Published/Last edited or updated: 25th June, 2016
Thanbyuzayat was the terminus of the infamous Death Railway built using forced labour overseen by the Japanese army during World War II. A modest museum, newly opened in early 2016, commemorates this for the first time.
The line linked existing rail tracks at Thailand’s Kanchanaburi with Burma’s Yangon to Dawei line. Most of the track, including the most difficult sections, lay in Thailand but a substantial stretch led down from Three Pagodas’ Pass on the border to the junction town of Thanbyuzayat. A large Allied war cemetery close to the museum testifies to the fact that plenty of prisoners also lost their lives constructing the Burmese part.
Up until recently all that you could see in Thanbyuzayat was a rusty old weed-choked train and a few metres of rail track at the side of the road. Unlike the Hellfire Pass Museum sponsored by the Australian government and the nearby cemetery cared for by the Commonwealth Graves Commission, this new two-storey museum was paid for by the Burmese government. While considerable effort clearly went into it, at the end of the day they simply do not have much to display.
The old Japanese train has been repainted in what purports to be original colours (it used to be British racing green) and a section of the track has been restored. Incidentally, legend has it that the first train to complete the journey on the harrowing line was a train load of “comfort women” for Japanese officers. Otherwise the museum exhibits consist of dummy guards and prisoners labouring in the garden and a collection of copies of period photos.
The highlight is a spectacular trompe l-oeil painted scene taking up the entire centre of the small museum. This shows an imaginary – rather Tolkien-esque – railway vista with very effective 3-D rocky cliffs and escarpments. You’re allowed to walk on it; go up to the second floor balcony to see the full effect.
Otherwise that’s about all there is to it, apart from a small souvenir and snack stall in the garden and for those who appreciate these sort of things, the cleanest toilets in Thanbyuzayat. The museum is worth a stop in passing but a $5 admission fee — which had yet to be introduced when we visited — is high for a few photos and one spectacular painting.
You can see the train without entering the museum and perhaps they won’t start charging the $5 after all; if no one visits anymore they’ll soon change their minds.
The museum is located in the centre of town just down the Ye Road, a short distance from the main roundabout.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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