. The whole trail is a memorial of sorts, but an especially large cutting near the museum now has a plaque to officially recognise those who died here.

Although the memorial trail is the main draw, a small and very tasteful museum is also found here. It offers similar exhibits, videos and personal effects of prisoners as those found at the Death Railway Museum in Kanchanaburi town. The museum is very clean and well taken care of, and it has the feel of a museum in the West. No food or beverage vendors are found here and there's nothing else in the immediate area, so make sure to arrive nourished as you'll need some energy to traverse the trail. Plan on spending an hour here if just wanting to see the museum and the first railway pass, or up to a full day if you want to hike most of the trail.

More details
80 km west of Kanchanaburi, off Route 323
How to get there: The museum is on Route 323, around 80 kilometres northwest of Kanchanaburi town. Any bus to Thong Pha Phum or Sangkhlaburi will pass by here. You can also come by motorbike, though it's quite a long ride. Admission is free but donations are welcome.
Last updated: 13th May, 2013

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Read 1 opinions from Travelfish readers

  • Don't take public transport!

    18th March, 2012

    If you go, take a tour or rent a motorbike. It will get you there A LOT faster! And on a tour you'll see stops along the way and be in the comfort of an air-conditioned minivan. Unfortunately for me, no tours were going there so I opted for the motorbike. BUT the ladyboy receptionist talked me out of it saying the road was difficult and might break something on the bike. Why did I listen to her?

    I waited 45 minutes at the Kanchanaburi bus station. It was 50B and took about 1hr45min for the one way journey, which dropped you off at this relatively barren stretch of highway. A short walk in brings you to the good, but not OUTSTANDING museum. You can get most of this information on Wikipedia if you want to avoid trekking this far out of Kanchanaburi.

    I waited for the bus for 1hr5min on my way back. It was PACKED with standing room only and it took 1hr30min to get back to Kanchanaburi. All in all, transport ALONE (including waits) took approximately FIVE HOURS! Not including a moto ride to and from the bus station from my guesthouse. Complete waste of a day and there was NO FOOD in sight in the vicinity of the museum so bring snacks and/or eat beforehand if you're going this way.

    Good luck! Lol

    Again, the museum is good, but don't go by public transport.

    Hellfire Pass reviewed by tad (1)
    Written on 18th March, 2012, rated 4 out of 5. Visited here in March, 2012

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