The city is most famous as the location of the Bridge on the River Kwai —a piece of the World War II Japanese "Death Railway" and the subject of the 1957 film of the same name starring Alec Guinness and Richard Holden (although it used Thai actors, the film was shot in Sri Lanka).

During World War II the Japanese, with whom Thailand sided, forced about 16,000 prisoners of war and 50,000 to 100,000 civilian slave laborers from neighboring countries to construct the "Death Railway," a supply route through the jungles of Thailand and Myanmar. It's estimated that one person died for every railway tie that was laid. Sure-footed visitors can walk across the Bridge on the River Kwai, of which the arched portions are original. In December there's a big fair with a sound-and-light show depicting the Allied bombing of the bridge. Next to the bridge is a plaza with restaurants and souvenir shops.

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