TRAVEL GUIDE: Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Spend a weekend - or longer - in one of Thailand's most scenic provinces, Kanchanaburi.
Wang Po Viaduct, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Situated in the mountains and jungles of western Thailand on the banks of the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi is one of the kingdom's most beautiful, scenic, and historic provinces. Full of history, amazing nature, beautiful scenery, and exciting activities, Kanchanaburi has something for everyone. Just three hours away from Bangkok, it's easy enough to reach for a weekend trip, but it is definitely worth spending longer than just a few days in this amazing province.
The province is probably most famous internationally as the site of the infamous "Burmese Death Railway", built by the Imperial Japanese Army using Allied POW labor during the Second World War. This tragic period has been made famous thanks to films such as Bridge on the River Kwai starring Sir Alec Guinnes, and The Railway Man starring Colin Firth.
Getting to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok is easy; it's just a short ride west by bus, although by far the more atmospheric, scenic, and meaningful experience is to take the train, which still travels along the Death Railway itself.
You can get to Kanchanaburi easily by bus, but going by train is an infinitely better experience. As the train leaves Bangkok and heads west, the city slowly gives way to villages and fields, which in turn give way to mountains and jungles as you get closer to Kanchanaburi.
Trains depart Bangkok Noi (Thonburi) Station twice daily: at 7:45am and 1:55pm. A ticket costs 100 baht ($3) and takes about three hours.
This third-class train is comfortable, clean, and safe. There are no reserved seats, so try to snag a seat near the window to feel the cool breeze and see the beautiful scenery as you drive past.
The journey from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi is one of the most atmospheric and enjoyable rail journeys in Thailand. As you ride along, spare a moment to think of the POWs who toiled building the first railway west through the country.
If you don't like trains, or if you can't make one of the departure times, you can easily reach Kanchanaburi by bus. It's not nearly as fun, nor scenic, but it's fast and easy.
Buses depart from Mo Chit Bus Terminal fairly frequently, and cost 100-200 baht, depending on class. The journey by bus takes around three hours.
Kanchanaburi is a fairly small town, and even the further-away sites like Erawan National Park or Wang Po Viaduct can easily be reached by mortorbike. You can rent a motorbike for a day for 100-300 baht from most guesthouses in town.
Please remember that traffic in Thailand drives on the left-hand side of the road.
You can also hire a car or a songtaew (a covered pickup truck) for the day for 1500-2000 baht (about $50). If you are not comfortable driving a motorbike, this is a safer way to travel.
Where to stay
There is no shortage of hostels and guesthouses in town.
Some of the best lodgings are found along the river! There are several "floatels" in Kanchanaburi, which are built on barges on the banks of the river. Facing west, you can watch the stunning views as the sun sets behind the river and mountains.
What to see and do
Bridge on the River Kwai
If you've read the famous *novel or seen the 1957 *film starring Sir Alec Guinness, you'll know the significance of this bridge. During the Second World War, Allied prisoners of war, mostly British, Australian, and Dutch, along with captured Asian laborers from Singapore, were forced under extremely brutal conditions to construct a railway across Thailand to Burma, which the Japanese occupied.
The bridge still stands, although two sections of it were destroyed in an Allied bombing during the war. Those two sections are constructed with straight spans, rather than curved, to differentiate between the original bridge and the sections that have been rebuilt.
Just on the other bank, across the bridge, is a Chinese temple. Feel free to explore.
the Bridge on the River Kwai
You can walk across the bridge, but be careful; a few trains still run along this line.
If you are interested in WWII history, there is even more in town to see.
Allied War Cemetery
The immaculately-maintained Allied War Cemetery in the center square of town is a somber reminder of the lives lost constructing the Death Railway.
There is no admission fee to enter. Spend a few quiet moments reflecting on history and remembering those who were lost during the war.
Thai-Burma Railway Museum
Next to the cemetery in the town's center, you'll find the excellent Thailand-Burma Railway Museum. Entry costs 80 baht, and is well worth it.
The two-floor museum is full of interesting displays and artifacts from the workers on the Death Railway.
The second-floor has a small cafe and beautiful views looking out over the cemetery. Pay special attention to the magnificent stained-glass windows depicting the lives of the POWs and laborers on the railway.
It's a somber experience, but something very much worth seeing.
Mueang Sing Historical Park
If you are more interested in ancient history, take a trip to the Prasat Mueang Sing Historical Park, about an hour outside of town. You can go by motorbike or hire a driver.
Mueang Sing was one of the westernmost outposts of the Khmer Empire (Angkor Wat), and dates back to the 13th century.
Admission costs 100 baht and goes towards maintaining and protecting the ancient ruins. As of now, visitors are still allowed to enter, climb on, and explore the ruins. Be respectful, especially in the central shrine area of the ruined temple, which still holds a statue where locals leave offerings and make prayers.
Erawan National Park
One of the most well-known sites in Kanchanaburi is the beautiful Erawan National Park.
Named for the legendary three-headed white elephant from Hindu mythology, Erawan boasts a stunning seven-tiered waterfall, excellent hiking trails, and beautiful views.
Park entrance costs 400 baht
You can reach the park by motorbike or hire a driver. Alternately, you can catch a direct bus to the national park from Kanchaburi bus station. This is cheaper, but you will be constrained to the bus schedule. If you want to go early, stay late, or go at your own pace, it's easiest to take your own transportation.
The best hike at the park is a trail that takes you past all seven tiers of the waterfall! The hike isn't too hard, but takes 1-2 hours, depending on how long you stop at each tier. After the fifth tier, going gets a bit more tricky, but nothing too technical.
You can stop and swim at most of the clear, cool pools beneath each tier.
Bring a picnic if you like, or buy food at the park entrance.
Food is not allowed past the second tier of the waterfall.
If you have time, it's worth it to spend at least a day at Erawan. Besides the falls, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore.
You can buy water at the park. You can expect the weather to be generally warm and humid year-round. Bring a swimsuit and take a dip in the cold water beneath the falls!
You can camp, depending on availability of campsites. Inquire at the park office. Camping gear, including tents and sleeping bags, is available to rent.
Wang Po Viaduct
Another amazing site outside of the town is the Wang Po Viaduct, the most scenic stretch of the Death Railway. The Viaduct is a rail built on wooden trestles on the cliff side above the River Kwai.
There is no entrance fee.
You are free to walk along the tracks, but be careful! There is no railing!
Certain trains still run along this stretch of the railway.
Wang Po Viaduct, Kanchanaburi, ThailandWang Po is one of the most beautiful and scenic places in Kanchanaburi, and along with Erawan, is one of the top sites not to miss!
A small cave sits just off the tracks in the cliff side. Inside you can find a Buddha statue surrounded by swirling clouds of incense.
During the Second World War, this cave was a field hospital for the prisoners laboring on the rail.