The day after the visit to the bridge over the river Kwai I drove back to the same spot with Isla (as the Diplomat sampled the spa facilities at the hotel) and went to the JEATH War Museum; so called because it is an acronym for “Japanese, English, Australian, American, Thai, and Holland” – those who contributed towards its construction and opening. The Thais call it the Wat Tai War Museum.
There’s a lot to see and do there so I’ve split this blog into two parts. The first deals with the “newer” part of the Museum. New in the sense it was done after the original buildings, not new in the sense of 21st century. After paying 40Baht for entry, I entered the first part of the Museum, it being two interlinked buildings which are three storeys high and basically (from the basement upwards) tell the story of Kanchanaburi prehistory to Thailand’s participation in World War II. Much of it is given over to oblong rooms with artifacts – the ground floor being armaments, the next silverware, the third pottery. Ante-chambers are fresco-ed with portraits of Kings, Prime Minsters, military leaders. Each floor has statues, each wall has a mural depicting a particularly important point in Siamese military history. Indeed, even the under-stair is smooth with plaster and covered in text pertaining to a specific point in history. One, for example, says (I recount it word for word):
The Thai People
The original native place of the Thai people was in the northern part of the Asia Continent. The Thais belonged to the Mongolian tribe but the Thais of the olden days settled down in the Hung Ho River basin and gradually moved outwards. The Thai territory in the early ages of China separated into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Nakhon Lung and the Kingdom of Nakhon Champa, located in the northern part of today’s Sechuan Province. The Thais suffered the first invasion for B.E.300 by a Mongolian branch called Tarter. The Thai people began to profess Buddhism in B.E. 400, which was propagated by missionaries sent by King “Meng Ti Hong Te”, who in turn sent missionaries to establish amity with Khun Luang Mao, King of Nakhon Thai, and it is since then that the Thais have professed the Buddhist Faith. When the Thais in the kingdom of Nanchae lost independence to China due to invasion, all the Thais moved southwards into the Golden Peninsula. The Thais settled down in various Khmer towns of those days, and because the Thais were a strong group of people, the Khmer king assigned Khmer governors and Khmer soldiers to govern over them. That time was around B.E.1800. The Thai ruler at that time was “Pho Khun Sinawanamthom”, whose son named “Pho Khun Phamuag” held office as the Ruler of Red Town and received from the Khmer King the title of “Kamor Teng-an Si Intharabodintarathit”, and the Khmer king gave him for a wife one of his own daughters whose name was “Sikhorn Mahathevi” and also a power-symbolizi sword called “Phra Khan Chaisi”; but he was still under the supervision of a Khmer nobleman, namely “Khlonlamphong”. With the passage of time up to the days of Ruler of Bangyang and Ruler of Fad, both of them being rulers of the Thai people, the Thais joined their strength into one and then marched their men to attack the Khmers and successfully seized Sisatchanalai Town and Bangkhlong Town. After the Two Thai forces had successfully attacked and seized Sukhothai Town, Khun Phamuang appointed Khun Bangklangthae to be Ruler of Sukhothai Town but the ruler did not use his former name: he used the name given to him by the Khmer king as an expression of honors to the king, which was according to a name stone inscription “Si Intharabodintarathit”, regarded as being the first King of the Thai of the Sukhothai kingdom. It is since then that the Thais have been independent from the power of the Khmers to date.
This is a Museum that tells a story. Narrative follows you as you walk along its walls and the art work is done extremely well: pictures of battles, of towns besieged, of triumph, and despair. Fascinating indeed and was a necessary expansion of the Museum in order to place the events of the River Kwai within the broader context of the military history of the region. Each floor has single oblong (about 3 feet wide by thirty feet long) glass case, stuffed to the gills with artifacts. Here is a gallery of some of the sights inside:
So, four floors only – and those are small, but each floor is bursting to tell you its story, loaded with information that means that you can easily spend a good thirty minutes reading the text, examining the pictorial representations, understanding the names of those who have had such an influence on the history of the entire region. Here’s one story (I’ve adjusted a few words here and there for English linguistic understanding)
Heroes of Ban Bang Rachan Village
Before Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in 1777, while laying siege to the city, the Burmese sent out squads of soldiers to collect provisions from the rural areas around the city and did not meet any resistance from the villagers because most of the able-bodied men had been recruited to defend the city. The people who suffered the most were the young girls, children, and the old people. Atrocities were committed against young Thai maidens. So, a group of villagers, who could not stand to see such atrocities against them, organized themselves into a squadron to fight against the Burmese. The principal combatants were Nai Taen, Nai Inn, Nai Muang, Nai Dok, Nai Thag Kaew, Nai Tong Men – the village headmen of Ban Bang Rachan. Khun Sanpanruang, Nai Chan Nuadkeow, Nai Thong Sangyai, and the Reverend Thamachot, who was highly respected by the villagers. The aforesaid group of people were the natives of Muang Singburi, Supanburi, and Visetchaicharn.
In this war the Ban Bangrachan villagers won seven battles over their enemies, which caused serious concern for the Burmese Commander-in-Chief Newiewsitabardi. If he was to send the entire army or divide up a large part of his forces to suppress the Ban Bangrachan villagers, he was afraid that Ayutthaya would send out forces to attack him in the rear. It appeared that during that period the mention of the forces of Ban Bang Rachan villagers would discourage all the Burmese soldiers. At that time there was a displaced person who had been living in Ayutthaya for along time. When the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya this person had been helping the Burmese and he had gained merit and was rewarded with the title of Suki or Chief Group Leader. Suki realised nobody could suppress the Bang Bangrachan villagers. So he volunteered to conquer them. Suki moved his army carefully. Wherever he went he set up impregnable camps. When Suki’s army arrived at the outskirts of Ban Bang Rachan he set up a very secure camp. The Ban Bangrachan villagers launched many attacks against it.
Suki stayed in the damp defending it. One day the Nai Thongmen got drunk and felt annoyed that the Burmese soldiers did not fight. So he rode on a buffalo and launched an attack on the Burmese camp. He was encircled by Burmese soldiers and was beaten to death on the battlefield. The Ban Bangrachan villagers grieved and came to accept that the fact they could not take the Burmese camp was because they lacked both cannon and gunpowder. So they sent a petition to Ayutthaya asking for cannons and for powder but they got no support because Ayutthaya was afraid that the cannons would would be hijacked by the enemy. They only sent Phaya Ratanathibet out to cast the cannons at Ban Bang Rachan and two cannons were cast there. But, due to haste, the cannons were cracked and were useless. Seeing that they could not use the cannons to destroy the enemy the Bangrachan decided to sacrifice their lives and they launched an attack on the Burmese camp.
The Burmese had far superior armaments. Both Khunsun and Nai Channuadkiow died in battle, only Punruang and Nai Thongsaengyai survived the attack on the camp. Finally, when Suki saw that Ban Bangrachan camp had been considerably weakened, he dug tunnels to the Ban Bangrachan camp, invaded it and conquered it. It was recorded in the Burmese history that in the battle the Thai lost 1000 lives, but the Burmese lost over 3000. The Ban Bangrachan villagers’ heroic exploits clearly demonstrate the spirit of patriotism of the Thai people, which is the true spirit of a warrior.
Once you complete the tour inside you can both step outside on each level to see niches full of statues of military leaders and finally climb onto the roof of the Museum to get a fabulous 360degree panorama of the entire region. It was at this point Isla decided to fall asleep. I carefully wound my way down the ground level again and, before moving over to the original part of the Museum, found an idiosyncratic section given over to Thai herbal remedies. It was a three aisle “library” of well over a hundred different herbs and woods (everything was beige) which you either smoked, or put into braziers, or ground into soluble mixtures. All for health reasons, I guess. No blue pill, though I imagine one of them was Nature’s own version of the big V. All the labels were in Thai so I can’t tell you what any were but these pictures give the idea.
From here we crossed the haphazard open space to the original part of the Museum, by way of a small Wat…but that is all in Part Two of this blog
By the way a Wikipedia entry on the Museum claims you can’t take photos. Not true. In fact, an enterprising Museum “curator” even took one of Isla and I. Can’t trust everything Wikipedia says, eh?
Is this what diplomacy is all about?