Many people choose to visit Kanchanaburi as part of an organised day excursion from Bangkok, but the town and region are worthy of a longer stay, particularly if you’re making the journey independently. The main attractions of Kanchanaburi are the Bridge on the River Kwai and the Death Railway. However, the region has a beauty which belies its tragic history with sweeping rivers, waterfalls and jungle-clad hills.
Where to stay
Much of the budget accommodation in Kanchanaburi is close to the river in the form of guest houses and raft houses. The latter option can be very cheap and very uncomfortable. Don’t expect to get much sleep because the sound of karaoke fills the air from the numerous rafts and riverside bars. You have been warned! It’s certainly a unique experience, but if you want a bit more comfort and some guaranteed sleep, spend a bit more money on a hotel or choose accommodation in the quieter town centre.
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X2 River Kwai boutique resort (beautiful hotel in a quiet location)
What to see and do
During the Second World War, the Japanese wanted to build a railway linking Thailand to Burma. This was achieved using POWs and Asian labourers. It is estimated that 16,000 POWs and 100,000 Asian labourers died whilst working on the scheme. A trip to the JEATH museum at Kanchanaburi provides graphic and moving descriptions of the horror and brutality of the conditions under the Japanese. The museum is housed in a reconstruction of a POW hut and is located south of the train station and well away from the Bridge on the River Kwai that most people come to see.
The two war cemeteries in Kanchanaburi are immaculately kept and are extremely emotional places to visit. The easiest to get to is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery opposite the entrance to the main train station. Chungkai Cemetery is a little further out to the south-west of town but is included on the itinerary of many organized tours.
The railway, which became known as the Death Railway, is not just a piece of history, it is a working line which links the villages between Kanchanaburi and Nam Tok. Travelling on the train, it is incredible to imagine that men used picks and shovels to cut through the rock and thick jungle. A visit to the infamous Hellfire Pass is deeply humbling as you try to imagine what it must have been like to endure such torture.
Aside from the sites associated with the War, Kanchanaburi has some beautiful countryside and waterfalls close at hand. You could take a day trip out to the surrounding countryside and come back and dine on the river in the evening. The Elephant’s World sanctuary is highly recommended. There are no elephant rides or shows here and if you do visit expect to get your hands dirty, but you’ll be doing something positive for animal welfare.
The controversial Tiger Sanctuary Temple is located approximately 40kms north-west of the town of Kanchanaburi.
The easiest and most convenient way of getting to Kanchanaburi is via Bangkok. Any tour operator will be able to arrange transport and accommodation, but for a little bit more effort and a lot less expense, the town can be reached via train or bus. Two train services leave Bangkok Noi (Thonburi) early morning and early afternoon for the 3 hour journey. The train calls at Kanchanaburi station which is close to the town centre accommodation, before trundling a bit further on to River Khwae Station adjacent to the bridge and river and jumping off point for much of the cheaper budget accommodation.