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A Hike Beyond Hellfire Pass

Posted by TravellingStrom on January 18, 2013

I had a great nights sleep, once again with a soft bed, two nights in a row, what a bonus πŸ™‚ After breakfast I went to the chap next door and rented a scooter, for $5 a day. I was intending to walk through the Hellfire Pass and I sure did not want to be wearing all my riding gear as it would be HOT! I guess in hindsight, which I am an expert at, I could have ridden my bike and got changed out there, but there you go, I didn’t. So, after sorting that out I hopped on and headed north. I stopped on the way to buy some water and a packet of chips, in case I got hungry and within an hour or so I had arrived.

This area is a military area and you need to pass a check point, then ride a circular route to the museum area, along the way passing these sorry looking Emu’s, they were in poor condition with big patches of feathers missing 😦 edit – I have just been informed these are Ostrich, silly me they are the wrong colour for emu and I still missed it, doh!

The museum itself is a very new building and is free to enter, donations accepted of course.

Hellfire Pass (Konyu Cutting)…

Hellfire Pass, or to give it its proper name, Konyu Cutting. This is located about 80km (50 miles) north of Kanchanaburi, on the disused section of rail line beyond Nam Tok. Here, the Australian government has cleared about 7km of the old track-bed as a memorial to the 13,000 allied prisoners and 80,000 Asian labourers who died building the railway. The site includes the Hellfire Pass itself, Konyu Cutting, dubbed ‘Hellfire Pass’ by the PoWs for the way the worksite looked at night by torch and fire light…

…you can walk all the way past the locations of ‘Three Tier Bridge’ & the ‘Pack of Cards’ bridge to Compressor Cutting, 7 km northwest of the visitor centre. The peaceful walk through the warm shady jungle along the disused track-bed, past small cuttings and dips where the wooden viaducts used to be, is a very moving experience.

The above was taken from this site. I must say that its accuracy is only good for the summer season, it is now winter and all the trees and bamboo have shed their leaves, so there is very minimal shade and it is still extremely hot.

Anyway, the start of the tour(by myself I mean) is through the museum, they issue you with an audio set and headphones to listen to certain recordings at different points along the tour. A free map is given, showing the different sections of the track. Because of the military presence, the full length of the track in not allowed to be walked, only up to the 2.5km mark at Hintock Cutting. There were many displays and a movie describing the arrival and work practice during the time this section of the Death Railway was built.

Sorry for the picture quality, but museums and plaques and cameras for some reason do not mix, not without special gear anyway, or better and more uniform lighting.

The movie combined real footage, graphics and still photos from the period.

So, after an hour or so exploring the different displays, it was off to see the railway. Well, not the track itself as it had been torn up, but the rail bed could be walked and that is what I intended to do. Once again hindsight tells me I should have worn shoes, not thongs!! The first part of the walkway was downhill via a lot of steps, along the way listening to an audio recording from ex POWs about the use of Bamboo, without this grass plant, things would have been a lot worse, it was used for just about everything, from dishes, water storage, bed pans, walls, roofs and beds.

The old railway was disused for many years and succumbed to the elements, although there are still some sleepers lying around, old ties, nails etc. Of course it was 40 years after the war that it was found again and so many trees have become established during that time.

It was not long before I reached the infamous Hellfire Pass itself. And it must have been hell cutting the rock by hand!

It is not until you enter the cutting and see the sheer walls above you that you realise how much effort was needed to do this job. The drill marks in the walls are still evident as well as an old drill bit that had snapped off. This was from a compressor drill, during the ‘speedo speedo’ period, they did bring in some mechanical help to meet the new deadline.

At the end of this cutting is the memorial, here is where they hold the Anzac Day ceremonies each 25th April, which is also the exact date that work started on this cutting! I added a new flag and Koala Bear to the memorial area.

There was also another plaque here remembering Weary Dunlop, the audio tapes describing his work during this period were very moving.

This is one of the skips they used to remove the rock and tip it over side of the hill.

The main memorial is in the centre of this area and there are seats built around the outside for the services.

After this I had the choice, I could head back to the museum, there was a different path, or retrace my steps, or I could continue along the rail bed and see the rest of this section. I was supposed to let the museum know if I was going to attempt the track and be given a radio, but I forgot to tell them. I decided to carry on anyway as I may never get back here again. Straight after this section would have been a trestle bridge that followed the edge of the cliff, the large footing holes in the rocks are still there. After that was the open section called the Kwai Noi Valley Lookout

According to the audio playback, from one of the former POWs, that whole valley was full of Teak trees and when he came back in the 80s, he could see it had been totally destroyed and was now pretty much bare, except for bamboo. There were a few hundred metres of gravel bed after this and I can say in thongs, this was most uncomfortable, but this led to Hammer and Tap Cutting, another deep cutting that was drilled out by hand.

Another trestle was built after this, the gravel path followed the footings down and up. After this was another small cutting.

After this was a large bridge but that meant a climb down to the footings base and across and back up the other side, then a short section of gravel bed with some original sleepers before another drop down where a bridge used to be, before the climb up to the 7 meter embankment.

At the top of the stairs in the last photo was a welcome rest stop, by now my legs and feet were complaining, my feet especially as the sharp ballast was making a mess of them. But then I thought, at least I had some type of protection, the POWs(slaves) mostly had bare feet 😦 above this section was the mountain camp, it is about 5km away and had to be walked to and from every day before work started. In the panel with the map, there is a line down the centre running up and down, this is an access road and there is a toilet block shown, that is the end of the road and as far as we are allowed to travel by foot. Right above where the sun spot is brightest, is where I am standing.

After a short break it was off down through Hintock Cutting and the last section of gravel bed, past the bomb crater to the end of the track. The Japs were bastards with their camp placements, they never marked them as POW camps so a lot of allied POWs died from bombing during the railway construction period 😦

Of course now that I was here, I had to turn around and go back. You can apparently, if you organise it beforehand, get picked up at this point and taken back to the museum, but too late now even if my feet were bitchin. So I headed back, it had taken 1.5hrs to get here so I guess it would be around the same going back, although it was a lot hotter now being 1pm. But, I had water and as I had no need to really stop and take photos, it took less than an hour to get back to Hellfire Pass, where another tourist kindly took my photo πŸ™‚

There were some steps leading up to a couple of overlooks which I had to see, this gave another perspective of how deep this cutting was, especially as there was someone down there.

That was when I made the mistake of following the steps back, instead of retracing the route through the pass. As it turns out, these steps were not a short cut, they went up, around, down about 50m across and back up another 100m before descending to meet up with the other pathway. My calf muscles joined my feet and bitched all the way up here, I am not in shape!!!

This next photo is a GoogleEarth view of the track I followed.

Once I had rested back at the museum, I headed back to Kanchanaburi, on the way out I spotted two old railway wagons, probably used to transport the POWs from Singapore to here maybe, there is nothing to describe them, so I am only guessing.

On the way back I stopped off at Sai Yok Noi Falls, not for the falls, but for a Geocache πŸ™‚ It was hidden near an old steam train that is resting here. Retired Steam Train 702 Thailand

Once back in Kanchanaburi I made a visit to the bike show that was starting tonight for the next two nights. But, I have to say I was disappointed, even though it was early, most of the bikes there were just Harleys, not that interesting, plus I really thought there may be bike shop people here with new bikes and other stuff. There were quite a few stalls with shirts, mugs, belts and other ‘HD fashion’ stuff, and of course food and drink, but nothing like tyres, or other spare parts, so I left after a slow walk around, my legs were killing me! It looked like it was set up for a big drink session and a concert for later, judging by all the chairs and tables in the middle.

I needed to rest so I headed back, put the scoot away and had a very nice evening, sitting down at the Aussie Rules bar which happens to be located right where I turn off to my GH πŸ™‚ Rob is the owner, an Aussie of course, but I also met a number of other Falangs, plus the local staff, and a Ladyboy called Nam(man backwards) LOL

It was gone midnight before I stumbled to my room, all in all a very memorial and moving day, tomorrow I could sleep in, but I had touristy plans in mind πŸ™‚

Cheers from

2 Responses to “A Hike Beyond Hellfire Pass”

  1. Ron2wheels said

    Good coverage Richard.
    Dr ‘Weary’ Dunlop’s memoirs “Weary, the Life of Sir Edward Dunlop” by Sue Ebury should be compulsory reading for, at least, Aussie students.

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