Thailand is a country of water, particularly in its floodplains. Canals and bridges have been a major engineering feat.
The waterways are such an essential part of Thailand’s developmental story that I would be remiss not to discuss it. You may have seen a canal running along side the track on your right earlier – this forms one of the many links between the Tha Chin river you just crossed, and the great Chao Phraya river which runs through Bangkok. You may see another canal off to your left linking the Tha Chin to the next river, and eventually the River Kwai. There is an incredible latticework of canals criss-crossing the whole of central Thailand’s river basin. Although canals were being dug in Thailand for centuries – mainly to form defensive moats – the nation-building project commenced with the founding of the Royal Irrigation Department in 1908 by King Rama the 5th. The King appointed, as you might guess, a Dutchman – Mr. Yehoman vander Heide – as the irrigation expert to plan out the drainage of the alluvial plain we’re in. The thousands of kilometers of canals, as well as the complex system of thousands of barrages, locks, and pump-houses means, importantly, that the Thai people are better protected from flooding. Although its not fullproof as the floods of 2011 showed – that was the worst flooding in Thailand’s recorded history and profoundly impacted the Thai economy, and even the global economy. These canals can sometimes also be used for transportation, and – unfortunately – they also help dispose of rubbish and waste. Most importantly, they are the life force of Thai agriculture, which is, among many things, now a global superpower in rice. It is hard to imagine such a large and wealthy population living on such a low-lying, monsoonal, and flood-prone piece of real-estate without this impressive network of canals.
A bit to the East is the Truss bridge over the Tha Chin River.
The Japanese and the quarter of a million people that worked on the Death Railway built around 600 bridges. This bridge is not one of them – its far more sturdy. The Japanese Imperial Army’s construction project began about 40km ahead under much tighter deadlines. This bridge is, however, typical of iron truss railway bridges found throughout Thailand, the vast majority of which were built after the war. Pay particular attention to the angular iron struts you should see out the window as you go past – you’ll see this later.
The river is the Tha Chin – a distributary of the great Chao Phraya river that flows through Bangkok and feeds Central Thailand’s alluvial plain. The Tha Chin splits from the Chao Phraya a couple of hundred kilometres to your right in the North, and meanders it’s own way to the Gulf of Thailand.