The train crept over the River Khwae Yai before cruising alongside vertical cliffs and through windswept fields of tapioca and sugarcane. More of a leisure activity than transport option, a ride on the Death Railway is one of Southeast Asia’s more memorable train journeys.
Many of the third-class carriages still have wooden seats and rusty old ceiling fans, but you can walk around, hang (but not fall) out the open doors, take photos through the windows and meet the friendly food and drink vendors as you shake, rattle and roll through the countryside. While the trains themselves are dated, major maintenance on the seven-decade-old railway was completed in 2016.
A highlight comes right off the bat when the train creaks over the historic Death Railway Bridge. You then cut south, nuzzling up close to the River Khwae Noi and passing through small villages before stopping at Tha Kilen Station, located within walking distance of the ancient Khmer ruins at Prasat Mueang Singh.
Two more stops and you arrive at Saphan Tham Krasae Station next to the cave of the same name. In this area the train slows to a crawl as it crosses the precarious-looking cliff-side bridge known as Wang Pho Viaduct. A wall of rock towers within touching distance to the right, with a sheer drop down to the river and phenomenal views to the left—another highlight of the trip. You could hop off at the next station, Wang Pho, to encounter troupes of monkeys.
The end of the line is at Nam Tok, meaning “waterfall” after the small but pretty Sai Yok Noi Waterfall located just north of the station. Here you’ll also find a 1940s locomotive and loads of vendors selling fresh tamarind along nearby Route 323. You could catch the train back again; settle into a 650-baht room at Yayei Homestay (T: 081 008 2121); or catch a bus further north to Hellfire Pass, Sai Yok National Park, Thong Pha Phum or Sangkhlaburi.
There has long been talk of rebuilding a track along the rest of the original railway (or at least parts of it), which was largely dismantled after the war. It is possible to hike along stretches of the original track beyond Nam Tok, including a regularly maintained four-kilometre trail beginning at Hellfire Pass.
In Kanchanaburi you can catch the train at 06:00 or 10:30 at the main Kanchanaburi Rail Station off Sangchuto Road, or 15 minutes later at the River Kwai Bridge Station located a couple of hundred metres east of the Death Railway Bridge. Otherwise you could grab the train at 07:50 at Thonburi Station in Bangkok, or 9:00 at Nakhon Pathom. Starting any place east of Kanchanaburi will allow you to score the best seats—stick to the left side for the best views. Tickets cost 100 baht no matter how far you go.
There are special weekend tourist trains as well as 300-baht seats in more luxurious carriages attached between River Kwai Bridge and Nam Tok. We’ll stick to the local ride—it’s a great one!
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 11th February, 2017.
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