Spend a weekend - or longer - in one of Thailand's most scenic provinces, Kanchanaburi.
|Wang Po Viaduct, Kanchanaburi, Thailand|
KanchanaburiSituated 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.
|early morning on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand|
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 thereGetting 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.
TrainYou 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.
|the train to Kanchanaburi|
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.
See More from The Man in Seat 61
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.
BusIf 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.
|beautiful sunset on the River Kwai|
Getting AroundKanchanaburi 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.
|scenery from a Chinese Temple in Kanchanaburi|
Where to stayThere 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
|the real Bridge on the River Kwai|
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|
If you are interested in WWII history, there is even more in town to see.
Allied War CemeteryThe 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.
|Allied War Cemetery, Kanchanaburi, Thailand|
Thai-Burma Railway MuseumNext 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 ParkIf 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.
|ancient ruins at the historical park|
|stone archway at Mueang Sing|
Erawan National ParkOne 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
|Erawan national Park|
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.
|waterfalls at Erawan|
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!
Wang Po ViaductAnother 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.
|walking along the rails at the Wang Po Viaduct|
Certain trains still run along this stretch of the railway.
|Wang Po Viaduct, Kanchanaburi, Thailand|
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.
|temple shrine at Wang Po|