December 18, 2023

Steam Week on the River Kwai

Steam Week on the river Kwai

I have referred to ‘steam week’ in Kanachanaburi as one of Thailand’s best kept railway secrets. The dates are not published until just a few weeks before the event, communication is in Thai and the details are a bit vague. But it’s worth persevering. This year the dates were moved back two weeks and I nearly didn’t make it, but where there is a will there is a way, and I managed to swap a few things round. Normally the event takes place in late November or early December – so keep an eye out if you are thinking of coming.

There are many other reasons to visit than the steam trains of course. It’s a beautiful place and one of my favourite train journeys out of Bangkok. I nearly missed my train this time – an hour and half in a taxi with a driver who had no idea where Thonburi station was. But I made it with a few seconds to spare, bundling my big bag up into the carriage with superhuman adrenaline pumped strength.

River Kwai steam week festival

My HQ on the banks of the Kwae Yai was the perfect peaceful location for a week of trains and relaxation. With a copy of the railway timetable and the show timetable I was able to organise my days between relaxing by a lovely pool, drinking cold beer in the mad heat of the day and even taking a few train trips.

Of course I’d been up to Nam Tok before, so this time tried a few others stops on the line.

The oldest of the Thai (ex Japanese) steam trains usually run up here for steam week, but this year they were declared unserviceable, so the slightly newer (1949-51) Pacific locos were sent up in their place. Thailand is lucky to have five working steam engines.

Steam week Kwai festival

The evening shows are popular and they are also free. Much effort has gone into telling a story of a local Thai hero amidst the backdrop of Japanese occupation. But the acting is upstaged by the lighting and fireworks, culminating in the steam train being blown up on the bridge. You can also visit the pair of locos at the station in nearby Kanchanaburi.

Richard Barrow joined me at the weekend, and we were able to use his car to get to a few places that would have been hard by just rail. There are not many trains, so travelling on one means it’s not possible to get a photo at the scenic spots.

Them Krasse Bridge

But all was fixed by Richard with some extensive pre trip research and Google maps. This also allowed me to reach the end of the line at Sai Yok without use of the excursion train, the only one that can travel this far – the DMU does not need to change ends like the other ‘ordinary’ and local trains.

The week flew by and I was sad to leave. It’s definitely on my list again for the next time I am in Thailand. Even without steam week it’s a wonderful place to travel by train.




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