Learn about the history of the Thai–Burma Railway from both sides of the border in the company of expert local leaders.. Discover the moving stories of the POWs and local slave labourers who perished during the railway’s construction in WWII. Pay your respects at historic cemeteries and memorials, visit the bridge over the River Kwai and ride along the section of the old Death Railway.. Spend a night in the mountain-set town of Kyaiktiyo, and witness Myanmar’s famous Golden Rock as it’s bathed in the light of sunrise.. Catch a ferry to Bilu Island a for a fascinating look into local cottage industries.
Step back through history on this special journey along the Thai-Burma Railway from Yangon to Bangkok. Visit historic cemeteries, be moved by the thousands of names inscribed into local memorials, and ride along a section of the track past the River Kwai. While you’ll learn about the horrors POWs and slave labourers suffered during the railway’s construction, you’ll also hear tales of courage, survival and humanity. But it’s not all about the war; this adventure also takes in beautiful lakes, waterfalls and some of Myanmar’s – if not Asia’s – most striking and important temples.
Welcome to Myanmar (Burma) and Yangon. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. There will be a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with the hotel reception where and when it will take place, or check the reception notice boards. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception or your booking agent in advance. Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is the country's biggest city, though no longer the capital. To get your bearings and a taste of this wonderful city, perhaps take a walk to Sule Paya, then down to the Victorian Strand Hotel to admire the colonial architecture and the bargaining mayhem of Bogyoke Market.
After breakfast this morning, the history lesson begins with a guided walking tour around the Rangoon War Cemetery at Hansawaddy, first used following the recapture of the city in May 1945. Today, 1,381 Commonwealth WWII servicemen are buried or commemorated here; 86 of the graves remain unidentified. You will also visit Shwedagon Pagoda, the most important Buddhist monument in Myanmar and one of Yangon's grandest sights. Laden with gold leaf and diamonds, the pagoda is thought to house several hairs from the Gautama Buddha. After wandering through the temple complex and learning about its history, the rest of the afternoon is free for you to explore. Perhaps take a stroll through vibrant Chinatown or relax in Kandawgyi Park.
Golden Rock - Kyaiktiyo
Today travel by road to Kyaiktiyo, the home of the famous Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (approximately 5 hours). On the way, make a stop at Taukkyan War Cemetery, where 6,374 WWII Commonwealth soldiers have been laid to rest. The cemetery also contains the Rangoon Memorial, which bears the names of 27,000 Commonwealth servicemen. Taukkyan is the largest war cemetery in Myanmar. Continue on to Bago, the ancient centre of the Mon kingdom in the 13th century. Here you'll visit the huge Shwemawdaw Pagoda and the Shwethalyaung Buddha, one of the largest Reclining Buddhas in existence. From here it's about a 2.5-hour drive to the base camp at Kinponsakan, where you'll transfer to an open-air truck with basic wooden bench-style seating. Take a simple overnight bag with you and store the rest of your luggage at base camp. The 45-minute drive up to Rathedaung is bumpy, but well worth the views. At Rathedaung, continue on foot for 45 minutes to the summit, situated at 1,180 metres above sea level. The Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, or Golden Rock, as it's commonly known, is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. The small pagoda sits atop a gilded 25-metre boulder, which appears to balance precariously on a tabular rock. Legend has it that the boulder is held in position by a strand of Buddha's hair. Explore Kyaiktiyo before spending the night here. Tonight's acommodation is more basic than in other destinations on this trip, but the spiritual experience of staying atop of the mountain is more than worth it.
Rise early to take in the sunrise from the Golden Rock, then head back to base by truck. Drive on to Hpa An (approximately 4 hours), passing through picturesque countryside and sugarcane fields. On the way, stop off at the Kawkune Caves to see the 7th-century stone carvings and clay Buddhas that are hidden inside. Most people don't know this place exists; it was only made accessible recently after a period of insurgency. Set into a backdrop of mountains and lakes, Hpa An is the capital of Karen State. After arriving, head out to the Shwe Yin Myaw Pagoda. Here, if the weather's clear, you'll bear witness to a spectacular sunset.
Explore Hpa An in the morning. Spend some time at the delightful local market and interact with the stallholders – a mix of Chinese, Tamils and Bengalis among others. Then visit Kyaikalatt Pagoda and Lombumni Garden, with its one thousand Buddha images, located at the base of Mt Zwegabin. In the afternoon, depart for Mawlamyine (approximately 2 hours). Mawlamyine was British Burma’s administrative centre between 1872 and 1852. On your way, stop in at U Na Auk's Monastery. The shrines here might not be as old as some others that you'll see, but their architectural styles – which combine the traditional with the modern – are fascinating.
Today drive across the bridge to Bilu Island, where you'll witness some of the many cottage industries of the local communities. This area, mostly populated by Mon communities, is known for all kinds of crafts, such as pipes, walking sticks, rubber bands and hats. Coconut fibre is used in many of these crafts. Some villages on the island have their own particular specialty. After meeting some of the local craftspeople and snapping some photographs of the surrounding landscapes, take the ferry back Mawlamyine in the afternoon. See the sunset from Kyaik Than Lan Pagoda before retiring for the evening.
Thanbyuzayat - Dawei
Today involves a lot of driving, but also a fascinating insight into the history of the Thai-Burma Railway. First stop is Thanbyuzayat (approximately 1.5 hours from Mawlamyine). Here you'll visit the Death Railway Cemetery (Death Railway is the informal term for the Thai–Burma Railway). This important site contains more than 3,000 graves of POWs, who toiled on the railway under extremely harsh conditions during the Second World War. Thanbyuzayat commemorates those who were lost during the construction of the Burmese portion of the railway. Most of these soldiers were Australian and British. After a visit to the cemetery, visit the Death Railway Museum which contains a section of the original track in it's grounds. After paying your respects, continue on to Dawei (approximately 6 hours).
For a taste of Dawei (formerly known as Tavoy), make a morning stop in at the local market for a browse. This lovely seaside town is rarely visited. Next, travel by coach (approximately 90 minutes), then change to a light truck (approximately 30 minutes), heading for a fishing village on an offshore island. Here you will learn about the local way of life, including the local fish-drying industry. In the afternoon, make a visit to Maungmagan beach and enjoy plenty of time to relax before your trip across the border tomorrow. For dinner tonight, enjoy a home-cooked meal in the residence of a friendly local family.
Today's journey is long, approximately 8 hours in total, so be sure to come prepared with plenty of snacks. Most of the journey is along a winding dirt road (approximately 6 hours) which brings you to the Myanmar–Thailand border at Htiki. The distance between the two border-crossing points is around 5 kilometres. Say goodbye to your Myanmar leader at Htiki, then meet your Thai leader at the Phu Nam Ron immigration point. From here it is a further 66 kilometres (approximately 1.5 hours) to Kanchanaburi, your final destination today.
Today's activities vary depending on your departure date.
ANZAC DAY DEPARTURE:
Eat a hearty breakfast this morning, before packing your swim suit and a good pair of shoes for the day's activities. Visit the Erawan Waterfall, a seven-tiered beauty nestled in a lush national park. Though it can get crowded here, these cool – and very photogenic – turquoise waters are well worth the trip. It can take around two hours to walk up and down all seven levels. Enjoy lunch while you're there. Afterwards, return to the hotel to relax and get ready for the evening's Anzac Day festivities. Tonight you'll be joining a mocktail party at Weary Dunlop Park in the Home Phu Toey Resort. The park is a tribute to the Australian POW surgeon Lieutenant-Colonel E.E. ‘Weary’ Dunlop. There you'll watch a mini sound and light show, which tells the story of the construction of the railway bridge, Death Railway and Hellfire Pass during WWII. Afterwards, sit down to a special buffet dinner and a live traditional Mon dance presentation. The dress code tonight is smart casual.
REMEMBRANCE DAY DEPARTURE:
After breakfast this morning, head to Hellfire Pass, where you'll learn more about the history of the railway construction via detailed descriptions and recorded anecdotes from those who survived it at the onsite museum. From there, drive to Nam Tok train station for a rail trip along the Death Railway itself. On this excursion you'll see the famed bridge over the River Kwai. The journey takes you along scenic riverside tracks before crossing the original wooden viaduct that was built by prisoners of war over the river. In the evening, head back to Kanchanaburi.
ANZAC DAY DEPARTURE:
Rise early this morning to pay your respects at a moving Anzac Day ceremony at Hellfire Pass Museum. The museum houses detailed descriptions and recorded anecdotes from POWs who survived the building of the railway in WWII. After briefly returning to your hotel, drive to Nam Tok train station, where you'll board an old train for a trip along the Death Railway itself. On this excursion you'll see the famed bridge over the River Kwai. The journey takes you along scenic riverside tracks before crossing the original wooden viaduct that was built by prisoners of war over the river. The ride is about an hour in total. Afterwards, head back to the hotel for an afternoon of leisure time.
REMEMBRANCE DAY DEPARTURE
Eat a hearty breakfast this morning, before packing your swim suit and a good pair of shoes for the day's activities. Visit the Erawan Waterfall, a seven-tiered beauty nestled in a lush national park. Though it can get crowded here, these cool – and very photogenic – turquoise waters are well worth the trip. It can take around two hours to walk up and down all seven levels.
Today, visit the Bridge over the River Kwai which was built during WWII under the command of Japanese soldiers. Conditions for the POWs and local labourers working on the Death Railway were horrific; over 100,000 people lost their lives due to malnutrition, disease and overwork. While the weight of this terrible part of history can be felt, it's a place people come to learn, remember and respect. Next, visit a nearby cemetery, where POWs have been laid to rest in a beautiful garden setting. The cemetery is maintained by the British embassy. While here, you'll also visit a WWII museum to discover more local history.
Your final leg of the trip takes you to Thailand's capital, Bangkok (approximately 2.5 hours). Depending on the time of your departure and arrival, there may be free time for further activities in Bangkok before a final dinner with the group (these are optional). If you do find yourself with some hours up your sleeve, perhaps take a riverboat to Chinatown, wander down the frenetic Khao San Road, indulge in some Thai massage or visit the stunning Grand Palace. At any rate, be sure to seek out some delicious street food while you are here.