Kanchanaburi World War II Museum
This is one of the craziest museums that I know of: disorganized, full of baffling bizarreness, gross errors, extreme exaggerations and plain weirdness. If you want accurate information it's not the place to go to – but give it a pass and you'll miss out one of the best bits of fun you can have in the world of dark tourism!
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
the museum obviously tries to cash in on the tourism flow flooding into Kanchanaburi
due to the fame of the Bridge over the River Kwai
, and tries to outdo the older JEATH Museum
, which also has its flaws but not the unashamedly weirdness of this place. The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre
is the place to get real solid information. If you don't already know so much about the Death Railway
, then maybe go there first and only add on this crazy "WWII Museum" for a laugh afterwards.
At any rate don't fall for the marketing when the place also uses the name "JEATH museum" and claims to be the 'original'. It is not. It can only get away with it thanks to its location right by the main tourist draw of the Bridge. But by all means do go and see it. If only for tittering and shaking your head at the factual errors on display and for the general jaw-dropping over-the-top-ness.
What there is to see: lots – and lots of it very weird indeed.
There's a garage-like ante-room in which a rusty steam locomotive is the first large-scale artefact on display. Inside the museum proper, the first bizarre deviation from the museum's proclaimed theme comes in the form of a display room about prehistoric finds, not just pre-WWII, that is, but really ancient archaeological stuff.
Then there are several wall-mounted buffalo skulls, some with bent-down horns, and the line underneath says: "please conserve Thai Buffaloes by not killing them" – oh right, so how did these skulls get here, then? Never mind, the logic is otherwise impeccable, of course!
In the actual WWII
part, there are bomb shells, reconstructions of scenes of work on the railway, vehicles with dummies in them. The Japanese are grossly exaggerated – almost as in some of the anti-Japanese propaganda drawings of the time. The most garish bit is a diorama involving a wall mural of the bombed Bridge
and several not very life-like spotty dummies lying in a mock ditch in front and apparently writhing and puking from disease. The painted aircraft are even worse – they look like toys painted by young children.
Other WWII-related parts include a reconstructed workshop hut, and more guns, bombs, helmets, (including, bizarrely, a "German Hitler steel helmet", i.e. a Wehrmacht helmet, apparently donated "by anonymous" – but why should it be here, when the Germans never were?
It gets more bizarre at the display cabinets containing countless antique cameras (why??).
A truly dark part of the museum is the section in which actual human remains, allegedly of perished POW
s, are on display, one full skeleton with skull, and underneath it a box containing the remains of 104 or 106 more (both figures are given). Next to it is another dark, though somewhat out of context, artefact: a US metal coffin from the Korean War
… More glass display cabinets contain further guns and swords and other weaponry.
The walls are plastered with photos and drawings – from a huge range of historical events, from antiquity to the modern day. You have to wonder what Martin Luther could possibly have to do with a WWII museum.
But it gets worse – or better – depending on how you look at it: one photo clearly showing the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
, complete with the distinctive figure of Stalin
in the background and no woman anywhere in sight, is adorned with the following caption: "Nazi leader Hitler at wedding with Eva Braun". I couldn't suppress my amusement and burst out laughing loud! What's even more baffling about this gross error is that they do have photo of Hitler
and Braun elsewhere on the wall, and it has the same caption, so it's not like they just mixed two pictures up. (The Hitler-Braun photo used, btw., was probably taken years before 1945.)
At a different point, someone must have had mercy: a picture with the caption "Benjamin Franklin" but clearly showing George Washington had a paper strip partly covering the caption putting the error right (but why only in this case, you have to wonder …).
Outside there are life-size but very un-life-like statues of important figures in WWII
, from Einstein
(?!?), via Harry S Truman and Stalin
to Charles de Gaulle. The latter is made to look uncannily like Hitler
, though, and Truman looks more like a circus clown. Unflattering as the figures may be, the texts next to them aren't much better.
The text panel describing the term 'war criminal' is a particular "gem". It starts out thus (I quote verbatim!): "The issue of War Criminal was something new that emerged in World War II. It was created by the allies for the purpose of punishing the axis who had invaded big and small neighbouring and remote countries no matter whether war crimes had been perpetrated before or during the war time and no matter whether perpetrators were military or civilian. The acts regarded as war crimes can be classified into three descriptions: 1) violation of peace, 2) murder and 3) complicity in a war crime, including other crimes violative to the principles of humanity". Oooooh deeaaar! If this was taken from some first-year history student's essay then I'm glad I didn't have to mark it. You wouldn't know where to begin in trying to untangle the errors in logic and textual construction here.
Some other, less dodgy, texts are clearly taken from elsewhere (e.g. there's one about the founding of the real original JEATH Museum
), and the same is probably true for some of the explanatory charts and photos – credits are never given.
Text panels throughout the museum, incidentally, are always in English, often accompanied with Thai – occasionally there are also bits in Chinese and/or German.
The English is often even dodgier than in the passage just quoted – here's another sample , accompanying a cartoon depicting a Japanese and a Thai soldier pricking a Tommy soldier in the arse with bayonets: "Asian together with Japanese army fought with England who have been invaded Thailand for a long time. Japanese always help Thailand to be a civilized country". Even dodgy English aside, you're just left deflated. Speechless. Baffled.
And if you thought it couldn't get any weirder, wait for it: upstairs is also a "Miss Thailand directory" … which is a room with paintings of alleged previous Miss Thailand title holders on the walls…There's also a gem exhibition, a stamp collection and a "Thai proverb exhibition". No, I did not take any hallucinogenic drugs – this really is what this museum is like. And who needs drugs anyway if you can have this degree of weirdness for a mere 40 Baht admission fee …
A golden line of text chiselled into a large boulder bluntly admonishes visitors "have you bought souvenirs for your loved one" … but I gave the bottles of River Kwai Thai red wine on offer a miss …
If you too are able to derive some humour out of such a mess of a museum, then do go and have good look around. Sick as the humour may be in places – mostly unintentionally so, you would presume (or hope) – it certainly is one of the weirdest museums I have ever seen anywhere. And for that reason I sincerely hope that they will not
clear up their act. They won't be able to compete with the excellent Thailand-Burma Railway Centre
anyway, and without all the dodginess and entertainingly gross errors, the humour would be gone and the whole museum would be rendered totally superfluous.
Access and costs: easy and cheap.
if you've come to the Bridge over the River Kwai
(the main attraction in Kanchanaburi
for most tourists), then you can just walk it – it's only a few steps south along the main road from the bridge, maybe 100 yards. From the centre of town you could get a cyclo or taxi. If you're on a guided package with driver (see Kanchanaburi
and Hellfire Pass
), then no worries, you'll be dropped off and won't have to bother with admission tickets.
If you come independently: admission is (in early 2009) a mere 40 Baht (less than one euro), opening times: daily 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Time required: that will mostly depend on how much you get out of the weirdness of the place. If you want to really study it closely, then you'll need well over an hour, maybe up to two. But most visitors will make do with just a good impression and stay something like 30 to 45 minutes at best.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
in general see Kanchanaburi
– the museum itself already offers plenty that isn't exactly dark. Furthermore it's part of a kind of (mock?) temple complex, with giant plaster dragons and all manner of sculptures and Buddhist symbolism.
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 01
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 01b - large exhibit
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 02 - view from a balcony
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 03 - very gross depiction
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 04 - dummy POWs
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 05 - on the River Kwai
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 06 - exaggerated stereotypes not entirely absent
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 07 - de Gaulle with Hitler tash
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 08 - drastic exhibit
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 09 - very grim
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 10 - what an unbelievable labelling blunder
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 11 - more randomness
- Kanchanaburi WWII museum 12 - assorted guns and pictures