Located just 130 km west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is a popular destination for both tourists and locals alike, both looking to escape the craziness of Bangkok for the day. Many people take one of the many organised day trips available, However the area is a beautiful place to stay for a few days to explore, relax and enjoying the peaceful surrounding.
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The Province is a beautiful part of Thailand; the hectic town centre is surrounded by beautiful scenery and river views but also has a dark history which can be explored by its many memorials and museums.
One of the main reasons visitors flock to Kanchanaburi for the day is to visit the so-called ‘Death Railway’ and the ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’ as well as the many memorials and museums associated with it.
The ‘Death Railway’ also known as the Thai-Burma Railway, was a 415 km stretch of rail track that was built by thousands of allied prisoners of war (POW) and Asian labourers during world war 2 under the order of the imperial Japanese army.
Most of these men where Australian, Dutch and British, who were made to live in squalor with a near starvation diet as well as being subjected to severe brutality. Many of these POW’s died due to injury, starvation or disease and after the war where collectively buried in the War Cemeteries.
Ride the ‘Death Railway’
Today only a limited section of the original rail track is still in use with passenger services now only running as far as Nam Tok to the north of Kanchanaburi. The most popular part of the track being the ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ which was made famous by the 1957 Film of the same name based on the novel Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai (1952) by Pierre Boulle.
The Bridge itself is a popular tourist attraction; you can walk along its stretch of track running across the River Kwai. It’s also fun to stand in one of its side platforms along the bridge and wave at the passengers hanging out the windows as the train passes by, just be careful!
By spending more time in Kanchanaburi, you will have the time to take the full 2 hour journey along this stretch of line from the town’s main station all the way to Nam Tok which is known as one of the most scenic train rides in Thailand.
As the journey begins it heads over the famous ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’. It then leads into the beautiful Thai countryside before curving around the Wang Po viaduct which consists of a series of wooden trestles originally built by POW’s.
As the journey progresses you will see some of the most beautiful parts of northern Thailand. As you pass the Wang Po viaduct, the track curves along with the river to one side and cliffs to the other. Further on you will be met with beautiful stretches of countryside.
You can also get the train in the opposite direction starting in Nam Tok or further down the line. Most people including myself took private transport past Nam Tok to visit Erawan waterfalls and Hellfire Pass, which then meant we were able to get the train back to Kanchanaburi at Tham Kra Sae station.
This station is unique in itself as you can wander down the track towards a Kra Sae cave, however be careful as the tracks can be dangerous with no barriers along the edge. The cave itself is small with a small Buddhist shrine inside but the best part is the views along the river, simply stunning!
The trains themselves are pretty basic with no air-conditions but the large open windows blows in a lovely cool breeze. You can also stick your head out of windows to check out the scenery but be careful when passing close trees! The cost of a train ticket is 100 Baht.
Hell Fire Pass
About a 20 minute drive from Nam Tok you will find the Hell Fire Pass Memorial and museum. The Hell Fire Pass was considered one of the most complex parts of the ‘Death Railway’ to be built.
This was due to the railway having to be cut through hard mountain rock! This 500m stretch was carved mainly by hand by POW’s using only small hand drills, picks and shovels, surprisingly it only took 6 months to complete. The Pass is no longer in use but has become a memorial to all the allied POW’s and Asian labourers who suffered and died Here.
As well as being able to walk along the cutting and through the Pass you can also visit the museum which not only describes the story of the Pass and the suffering that went with it. The site is also a place for visitors to reflect on the suffering and to remember the tragedies of the past with the hope of a more peaceful future.
Entrance is free and it is open daily from 9 am – 4 pm. However may be closed on Thai public holidays.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
A visit to the War Cemetery and Thailand-Burma Railway Centre are a must.
The War Cemetery is the resting place for nearly 7000 Australian, Dutch and British prisoners who died during the construction of the Death Railway. Walking through the cemetery can be a truly sobering experience especially when you realise that these graves only represent a small number of prisoners who died.
The Thailand-Burma Centre situated opposite provides an excellent overview of the brutal conditions suffered by the POW’s and Asian labourers showing poignant personal accounts, artefacts, photographs and videos to highlight this dark slice of history.
JEATH War Museum
The name of the museum stands for the countries that were involved in these events, these included; Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland.
Although this museum houses many artefacts, photos and displays, it is starting to look a little run down and isn’t at the same standard of other museums in the area, however with just a small 40 Baht entrance fee, it makes up for this. The museum itself is situated in a prime location just across the road from the Bridge over the River Kwai.
Erawan National Park
Not only is Kanchanaburi full of emotionally charged historical places but it is also known for having some of the most stunning scenery in Thailand. One area of particular natural beauty is Erawan National Park and it’s beautiful seven-tiered waterfall. This waterfall is surrounded by lush vegetation and has a hiking trail leading up to the top-tier.
The trek however gets more difficult the higher you go and at certain times of year it may be impossible to pass some sections due to wet muddy conditions. However even the lower tiers are worth walking too and even stopping along the way to have a dip in the turquoise waters brings a welcome relief from the heat. Watch out for the fish nibbling at your feet, a very weird sensation!
It is best to try to arrive early at Erawan Falls to beat the bus tours and have the falls almost to yourself. If you have time you can also visit the parks Tham That Cave where you can wander through stalagmites and stalactites.
Many people come to Thailand with the hope of interacting with elephants. Although these creatures are Thailand’s most revered animal, many ‘sanctuaries’ have been known to torture their elephants in order to make them work, therefore it is important to seek out ethical companies that offer no riding and treat the elephants with the love and appreciation that they deserve.
One of such sanctuaries is Elephant Nature Park, Kanchanaburi (part of the same group in Chiang Mai). This park is a true sanctuary for elephants who are allowed to wander freely and only have limited interaction with visitors (no riding).
Adult price 2500 Baht
Children 1250 Baht
So if you have the time, I strongly suggest spending a few days in the city, as there is so much to explore, as well as being a beautiful place to chill out and relax. I believe I only just scratched the surface and next time I would check out some other places of interest such as:
- Boat trip along the River Kwai
- Chung-Kai War Cemetery
- Wat Tham Mongkon Thong
- Sai Yok Noi Waterfall
- Chinese cemetery
- Thai Cooking Class
- Night Market
- Tham Phu Wa Temple
- Hindad Hot Springs.
Getting to Kanchanaburi:
Whilst not the fastest way to travel, the train is probably the cheapest option and also the most scenic, passing through beautiful lush countryside. There are two trains a day departing Bangkok’s Thonburi station at 7.50 am and 1.55 pm at a cost of 100 Baht each.
Taxi prices can be negotiated with individual taxi drivers but most will cost between 1200 – 1500 Baht.
You can catch a minivan at most bus stations in Bangkok for around 200 – 250 baht each, you can also arrange this by going in any of the thousands of travel agencies in Bangkok and as well as Hotels.
Where to Stay:
As I was backpacking Thailand I was on a fairly low-budget, however I found a lovely hotel with swimming pool called the Sky Resort Kanchanaburi for 800 Baht a night. This was a lovely hotel with a great little restaurant overlooking the river and only a short walk into town. Very much recommended if on a budget! However there is a huge variety of accommodation to choose from, including cheap hostels, guest houses and hotels and resorts catering for any budget. For booking accommodation I recommend using Booking.com.
Have you been to Kanchanaburi? If so what was your favourite thing to do?
Thanks for reading,