The province of Kanchanaburi with its mountainous landscape lies west of Bangkok, where the small river Kwae Noi and the big river Kwae Yai originate, which form the river Mae Klong in the district Pak Phreak.
Archaeological excavations in Kanchanaburi show that this city was once the center of prehistoric society of the Old Stone, Middle Stone and Neolithic Periods. The small regional museum in the Ban kao district displays bones and tools from the prehistoric cultures in the area.
During the Dvaravadi period, Kanchanaburi was culturally influenced by its two large neighboring cities, Nakon Pathom and U – Thong, the cultural center of the time. With the rise of the Khmer, Kanchanaburi also became a part of the Khmer Empire, the blossom of which was manifested in buildings such as Prasart Muang Singh. During the Ayutthaya period, Kanchaburi became important as a border area between Burma and Siam. Several heavy battles between troops of both peoples took place here, even up to the time of King Ramas III. From the Chakri dynasty until Burma lost its independence to England.
Kanchanaburi, the town of the little Mae Nam Khae or “River Kwai”, became world famous through the Hollywood film by Pierre Bouille “The Bridge on the Kwai”, which dealt with the events of the Second World War.
The museum in the Ban Kao district – about 34 kilometers from the city – is located on the Kwae Noi River. In 1963 archaeologists discovered skulls, skeletons, stone axes, pots and jewelry in this area, which presumably come from the prehistoric period, the old stone and bronze period.
This Khmer shrine is considered to be the symbol of power of the Khmer Empire in this era. It is located about 250 meters from the left bank of the Kwae Noi River in Muang-Singh, a subdistrict of the Saiyok District. It is believed that this stone shrine was built by King Jayavoraman VII, the ruler of the Khmer Empire in the 12th century. The discovery of the stone statue of Bothisatt (1.60 meters tall) is an indication that this shrine was considered a Mahayana Buddhist temple at the time. The shrine, surrounded by earthenware walls, sits on 80 acres of land. The main Prang in the middle with its smaller satellites around the four corners was built on a platform with an arched roof corridor that connects all Prangs with one another. The building consists of laterite with some sandstones and was mainly decorated with sculptures made of bas relief stucco. This is reminiscent of the Prang Sam Yot temple in Lopburi.
During World War II, the Japanese army wanted to establish a route to transport soldiers and goods between Burma and Thailand. Therefore, in 1942 a 250 mile (415 km.) Long monorail line was built from the Kwae Noi River through the malaria jungle. This leads to the Burmese territory. Construction lasted for a year during which enormous numbers of Allied POWs lost their lives to malaria and chorera. The bridge was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1945 and rebuilt by the Thai railway administration.
6,982 prisoners of war who had fallen during the construction of the “Railway of Death” were buried in the Kanchanaburi cemetery behind the main train station.
Another smaller cemetery, which can only be reached by boat, is on the right side of the Kwae Yai River, about 2 km. From the city center. Here are the graves of 1750 soldiers.
The museum in the form of straw huts shows the prison camps during World War II. The museum exhibits pictures, drawings and paintings that show life in the camp. Many of the items are donations from relatives of the prisoners themselves.