Pai Bridge

The Pai River bridge is often cited as the most visible evidence of the presence of Japan's Army in Northern Thailand during WWII.
But the bridge was actually built after the war. This website attempts to correct both that misconception and others about the period.


Japan in Northwest Thailand during World War II

N18°51.34 E98°57.60 Don Kaeo (burial site)[1] (Th: ดอนแก้ว / Jp: ドンケオ略図 )
page 1 of 3

Route 0107
Station 009


Text Notes

Don Kaeo location goes to map on next page

As the Imperial Japanese Army (I J A) withdrew from disastrous defeats in India and Burma, two I J A hospital units were assigned to Don Kaeo,[1a] just north of Chiang Mai, to receive troops wounded from those battles. Already incapacitated and further exhausted from an arduous 280 km trek across the mountains from Mae Hong Son Province, many of those who survived the journey died in the hospital units which were severely underequipped and poorly supplied. The hospitals buried their dead about a half kilometer west of their camps,

Neither the locations of the hospital camps nor the associated gravesites are marked on the ground, which is somewhat surprising in view of the nearly 400 remains recovered there and the remains estimated yet to be disinterred. The only reference found for this site to date is in the Japanese language work, Journal on Collection of War Dead: Burma, India, Thailand[1b] That source, however, does itself quote numerous Japanese language references. Key excerpts are presented first, followed by an attempt to match points on the ground with the Journal's map of the site. Photographs of the sites follow. Finally an appendix gives more details from the book.

Mentions in the literature:

In 1977-1978, Japanese war veteran groups working under the motto . . . "Leave not one body behind". . . . located what they later described as "the largest [single] graveyard" found during their 1977-1978 operations. The remains of 385 IJA troops were recovered there.[2]

Commentary includes:

. . . a teak forest . . . four kilometers northwest of Chiang Mai, where the 121st and 124th Military Hospitals operated, with a graveyard about 500 m to the west.[3]

Here the 124th Military Hospital and the 121st Military Hospital were established and took in patients. . . . Half a km west of the hospital is a graveyard for men and officers. . . .[4]

Various comments by investigation team members are cited:

Investigation Group member Tsuzuki remembered:

. . . the more talk about our request for cooperation progressed, the more often the word "Don Kaeo" came out. It resembles "Ronkyou", the phantom military hospital whose location had still not been made clear . . . .

. . . According to [Don Kaeo] Mayor Yamana, between km posts 9 and 11, and 2 km to the west, there had been a Japanese soldier camp. One km west of milestone 9 was the graveyard. The features of the land were completely different from that time: ten years earlier [1967-1968] a canal had been dug, and now the land was part of a military facility.[5]

First Group Member Okumura recalled:

The collection group, with the goodwill of the military, was able to excavate that graveyard. The location was 9 km to the north of Chiang Mai [p 448] and about 2 km west, in the middle of several high hills. It was inside a military property under the jurisdiction of a Thai army artillery brigade. In the middle of a forest flush with maihyon shrubs that have broad leaves like a teak, within a 5,000m2 area, a number of officers and men slumbered.

Between 24 January and 02 February, working continuously, we recovered 268 remains. The neighboring villages collectively known as Don Kaeo had been called "Ronkyou" by the Japanese army. . . . The remains that we recovered each day were collected in a temporary rest area . . . the remains were taken to Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai. . . .[6]

Fuhihara remembered:

The information about the Don Kaeo region involved two areas, but only from Area No. 1 did we retrieve bones. From Area No. 2, alias 'Paradise Stadium', we were unable to retrieve bones, but it is a spot which we can hope to investigate next time.

The remains of the dead were laid out about one meter apart in neat rows. In each hole would be two or three skeletons; all were aligned with heads to the north-northwest, ie, towards Japan. There was no particular difficulty with the work, but about half of all the remains had totally disintegrated. What was left were mostly large bones --- skulls and femurs --- and some fragments of pelvic bones and upper arm bones. All the bones were subject to the action of a certain bush indigenous to Thailand whose roots had penetrated bone marrow to absorb nutrients: were you to try to pull away the dirt or the root, the bone would just crumble.[7]


Continued on next page


Revision List
2012 May 30
First published on Internet




See Key for interpreting page content.

Revision list. See bottom of Text column on this page.

Bibliography supports notes.

1.^ ดอนแก้ว, ie, Don Kaeo, is the Royal Thai Survey Department (RTSD) place name. The name appears in at least two locations on 4746 I. One is a wat which is remote from the burial area; and another, the village, which is in the general area of the burial site.



1a.^ Map is composite of images available in Nations Online Project: Searchable Map and Satellite View of Thailand using Google Earth Data. Annotations are by author. Routes used by retreating IJA forces are here assumed to approximate currently existing roads.



1b.^  戦没者遺骨収集の記録 ピルマ・インド・タイ [Journal on Collection of War Dead: Burma, India, Thailand] (Tokyo: All Burma Comrades Organization, 1980)[My reference: 03300 journal collecting ija war dead\xlatn by josh].


2.^ ibid, p 447



3.^ ibid, p 446



4.^ ibid, p 447











5.^ ibid, p 447












6.^ ibid, pp 447-448













7.^ ibid, p 448


8.   (deleted)