Kanchanaburi

Train crossing the Bridge over the River Kwai

Kanchanaburi (Thai: กาญจนบุรี) is a city at the confluence of the Rivers Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai.

Understand

For most visitors the main sight of interest is the Bridge over the River Kwai, as the start of the infamous World War II Death Railway to Burma (now Myanmar), as well as the many associated museums. There is an increasingly thriving backpacker scene taking advantage of the chilled-out riverside vibe for those who want to get away from Bangkok. Kanchanaburi is also the gateway to the surrounding province of the same name. More foreign visitors are discovering why Thais know it as one of the most beautiful provinces in the country with its easily accessible waterfalls and national parks.

Orientation

Orienting yourself in Kanchanaburi is very easy. The main road, Saeng Chuto Road, runs the length of town from north to south, connecting the River Kwai Bridge, the train station, and the bus station. Running parallel to this, closer to the river, is Mae Nam Kwae Road where most of the guest houses and the local bar scene can be found.

Get in

By bus

BKS public buses (line 81) leave from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Taling Chan สายใต้ตลิ่งชัน), which is far west in the suburb of Thonburi. In Kanchanaburi, there are two separate but nearby bus terminals, with 1st class buses departing from an office off Saengchuto Rd, and 2nd class buses from the larger terminal one block east.

There are also tourist minibuses directly to/from Khao San Road, departing Kanchanaburi at 13:30 and 18:30.

There are also some buses leaving less frequently from Bangkok's Northern Mo Chit bus terminal (note: not the same as Mo Chit BTS station, and not within walking distance of it, although a standard 50 baht motorbike taxi ride is available. It's called "Mo Chit 2"). Here are the times (approximate):

First-class bus with toilet (3 hours, 122 baht): 06:00, 11:00, 14:30.

Second-class bus with no toilet inside (not sure about time and price, times are probably the same): 05:00, 07:00, 09:30, 12:30, 17:00.

Bus rides may be variable or cancelled (for example, with 14:30 being last of the day.) But there are vans available at the bus station leaving even when you're told there's no way to get there by bus! It may pay to talk to the information desk about this. Price is around 120 baht, about 2 hr.

From Nakhon Pathom, there are direct buses (2nd class only) every 15 to 30 minutes between 04:00 and 18:00, which take two hours. Alternatively, you can hop off a 1st class bus when it passes by Nakhon Pathom, but double-check with staff to ensure the route allows this and they know your plans.

From Sangkhlaburi to Kanchanaburi, you're spoilt for choice:

By train

Trains leave Bangkok's Thonburi Train Station at 07:45 and arrive at Kanchanaburi at 10:20, with another at 13:45, arriving at 16:35. You may be interested in buying a ticket all the way to the River Kwai Bridge, since these two trains are the only ones which cross the bridge each day. 100 baht for foreigners (Dec 2005).

Be warned that reaching Thonburi Station from Khao San Rd is harder than it looks. Tuk-tuk drivers will try to charge you outrageous rates, and walking involves crossing two bridges and looping back. The best way is probably to take the passenger boat from Phra Arthit Pier to connect with a cross-river ferry that reaches the Thonburi Railway Pier. Then walk or take the open minibus from there. You can also walk a bit away from Khao San Rd and find a metered taxi that will not rip you off. The fare should be about 70 or 80 baht from Khao San on the meter.

Return trains leave at 07:25 and 14:48 from the main railway station. From the River Kwai Bridge they leave 6 minutes earlier. Riding 3rd class is an adventure in itself, and definitely recommended.

Both train services continue to/from Nam Tok, the current terminus of the Death Railway. The normal trains will charge "farang" (Westerners) 100 baht in each direction from Kanchanaburi to Wang Pho, the last station before Nam Tok. Thais pay a lot less.

The 10:30 train has a special tourist section, where the Tourist price of 300 baht gets you air-con, a soft drink, and a certificate of having ridden the Death Railway.

One of least expensive ways to get from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi is to take a train from Thonburi to Ban Pong for 14 baht (same price for Thais and foreigners), then from Ban Pong take an air conditioned bus to Kanchanaburi for 40 baht, a total of 54 baht.

By car

Kanchanaburi is about 3 hours' drive from Bangkok, via Hwy 4 (Phetkasem)from Bangkok until it hooks up with Hwy 323, which will take you all the way to Kanchanaburi.

You can catch a taxi to Kanchanaburi and return to Bangkok for the day for around 1,700 baht. This should include stopping at the bridge over River Kwai and museum, Kanchanaburi township, the local dam and POW cemetery. You may need to pay a bit extra to visit Erawan Falls and the Tiger Temple, which is about an hour out of the town.

By limousine taxi

Bangkok Airport limousines are a comfortable and swift means of travel between Thailand's capitol and Kanchanaburi. Fares in luxury Japanese sedans are typically from 3,000-3,500 baht.

By minibus

Day trips from Bangkok are commonly sold at Bangkok travel agencies. Typically, these include Toyota minibus transport from one's hotel to Kanchanaburi and back (visiting the famous bridge, Erawan National Park, etc., depending on the package), and perhaps lunch and entrance fees. One example: approximately 1,100 baht for transport, lunch, entrance fees to Erawan National Park, and the famous bridge.

Get around

Kanchanaburi is just a little too stretched out to comfortably walk. Small orange and large yellow songthaews (converted pickups) cruise up and down Saeng Chuto, connecting bus station, train station, and the bridge, and charge a standard 10 baht. Motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks are also available, with negotiable prices, and some guesthouses offer bicycle rentals. A number of places in town (mostly along Maenam Kwai Rd) rent bicycles for 50 baht/day, or motorcycles for 150-200 baht, depending on whether it is an automatic. In the area near budget accommodations/guesthouses such as Ploy, you can rent bicycles or motorcycles from Yanee at 197 Maenumkaew Rd. Remember to ask for a map and directions to popular sights.

See

World War II

Most of the sights in Kanchanaburi itself are directly related to WWII. The museums are dusty and generally not worth it, except for the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, which gives a good introduction of the Death Railway and its history. There are also two war cemeteries, the most moving of which is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

You can cross the bridge on foot on the central steel-plated walkway. There are small cantilevered platforms between the spans for better views and avoiding trains. The guardrails are incomplete, so be careful with small children. Off the end of the bridge, you can feed or ride an elephant bare-back at negotiated price of 600 baht per ride. It's reported that elephant is tethered on a short chain and has to stand in its own waste. Use your judgement.
The bridge is still in use and there is a station right next to it. Trains run from Nam Tok (the train line's terminus) to River Kwai Bridge station (a little over 2 hours away) and then onward to Kanchanaburi and Bangkok.
Food and souvenirs are available at the bridge.
The walk to the bridge is not particularly pleasant (if you fancy a long walk, save it for the less crowded other side of the bridge), but songthaews (10 baht) run along the main road (Saeng Chuto Rd) from the centre. You'll know when to get off when you see the railway line cross the road. Then just follow the track.

Notable temples

Wat Ban Tham

Around Kanchanaburi

The area northwest of Kanchanaburi is dominated by beautiful River Kwai valleys. It is an area of great natural beauty, with a dazzling number of waterfalls, caves, lakes, and mountainous scenery. Most attractions can be visited as a day-trip from Kanchanaburi. Independent travel is possible for most attractions, but can be a hassle as local trains and buses are slow and inflexible. If you want to see Hellfire Pass and the Erawan Falls in one day, it's almost compulsory to take one of the guided tours as there is no public bus connection between them.

Along the Death Railway

Sai Yok Noi Falls

While most visitors see the spectacular Erawan Falls, the Sai Yok Noi Falls are more accessible, because they are straight on the road to Sangkhlaburi. The Sai Yok Yai Falls are further away from Kanchanaburi on the same road. But beside the falls, the national park is home to limestone caves and hot springs as well. And it can easily be combined with the Hellfire Pass Memorial.

Hellfire Pass

Only relocated in the 1980s, Konyu Cutting (known as Hellfire Pass by POWs and Asian labourers who cut and blasted through rock by hand to clear this pass for the Death Railway) has been reclaimed from the jungle as a profound war memorial funded by the Australian government. Excellent museum and self-guided walking tour facilities are available (donations welcome). Highly recommended. The descent through the jungle down to the pass (listening to oral histories through audio headsets) is a moving experience. Before leaving, take a moment to reflect at the peace lookout overlooking the beautiful Kwai Noi Valley. More challenging walking options are available. Annual Anzac Day Dawn Service are held here. 80 km northwest of Kanchanaburi. For a day trip, consider taking the morning train from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok (2.5 hr), then samlor to the memorial (20 min); return by bus (1 hr) or afternoon train.

Nam Tok to the Museum is quite a distance. It may be that your only option is a bus from the main road, which means walking from the station to there. Songthaews may be available.

Tiger Temple

Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua, popularly known as the Tiger Temple, is the biggest tourist trap of the region. Admission starts at 600 baht per person, but depending on the 'experience' you'd like, goes as high as 5,000 baht. The temple is nowhere to be seen, but the tigers are lounging in a dusty canyon, surrounded by minders in yellow shirts and overseen by a monk off in the corner. When they are not sitting unnaturally still, the tigers are kept in barren concrete cells. You can watch the tigers from a distance, and when your time comes, the minders will take your camera and snap a few photos of you crouching behind the dazed tiger, as well as a few close-ups of the tigers themselves. You can also pay a 1,000 baht extra for a "special" photo with a tiger, where you can have the head of a semi-unconscious one put in your lap. It's all kind of odd, but the pictures will certainly wow your friends, unless they value animal welfare over souvenirs, in which case you might seriously disappoint them. Unverified reports of a tourist being seriously mauled by the tigers abound, although it is only common sense to not annoy tigers. A few years of domestication will not erase centuries of innate wildness.

Also, you are not allowed to wear bright yellow, pink, or orange T-Shirts, or they will not allow you inside. You must also sign a release form, just in case you're harmed by the many animals at the temple (there are also water buffalo and deer roaming the parkland). You must bring your own camera, because the trainers do not have any.

The tiger temple is off the road heading to Sai Yok. you can take a bus heading towards Sai Yok or Sangkhlaburi. There is a sign about 1 km before the Tiger Temple. Once you see the sign make a big fuss and run up to the front of the bus and motion that you want to get off. The temple itself is about 1-2 km down the side road. to get back to Kanchanaburi, you can either try and flag down a bus on the main road going towards Kanchanaburi or you might be able to buy a ride with one of the minibus tour groups. you can also rent a motorcycle and ride there yourself.

There have been reports from Tiger Temple volunteer workers and staff released that the tigers were maltreated and abused by the abbot of the temple and his staff. A 2008 report from the British conservation group Care for the Wild International (CWI) reveals disturbing evidence of animal abuse and illegal tiger trafficking at the temple. It has since been revealed that the animals are drugged on a daily basis, although there are some travellers reporting otherwise. There are numerous conservation and animal welfare groups campaigning against the controversial Tiger Temple, which has a track record of ill-treatment of the animals, including tigers disappearing in trucks during the night.

If you'd like to ignore the warnings of many travellers before you, as well as the reports of conservation experts, then to get to the temple, you can approach a songthaew driver at the bus terminal and ask to hire him for an afternoon as you should best visit the temple then and not in the morning. He should charge about 700 baht for a hire from 13:00-18:00.

Erawan National Park

One waterfall of Erawan National Park

The Erawan Falls are contenders for the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand, and a must-see if time and budget allow. Entrance fee is 300 baht for foreigners. The falls are composed of seven tiers, all of which are picturesque and great for swimming. Plan to spend at least two hours hiking plus the time you want to spend swimming in the falls.

Don't come unprepared. Wear a swimsuit and bring sunblock, since you'll want to have a dip in the turquoise pools on most levels. Don't forget to bring a towel. When swimming, watch out for fish feasting on the soles of your feet. They won't hurt you and are only looking for a meal on dead skin cells, but the feeling can be disconcerting.

Everyone can do the hike, but don't underestimate it. Good shoes will make the trip more pleasant, though flip flops are commonly worn. At the highest levels, one may have to walk through shallow water. The first four tiers are relatively close together and the walk is very straightforward. For the more adventurous, there is a large rock at the fourth tier that can be used as a water slide. Beyond the fifth tier, the hike will become slightly more difficult. The sixth and seventh tiers are not far from each other, but the paths are not well defined at this point, so be sure to look for the hard-to-spot signs. Additionally, beware of hornets at the top tier.

Bicycles can be rented at the entrance for 20 baht/hr, however you can only bike to the first level, which is only a 5 min walk, so they aren't really useful. Many Thais don't go further than the second level as beyond this food and beverages, except a water bottle after leaving a deposit, are not allowed.

If you walk on the right hill side of the road leading to the park gate, rather than the road itself, you will pass nice bamboo forest and you won't be asked to pay entrance fee, since they collect it only at the toll gate if you enter by main road.

Getting there:

Public Transport: Public Bus 8170 leaves the Kanchanaburi bus terminal every 50-60 min between 08:00-17:20. The fare is 50 baht and the ride takes ~90 min. If you stay far away north from the bus terminal, and you probably will, you can just walk to Saeng Chuto Rd from your guesthouse and hail the bus there. Be sure to get an early bus, since there will be fewer people at the falls and you won't have to hurry to get back. The last bus leaves for Kanchanaburi at 16:00.

Transport Tour:, Tour agencies in Bangkok commonly sell a package that includes Toyota minibus transport from your Bangkok hotel to the falls and back, with lunch and the park entrance fee of 300 baht included, for 1,100 baht. The packages are generally standardised and non-negotiable in price. Some tours also include a stop at the Bridge over the River Kwai, so enquire.

Tour packages that visitors can purchase from the nearby hotels/resorts in Kanchanaburi may include a stop to the Erawan waterfalls and other selected tourist attractions such as elephant riding, bamboo rafting, Tiger Temple and Hellfire Pass. These packages cost around 1,600 baht and include all transportation to and from the resort, park fees, lunch and an English-speaking guide.

Sleeping: It is possible to spend the night in the national park, meaning you get to experience the falls without the day tripper crowds. Camping sites are available on a nice green area by the riverside. The national park rents out tents from 50-300 baht (for the biggest). The park also rents out accessories such as sleeping bags, lanterns, and stoves for a very small amount. The accommodation services office is just past the car park. Bungalows are also available from 800 baht.

For food, try the market which is a one km walk back up the road towards the highway. There it is also possible to find cheaper snacks, drinks or other items. Just remember to bring your park ticket with you to prove you have already paid.

Srinakarind National Park

Another area of beautiful natural scenery is the Srinakarind Reservoir, which is right behind the Srinakarind Dam. Unfortunately, there is no public bus service here. The beginning of this waterway is called Lumnam Jone, which is the headwaters of the famous River Kwai. It has some beautiful surroundings and crystal clear water. It is hard to get to: on foot it will take a few hours walk, and by boat it takes around 5 hr from the ferry pier at Srinakarind Dam. Lumnam Jone can only be reached by one tour operator to limit the amount of visitors to the region. The trip takes two days and one night and can only be booked for the first weekend of the month. Some other interesting sights in the area are the Phra That Cave, the Huay Mae Khamin Waterfalls and the Tham Than Lot Cave. The Srinakarind Dam has a nice cafe serving mostly Thai food and is open every day.

The area has two main ethnic groups, Thais and Karen. There are several villages of mostly Karen people in Naasuan of Amphoe Sri Sawat. Near the amphoe is a small Mon village. Beyond Ong Sit village and off a side road is a Lao village called Jerot. The villagers originally came here to help clear the forest when the dam was built and ended up settling in the area. Although many of the Karen women do a wonderful job of weaving (sarongs, blouses, bags), there is no local shop that sells these products. Occasionally there will be a house that will have items for sale, but they may be hard to find.

Elephants

Itinerary

Independent-minded travellers may wish to hire a songthaew at the bus station the day before you want to travel. It should cost between 1,500-2,000 baht, and you tell the driver where you want to go. He will pick you up from your hotel in the morning as part of the deal and return you there afterwards.

For your day out, check out Hellfire Pass and the museum, 80 km from Kachanaburi. Take a couple of hours or more there, then come back along the same road to Nam tok Saiyoknoi waterfall. Erewan Waterfall is too far away for this trip but well worth a look, and there is also an old preserved steam locomotive. From there ask to go to Wang Pho village, and make sure to get the driver to stop at a market along the way to buy bulk peanuts/bananas because you want to see "ling ling" ("ling" is Thai for "monkey", and the repetition means a lot of them) On the road down to Wang Pho, the driver should veer off to the left near the bottom of the winding road leading towards the River Kwai. Here there are millions of wild monkeys or at least an awful lot of them. Enjoy yourself feeding them peanuts or bananas, they are not aggressive. You can watch all the tour buses driving past this little-known attraction. However, feeding monkeys disrupts their natural feeding habits and can make them reliant on humans for food. So, it's probably better just to watch the monkeys in their natural environment.

In Wang Pho village, take time to have a look at the place. The Death Railway has a station here, the final one before Nam Tok. The villagers are friendly, and one stall does a really good fried banana. Then go to Tam Grasae, a cave a couple of kilometres distant where the railway crosses a trestle bridge built by WWII POWs. It appears to be in original condition. The River Kwai is immediately below you, and the trestle hugs the side of the cliff in skirting it. The cave itself is well worth a look. There is a tourist market here also.

On the way back, on the main road to Kanchanaburi, depending on the time you have left, there is a temple on the way back on the right where the monks are friendly to tourists, and then the Tiger Temple on the left further along.

Do

Massage

There are many massage parlours along Mae Nam Khwae Rd in Kanchanaburi.

Tour

Buy

There are plenty of ATMs, which all charge a 150/180 baht surcharge for using foreign cards.

Eat

Budget

For cheap street eats, the market in front of the train station will fulfil all your 10 baht pad Thai needs. Street vendors parade up & down River Kwai Rd all day & night. Approximately 20 baht per serving. Many stop outside of 7-Eleven by Jolly Frog selling sausages, roti, and other small snacks. Ice cream and pastries during the day.

Mid-range

By de River restaurant, the spirit of The River Kwai.

Drink

There are many places where you'll be able to enjoy drinks, but most of the bars are close to the guest houses along Mae Nam Kwai Rd. Most of the bars are noisy karaoke bars popular among the locals or the usual British pubs with football on TV. Some bars have young Thai ladies on the hunt for rich foreigners.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under 500 baht
Mid-range 500 baht to 1,500 baht
Splurge Over 1,500 baht

There are lots of guesthouses, resorts and hotels available. The density increases the nearer you get to the bridge. As usual if you book in advance they will arrange a free pick up service for you. If you haven't done so yet, you should try one night in a raft room floating on the river.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Most of the guesthouses along Mae Nam Kwai Rd purport to have Wi-Fi. Some of the bars lined up along that road also have Wi-Fi.

Go next

Routes through Kanchanaburi

Bangkok Nakhon Pathom  N  S  River Kwai Bridge Nam Tok


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, September 05, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.