Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Backpacker's Note - Hellfire Pass



Hellfire Pass or Konyu Cutting (the name given by Japanese) is the name of railway cutting of the death Railway. The death railway itself is 417 km long. If you have read my previous blogs about Prisoner of Wars, you would know that Hellfire Pass is one of the historical place you cannot miss.

Here is the explanation of Hellfire Pass from Wikipedia. 

Hellfire Pass is so called because the sight of emaciated prisoners labouring at night by torchlight was said to resemble a scene from Hell.[1] 
 Sources : Wikipedia
 Hellfire Pass in the Tenasserim Hills was a particularly difficult section of the line to build. It was the largest rock cutting on the railway, coupled with its general remoteness and the lack of proper construction tools during building. A tunnel would have been possible to build instead of a cutting, but this could only be constructed at the two ends at any one time, whereas the cutting could be constructed at all points simultaneously despite the excess effort required by the POWs. The Australian, British, Dutch and other allied Prisoners of War were required by the Japanese to work 18 hours a day to complete the cutting. Sixty nine men were beaten to death by Japanese guards in the six weeks it took to build the cutting, and many more died from cholera, dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion (Wigmore 568).[2] However, the majority of deaths occurred amongst labourers whom the Japanese enticed to come to help build the line with false promises of good jobs. These labourers, mostly Malayans (Chinese, Malays and Tamils from Malaya), suffered mostly the same as the POWs at the hands of the Japanese. The Japanese kept no records of these deaths.
The railway was never built to a level of lasting permanence and was frequently bombed by the Royal Air Force during the Burma Campaign. After the war, all but the present section was closed and the line is now only in service between Bangkok and Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi.

Hellfire Pass Nowadays

No train pass the Hellfire Pass nowadays. Now, I'll let you know how I get to Hellfire Pass from Kanchanaburi.

My first option was by train since Kanchanaburi rail station located near the guest house. I went to the station at 7 am, hope to take an early train to Nam Tok. But the Train will come at 10.30, which I considered very late since I want to walk the full trail of Hellfire Pass later.
Anyway, if I really went to Nam Tok, there's no public transportation to Hellfire Pass, it's quite far, by car might be 30 minutes to 1 hour trip.

So, I took the second option which I found out later was the best way to go to Hellfire Pass. I took the bus from Kanchanaburi bus terminal beside the Thailand Tourism Authority.

The number of terminal is B9 to Sai yok Fall, the bus number is 8203, the bus is also pass the Tiger temple and Hellfire Pass. To Tiger temple the fare is 40 Baht, and to Hellfire Pass is 50 Baht. The bus is non air con, but you can open the window. The trip to Hellfire Pass was really nice, it was like going to the mountain so the air was fresh and the scenery was amazing. From Kanchanaburi to Tiger Temple takes 1 hour and to Hellfire Pass 2 hours. Before Hellfire Pass, the bus will pas the Sai Yok Immigration, the bus will stop for a while for immigration check. Nothing to be afraid of, but make sure to always bring your passport and other documents wherever you go.

Hellfire Pass is on the left side of the road, the bus will stop in front of the gate, it was also military camp. From the gate to Hellfire Pass only 600 m, 15 minutes walk.

Road Sign after the gate

Then, you will see the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum. No entrance fee but there's a box inside in the middle of the museum if you want to donate for the museum. The museum was really nice with aircon, it was clean and minimalist design with wood floors. You have to take off your shoes before you enter the museum.

Hellfire Pass Museum

Inside the museum, there are explanations on the walls about PoWs and Thailand Burma Railway. They provide Audio Guide which will be very useful when you're in walking trail. I didn't get the audio guide since I went on Sunday and it was really crowded and no audio guide left. I might suggest you to go on weekday so the place is not too crowded and you can have a full experience on the museum. There are also personal things of PoWs and letters from PoWs when they were in camp.

Explanation of PoW and Romusha

The museum also has the 3d map of the death Railway.

3d map of the whole camp

You can also see some of drawings made by the prisoners after they were liberated. They put all experiences on their mind to the paper and it was schocking to see all drawings. There are also drawings of punishment given by Japanese.

One of The PoW's drawing of Punishment given by Japanese soldiers

Konyu Cutting Work Condition



Camp for the sick

You can see their sufferings in the drawings. The museum also has video replay every 10 minutes about Prisoner of Wars and the Death Railway. I might have to remind you to be brave when you go to these places. It was heartbreaking. I was literary in tears all the time seeing everything. Wait until you get to the walking trail.

The remaining tools used by PoWs to build the Death Railway is also in the museum. It was crazy to destroy large rocks and jungle with only these simple tools. It was not an act of human.

"To build a railway in such condition is an act of barbarity" 
- Eric Lomax

tools that used to build the railway

You can also see the personal things and the food that PoWs had. The personal things totally made me burst in tears again. Might I remind you, they were so young.
 
The Food mixed with dirts and sometimes it was only half this portion. (Photo Credit : Pingkan C)



In the museum, you can also see the letters from allied or from loved ones of PoWs. These are originals, some were given by PoWs who survived the Death Railway. You can see the real thing here, and it will change every image that you imagined when you just read the book.
Liberation Letter from Allied (Photo Credit : Pingkan C)




The walking trail is only to Hintok Cutting, the rest of the trail is already closed because it connects with Military camp. The complete walking trail is 4.7 km, we can walk until 2.5 km. I was dissapointed since I want to see the compressor cutting. The trail is quite rough. It was crazy and tough situation, I don't know how PoWs survived this, without decent clothes and shoes. Some of them only wore the Jap Happy and barefoot. If you want to walk the whole trail, make sure you wear decent shoes to hike, since the trail is quite rough.

The walking Trail Map (Photo Credit : Pingkan C)

Konyu Cutting
The PoWs and Romusha cut these rocks apart to make a way (Photo Credit : Pingkan C)

The view from Valley Lookout (Photo Credit : Pingkan C)


Hammer and Tap Cutting (Photo Credit : Pingkan C)
Seven Metre embarkment (Photo Credit : Pingkan C)
Three Tier Bridge Location - Start Point (Photo Credit : Pingkan C)

There's no bridge in this location, but there was a very long and tall bridge across. The allied bombed and destroyed the bridge. This bridge also made by PoWs and Romushas.

Hintok Cutting (Photo Credit : Pingkan C)

Hintok Cutting is the worst work condition and worst prisoner camp. The men at Hintok River worked on the excavation of Compressor Cutting on the railway high above the camp. Getting to work meant scrambling up a steep hill face that had no steps and became treacherous with black slimy mud during the monsoon.

It was at Hintok River that the Australian POW Ray Parkin sketched an image of two malaria victims supporting a frail cholera sufferer. In time this image would become the quintessential representation of the tragedy of the Thai–Burma railway, reproduced not only as the logo of the Changi Museum at Singapore but as a sculpture at the Thailand–Burma Railway Centre museum in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. (Sources : http://hellfire-pass.commemoration.gov.au/living-in-camps/hintok-river.php)

 To walk the walking trail was a really unforgettable experience. In here you will know the real conditions of PoWs, what kind of rocks they had to destroy, what kind of land they have to walk on. They were amazing survivors. My heart goes to all PoWs.
 
To get back to Kanchanaburi, you need to go back the first gate and go across the road. Be careful when you cross the road since it is a highway, the cars are really fast. across the road you can see the bus stop. You can wait for the bus to Kanchanaburi. Remember the bus only until 4.30 pm, so make sure you get to the bus stop earlier. The fare is 50 Baht.

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