A long day out to the River Kwai

Early train to kanchanaburiToday started really early, as we all had to get up at 5:30, to catch a 6:15 taxi to the train station. We were due to catch the 7:45 train out to Kanchanaburi, where the ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ was built. But first we had to get through a filmed discussion on the platform. This is when we discovered that Emily can be brutally uncooperative at 7 o’clock in the morning! It took us a good 10 minutes to get her just to sit on a bench and listen. But in the end, we got the shot that Ginny wanted. But it showed the part of Emily’s character where she doesn’t like to do things when she’s told (who can she get that off I wonder?) – she makes it pretty clear she’s not prepared to be a performing seal!


Fortunately, our tourist board co-ordinator, Oh Oh, has been an immediate hit with Emily, and whenever the camera isn’t switched on Emily wants to sit with her, talk to her and play with her. And in return, each morning Emily and Charlotte both get a little treat from her to play with (today: a bendy Robbie the Reindeer for Emily, and a brush set for Charlotte).

Catching the breeze

The train trip was a joy, with the carriage full of Thai teachers on a trip, singing and clapping away, the windows down and warm air rushing through the carriage. The further westwards we travelled, the further away the coast was, and the warmer it became. By the time we reached Kanchanaburi at midday it was sweltering as the train crept over the bridge, packed full of tourists who’d hopped on at the town station. The story of the construction of the bridge is pretty horrific – allied Prisoners of War were used to build a 250 mile railway from Thailand through to Burma, through horrific forest, infested with malaria. During the construction tens of thousands died, including over 6,000 British prisoners. Today, none off that is evident, save the railway bridge and the line which goes about half the original distance. Instead, it’s now a major tourist attraction, with people making the day trip from Bangkok to see it.


The Japanese tourists come here to see a bridge ‘built by the Japanese during the war’, completely oblivious to the horrific way that their countrymen treated the prisoners, and the deaths. And few of the Japanese visit the museums, or war cemeteries, that illustrate the shocking story.

After crossing the bridge on the train, we hopped off the train at the next station, and drove back to the town to film us walking the tracks over the bridge.

Walking the bridge

If you see it on the programme it’ll look pretty innocuous, but it was far from it in real life – the wooden planks of the path only covered the centre of the tracks – trip up either side and you could fall between the sleepers into the river below! Fortunately we didn’t, so we all made it to lunch safely. We really needed to get into the cool shade, because the heat was unbearable, hovering around 40°C, so lunch on a floating restaurant on the river bank was just the ticket.


After lunch, and filming the train returning across the bridge, we went to film at the war graves in town, wandering between the ranks of 6,000 Allied prisoners buried in this one patch of ground. The moment was taken away a bit by the inevitable half-hour wait for filming permissions to be sorted, but we managed to get that sorted and get on with the filming. Filming for something like this is a bit peculiar, because we ended up doing the same walk a few times, from different camera angles. After filming, we made a quick visit to the Death Railway museum, where we learnt more about the conditions for the prisoners, and the work that they did, before piling back into the minibus for the trip back to Bangkok.

It wasn’t typical of the trip that we’d have done with the children, as the filming schedule meant that we couldn’t do the things the girls would have loved, like elephant riding and bamboo rafting down the Kwai, so perhaps we’ll come back to Kanchanaburi again if we have time later.

Martin Giessman, soundman extraordinaire

On the way back to town we all learnt more about Martin, the sound man. He is Swiss, but has lived in Thailand for 10 years, and is soon to get married to his Thai girlfriend. As is traditional in Thailand, he will pay the bride’s family a dowry for her when they marry, and this week with the BBC will be exactly the right amount. I can imagine the headlines now “BBC cash used to buy beautiful Thai bride“. Martin is unlike any Swiss person I’ve met before – all week he’s been smiling away, cracking jokes and joining in with the fun.

By the time we got back to the guest house it was 7:30pm. After getting up at 5:30am, it had been a long, hot day for all of us, and especially for the girls, so we quickly grabbed a snack each and headed for bed, setting the alarm for 5:15(am!) tomorrow morning.